Just the ticket? How to trash the touts

If you’ve ever spent an entire morning trying to secure tickets to a big event, you’ll understand how frustrating it is when you come away empty-handed.

Group of people dancing at concert
And frustration no doubt turns to full blown anger when, minutes after the tickets have ‘sold out’, they’re popping up on numerous auction and secondary ticket sales sites.

So what’s going on? Is it simply a case of people identifying ticketed events as a quick way to make a few quid? Have the touts moved their operations online? Or is there something even more underhand going on in the secondary ticket sales market?

It’s likely to be a combination of the three. But before we dip a toe into those murky waters, let’s take a quick look at the legality of ticket touting…

Is ticket touting illegal?

UK law stipulates that the re-sale of concert tickets is not in itself illegal. But it is an offence to sell tickets in the street without a trading licence.

To deter people from selling on or ‘touting’ tickets, promoters state that they have the right to bring civil prosecution proceedings against anyone reselling tickets. They state this on each ticket’s T&Cs.

Whether any promoter would actually bother to go down this route is questionable, however.

Different ball game

Tickets for football matches are another matter entirely.

Section 166 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and section 53 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 make the resale of football tickets a criminal offence punishable by a £5,000 fine and a football banning order.

Other sports have actually suggested that they should have the same protection. But as it stands, you’re within your rights to sell on your Wimbledon ticket, for example.

Pump up the prices

There are ways around both sets of legislation, though, with secondary ticket-selling sites being the main one. Indeed, there is increasing evidence to suggest that these sites are a significant part of the problem surrounding excessive ticket prices.

If you’re after a quick way to make a few quid, get your hands on some tickets for a much sought-after event and stick them on a secondary ticket-selling site such as GetMeIn!, SeatWave, StubHub or viagogo at a hugely inflated price.

There’s nothing to limit your ambition except the law of supply and demand. The secondary sales sites certainly won’t suggest a lower price. After all, the higher the cost, the bigger their cut.

It seems you’ll have sympathisers in high places: Sajid Javid MP, culture secretary, has said that touts – so long as they came by the tickets honestly – are simply filling a gap in the market, and even went so far as to praise them as ‘classic entrepreneurs’.

And even if you’re the sort of individual who would seek to turn a massive profit on a ticket re-sale, you’re still only a small part of the problem. Channel 4’s Dispatches, in an episode broadcast in 2012, alleged that some secondary sales sites are obtaining tickets before they go on sale to genuine punters, and then flogging them at massively inflated prices once the event is sold out.

So not only is touting a problem at street level, it’s an issue at distribution and even promoter level. But what’s being done about it?

Tackling the touts

Personalised ticketing – where only people with the correct names printed on the tickets and matching photo identification are allowed into venues - is an innovation designed to tackle the touts.
But the secondary sellers have already found a way around it.

If you buy such a ticket from a secondary sales site, you’ll be told to meet someone outside the venue who will hand over the tickets.

The person you meet – who is known as a ‘walker’ and will be the named owner of the tickets – will walk you into the gig, using their own photo ID. That will be the last you see of them as they leave the venue to repeat the trick all over again.

Each time they do, they’ll use a genuine ticket to gain entry and just write-off its face-value cost. That gives you a pretty clear idea of how much the other tickets they flog are inflated by – and it’s you who is funding the deal.

Present and correct?

Paperless ticketing is another system that requires the ticket buyer to be present at the gig.

Here, the person who bought the tickets has to attend the venue along with the credit or debit card they bought the tickets on, photo ID and anyone else they bought tickets for.

The card is then swiped at the venue, ID is checked and everyone gets in without any tickets changing hands.

While this is one way to scupper the street-level touts – no tickets are ever printed – it’s a system that can still be undone by the secondary ticket market and its band of ‘walkers’.

Unfortunately, it’s a system that’s also fraught with other problems for gig-goers, as I explain in my article Are paperless tickets giving music fans a headache?

Whitehall farce?

The problem of ticket touting and secondary ticket sales has gone all the way to Whitehall where Sharon Hodgson MP, shadow education minister, brought the Sale of Tickets (Sporting and Cultural Events) Bill before Parliament where it was filibustered by Conservative MPs opposed to restrictions on what they see as a free market.

How to trash the touts

So what can you do to avoid being ripped-off in the second-hand ticket market?

Unfortunately, not a great deal, aside from getting tickets first time round from a reputable seller (you’ll just have to grin and bear the ‘service charges’ – that’s another can of worms).

If you miss out, it could be worth looking for packages offering travel-and-ticket combos. But again, only go through reputable agencies to minimise the risk of being ripped off.

Peer pressure

If you do go down the secondary ticket sales route there are sites out there that offer a not-for-profit, peer-to-peer ticket selling service, such as Twickets.co.uk and ScarletMist.co.uk.

It’s also worth putting out a request on social media and asking people to pass it on – a long shot, maybe, but worth a try.

Auction sites and the civilised end of the secondary-ticket selling market are worth considering as there are genuine sellers who aren’t out to make more than their money back. Just set yourself a limit on what you’re prepared to pay – and stick to it.

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