Secondary Ticketing: Days In The Life Of 2 Tickets Traded By A StubHub Validated Ticket Seller

14 Dec 2016

Credits: Ticket Selection

Here’s a question:

Who is the StubHub seller listing seats 65 & 66 in Row K, Section 102 of The O2 for Take That’s concert on Friday June 9th?

 

seating-plan

 

…and, more to the point, how did they get those tickets?

I’ll come back to this shortly.

For the most part, the media and political debate around online ticket touting has focused on volume and price.  And for good reason.  At the most high-demand events, numbers of tickets being listed on the ‘Big Four’ secondary ticketing websites passed biblical proportions some time ago – with fans systematically driven towards “resold” inventory from the get-go, and at highly-elevated prices.

By way of example, at the time of writing, there are 3,618 Guns N’ Roses tickets being listed for the band’s 16th June appearance at the London Stadium across Get Me In! (1,040), Seatwave (395), StubHub (524) and Viagogo (1,659).

One optimistic Viagogo seller is listing a £165 face value ticket for £4,400.00 – plus £1,510.95 to cover VAT, delivery and the booking fee. (Presumably it arrives at dawn, hand delivered by Slash?)

Google ‘Guns N’ Roses + London + tickets’ and the top 3 search returns are from Viagogo, followed by Ticketmaster’s two secondary websites.  Ticketmaster’s primary site is way down the rankings in 9th place.

Search results that prioritise the secondary market:

Search results prioritise the secondary market

 

Meanwhile, Viagogo’s ticketing page proudly proclaims “Last Chance! To See Guns N’ Roses In London” – a bold statement, considering those tickets are still in pre-sale, and do not go on general sale until 10am tomorrow morning:

Pre-emptory claim made in pre-sale

Every week, this exact same scenario is played out for arena shows and large-scale events around the UK.  If you’re of a generous persuasion, you might consider this situation as confusing for the average music fan.  For Damien Collins MP, Chair of the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee it as a “national scandal”.

However, rather than highlight again the sheer volume of tickets flooding the secondary sites, I want to return to those 2 Take That seats – listed on StubHub since late October, and still available to buy for a 144% mark-up on the face value price (plus 19.5% in fees).

Focusing the microscope in one place can sometimes be insightful, and help us separate the trees from the wood.

FanFair tracked these tickets from the moment they were listed on Wednesday 26th October, the morning that Take That’s pre-sale opened.  Initially priced at £777.77 apiece, seats 65 & 66 were 2 of among 350 tickets being sold by a Quebec-based tout called Julien Lavellee (I Want Tickets) for the group’s four shows at The O2.

We actually uncovered Lavallee’s identity by chance.  Under UK consumer law, the resale platforms must make clear to buyers if a seller is a professional trader.  Get Me In!, Seatwave and Viagogo all consistently fail to do this, or make the information damn near impossible to find.  StubHub however, do provide details in certain instances – concealing it behind a box labelled “Seller’s Legal Information”.  In lawyerly circles, I believe this is called ‘the bare legal minimum’.)

At this point, I Want Tickets was displayed with a Quebec-based address:

 

Registered in Canada

 

That afternoon, all 350 of Lavallee’s Take That tickets dropped suddenly from £777.77 to a range of different price points.  Seats 65 & 66 were now listed at £340.00 each.

On the Friday morning, Take That’s London shows were officially “sold out”, and two extra dates were added at The O2.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and, on November 11th, the Daily Record ran a story and interview with Lavallee – detailing how he scalped tickets for UK events, before selling them at profit over StubHub.  Lavallee claimed that, as well as employing 20 staff, he had contracts in place with venues to buy inventory.

That afternoon, Lavallee’s details were mysteriously removed from StubHub.  Seats 65 & 66 were still listed for sale, but completely anonymised.  And the price of the tickets fell again.  To £249.99 apiece.

But that wasn’t the end of it.

On November 17th, the “Seller’s Legal Information” was reattached.  Except this time, I Want Tickets was no longer registered in Quebec.  It was now under an address in Douglas, the Isle Of Man – with the same postcode as an ‘offshore legal service provider’ called Appleby:

 

Isle of Man

 

Appleby’s other offices are in a variety of exotic locations, including the Cayman Islands, The British Virgin Islands and Bermuda.

Later, a Thailand-based phone number was added to the listing – we called, there was no answer – along with a hotmail address.

And then, finally, on December 6th, the contact information on seats 65 & 66 changed again.  I Want Tickets is still registered in the Isle Of Man, but the email address is listed as service@stubhub.co.uk – StubHub’s main customer service contact:

 

Isle of Man: Stub Hub

This was all very strange.  As a consumer, it doesn’t exactly feel reassuring.

I emailed StubHub to enquire about the listing, and was informed that “the listing belongs to a trusted large seller who have been approved by our StubHub top seller scheme”.  They were unwilling to provide any further information, but told me that I “may find some comfort in knowing they have been validated”.

The tickets are currently listed at £260.00 each.

I am still awaiting a response from StubHub as to how they validate bulk sellers from Quebec with an interest in UK events, and if they can tell me more about their top seller scheme.

However, at this point, it’s probably time to pull up the microscope.  These are, of course, only 2 Take That tickets.  A drop in the secondary ticketing ocean.

However, they are a useful microcosm of what’s gone wrong with ticket resale.

As with the other 348 Take That tickets listed by Julien Lavallee/ I Want Tickets, it’s still unclear how *exactly* seats 65 & 66 came into the possession of a Quebec-based ticket tout.  Working within StubHub’s infrastructure, Lavallee – a “validated seller” remember – appears to be listing more than a thousand others for artists including The Weeknd, Phil Collins, Craig David, Drake and Bruno Mars.

Pulling up further, and surveying the secondary market in its entirety, there are hundreds of thousands of tickets currently listed for UK events on StubHub, Viagogo, Get Me In! and Seatwave.

How many of these are being sold by ‘professional sellers’ harboured within the secondary ticketing platforms?  How many employ bot-type technology in order to harvest and bulk buy tickets?  How many are based outside the UK?

We simply don’t know.

This is precisely why the FanFair Alliance is calling for a range of existing consumer laws to be enforced, for those who misuse bots to harvest tickets to be criminalised and, fundamentally, for Get Me In!, Seatwave, StubHub and Viagogo to be pressured into exhibiting some corporate responsibility.

According to Paul Peak, StubHub’s head of legal, his company is under no obligation to police or monitor its platform – despite reporting global turnover up 32% in Q3 2016.  Ticket resale generated $1bn for Live Nation in the first 9 months of the year. Viagogo’s revenues are undisclosed, although rumoured to trump their competitors.

Because it is effectively anonymised, the ticket resale market remains a peculiar anomaly within eCommerce – and the diametric opposite of services like Airbnb, Uber or (ironically) eBay, that make transparency and trust a core part of their offering.

Left to their own devices, there is little evidence the secondary ticketing giants will increase transparency or reform their practices.  There is simply too much money washing through their platforms, and they remain locked in an arms race for tickets, customers and touts.

This also represents a major roadblock for those music businesses who want to promote best practice, to get face value tickets into the hands of true fans and to disrupt the resale sector.

A growing number of MPs are also calling for change – but it is now essential that Government acts.

Without that pressure and a proactive strategy, we will be stuck with a system that favours touts from Quebec (registered in Douglas, possibly living in Thailand) over UK audiences who just want want a face value ticket to see an artist they love.


Adam Webb, Campaign Manager, FanFair Alliance #toutsout