Are paperless tickets giving music fans a headache?

A paperless ticketing system – one requiring the holder of the card used to buy the ticket to be present to gain entry to an event – is the latest attempt by artists and ticketing agencies to beat the touts. But given that the system doesn’t easily allow genuine fans to pass on tickets to events they can no longer attend and puts a spanner in the works when it comes to buying tickets for someone else, does the end justify the means?


Although most of us would be glad to see the back of the touts who stand outside venues with fistfuls of tickets and (sometimes) counterfeit notes – I’ve been ripped off in more than one way – it’s debatable whether paperless ticketing is the best solution, particularly given the inflexibility of the system and the problems encountered by some fans.

Having just attended a ticketless Radiohead gig in Manchester, this is something I’ve first-hand experience of. Here we look at how paperless ticketing works and what you can do if you fall foul of the system, and we’ll also take a closer look at the secondary ticket-selling market.

Prove yourself

Paperless ticketing is where, instead of receiving tickets through the post, via email or at a venue’s box office ahead of the event, the debit or credit card used to make the purchase is also used to gain entry to the event.

When going to a show that uses this system, the person who booked the tickets must be in attendance and have their credit card and government-issued identification (such as a driver’s licence or passport) to hand, and any people they booked tickets for must also have valid identification with them.

The credit card is then swiped at the door, identification is checked and the event is accessed with no tickets issued or changing hands.

The system was introduced after complaints from artists, event organisers and fans who were fed up that tickets, especially for sold-out events, were being resold for much higher values, sometimes several times the face value, by touts or fans looking to make a quick profit.

Paperless ticketing has been used by Ticketmaster, one of the main online ticket sales outlets, since 2009. Jon Wiffen, a Ticketmaster spokesman, said: “Paperless tickets are a proven method of getting tickets into the hands of genuine fans and ensuring they pay the price intended by the artist. This is why artists choose to use them. In the past several years we have successfully used paperless on a number of major UK events and the artists and Ticketmaster have received extremely positive feedback from fans.”

However, despite proving popular for other events, paperless ticketing has recently come in for some criticism following problems encountered by fans planning to attend Radiohead’s recent shows in Manchester and London.

So what exactly is the problem with paperless ticketing?

Climbing up the walls

The main area of complaint is that the person who booked the tickets has to be present at the venue, which means that anyone who has bought tickets as a gift, or finds that they can no longer go, is stuck with tickets they aren’t going to use.

This was a problem encountered by Matt Parry, who was bought two tickets for Radiohead’s Manchester show, one for him and one for his girlfriend Susie McNee (both pictured), as a 30th birthday present by his dad.

A couple of weeks before the gig he realised his dad would have to be in attendance and present his credit card and ID at the door to get his son into the gig, so Matt got in touch with Ticketmaster and was given a couple of options.

His first was to have his dad attend to verify the ticket sales with his credit card, something that was completely impractical given that his dad lives over 200 miles awat in Kent - not to mention the embarrassment having his dad escort him and his girlfriend to the gig!

The next option was for Matt’s dad to cancel the original booking so that Matt could rebook on his own credit card. He was wary of cancelling the tickets in case anything went wrong and he couldn’t rebook, but he felt this was his only option so cancelled and rebooked.

In fairness to Ticketmaster, the company sorted it out without any further fuss. However, although it was sorted out, the solution was based upon one major assumption; that Matt had a credit card he could use to book the tickets and gain entry to the venue on the night.

So, under this system, if you don’t have a credit card, there’s a good chance you’ll miss out.

Another potential problem could arise if your credit card expires between booking the tickets and the event taking place. Your new card would contain slightly different details and neither that nor your old card would be valid to gain you entry.

And what if you find out at the last minute that you cannot attend the gig, by which point it could be too late to change the details on the booking?

Ticketmaster’s advice is to contact them as soon as possible to resolve the matter.

Jon Wiffen added: “Where fans’ credit cards have expired since they made their original booking we are proactively contacting them and have a process in place to allow the new card details to be applied. If fans have any other problems they just need to contact our dedicated customer services team where we can work with them to resolve any issues they have.”

However, while paperless ticketing is an effective way to stop the touts – although I did see a couple at the Radiohead gig; it’s anyone’s guess what they were selling as no tickets were given out at the venue – the inflexibility of the system needs looking at as it does cause problems for genuine fans.

And, while addressing the problem of the ‘street corner’ ticket touts is one thing, what of the websites dedicated to the resale of tickets? These not only impose no upper limit on ticket prices – so tickets can still be sold on at massively inflated prices – but have actually been accused of buying-up large quantities of tickets to ‘resell’ with a huge mark-up.

And is ticket touting even illegal in the UK? Let’s take a look…

Hail to the thief

Under current UK law it is not illegal to resell concert tickets but it is an offence to sell them in the street without a trading licence.

To deter people from reselling, many promoters reserve the right to bring civil prosecution proceedings against resellers and will put this in the terms and conditions printed on the tickets However, this doesn’t happen very often.

So there is no law against reselling tickets via an online auction site such as eBay, or on a secondary ticket sales site such as Seatwave or Viagogo. This means anyone can resell tickets at whatever price they like and pocket the profits.

This is something these sites have been criticised for but, as they make money by taking a percentage of the final sale fee, they have no reason to impose a maximum resale value.

Earlier this year a Channel 4 Dispatches programme revealed how Viagogo had allegedly received 9,000 tickets from the promoters of Coldplay’s  2012 tour that had never been offered direct to fans but were then ‘resold’ via the website.

The programme – that had to defeat a High Court injunction to be shown – also revealed how employees were allegedly able to use company credit cards to buy tickets in bulk from the primary outlets and then ‘resell’ them at an inflated price.

Viagogo responded to the allegations made by Channel 4 in a letter to Sharon Hodgson MP, Shadow Education Minister and MP behind the proposals for an 'Anti-touts' bill. You can read Sharon Hodgson's reply to Viagogo, here.

There is an argument to be made that the problem of ticket touting goes on at levels that are way above the ‘street sellers’ and is something that needs to be dealt with at a distribution and even a promoter level.

And the selling-on of tickets is something that also affects sporting events, but there are a whole other set of rules around this.

2 + 2 = 5

The sight of someone asking for “any spares” is just as familiar outside football grounds as it is outside concert venues, but the main difference is that the resale of football tickets is illegal under section 166 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

This Act makes it an offence for an unauthorised person to sell a ticket for a designated football match or otherwise dispose of such a ticket to another person.

After touts found a way around the 1994 Act by selling other items, such as merchandise and giving away ‘free’ tickets as part of the deal, it was amended by section 53 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006. Now, anyone convicted of touting at a football match could face a £5,000 fine and receive a football banning order.

So if concert-goers felt they had it bad, they should spare a thought for any football fans who suddenly find they are left with a ticket for a game they can’t attend.

Some clubs, such as Everton, have addressed the problem of fans having tickets for games they cannot attend and have employed the services of StubHub, an eBay secondary ticketing agency.

Under the system, season ticket holders can sell tickets, via StubHub, for games that they cannot attend, giving non-season ticket holders the chance to buy tickets for games they may not normally be able to get in to.

However, once again there is no upper limit on what fans can charge for a ticket, and this has led to some fans offering tickets for the forthcoming Merseyside derby for as much as £500.

paul tyrell tweet

Everton has come in for some criticism for using StubHub, but at least the club is addressing the problem in an industry where it is actually a criminal offence to sell on tickets. And Paul Tyrell, the club’s director of communications, reacted to criticism via Twitter (see left) by asking fans who were charging extortionate fees to reconsider.

It seems clear that a face value, peer-to-peer ticketing service needs to be implemented to stop the problem, with maybe a ‘service charge’ being added to cover costs, just like the ones ticketing agencies charge to cover distribution costs and technology.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like any such system is going to be implemented anywhere, anytime soon, which still leaves the issue in limbo.

Have your say: Have you ever used the paperless ticketing system? Or been stung by the secondary ticketing market? Let us know on our community forum and have your say, here.

Follow Les on Twitter at @LesRoberts77

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