Newsletter #93 November: 2012 - Ticketing’s Annus Horribilis?

27 Nov 2012

Credits: @flickrmikecogh

Even before MusicTank announced the subject of its final event of the year, the issues around ticketing were already among 2012’s most contentious. This, of course, was mainly due to an edition of Channel 4’s Dispatches, broadcast in February, that brought to wider public attention what many working in the music industry knew and feared: that the primary and secondary markets for major live events are becoming inherently dysfunctional, and true music fans were being royally ripped off.

In the wake of the broadcast, Viagogo, which was accused of artificially inflating prices, liquidated its assets and relocated to Switzerland. Promoters and artists, seemingly complicit in diverting tickets to secondary sellers, did not escape criticism either. To paraphrase Ronnie Biggs’ immortal words ‘no one was innocent’. And ultimately, the sour taste left by The Great Ticket Scandal has continued to linger.

So far, the UK Government has steadfastly refused to consider the kind of regulation that might result in much-needed transparency; even when, as a result of some pretty draconian International Olympic Committee rules, it was supporting a major crackdown on unlicensed vendors selling tickets to London 2012 – a dragnet operation apparently involving a hitlist of 30 international websites and some 970 individuals.

As highlighted by Festival Republic’s Melvin Benn, as he made the case for a profit cap on the resale of tickets, this lack of parity seemed illogical, and likely to result in a ‘two-speed economy’ in the arts and culture. “If legislation has worked for the Olympics in terms of making its events affordable and accessible, it can work for festival and music promoters too,”argued Benn, who is one of the key movers in the still-to-be-launched FanFair Alliance.

That was in July. Since then the volume of ticketing-related headlines has only increased. In October, the Association of Independent Festivals unveiled a charter to combat what its members termed as “ticket profiteering”. Later that month saw AEG launch a self-proclaimed “fan-friendly” ticketing service – called AXS – albeit while announcing a partnership with StubHub only weeks later that would pair the world’s second-biggest concert promoter with eBay, the world’s second-biggest e-commerce company.

Meanwhile, in the last week, we’ve had a landmark legal decision in favour of the Rugby Football Union, forcing Viagogo to hand over names and addresses of those re-selling tickets to England rugby matches (a legal act, but in breach of the ticket’s T&Cs). The impact of this decision on live music events is still unclear.

The news was followed by reports of up to 100 Mumford & Sons fans falling foul of a ticketing scam at Portsmouth Guildhall, after purchasing counterfeits from secondary sites; while scores of unsold (and overpriced) Rolling Stones tickets were revealed to be dying on the secondary vines before the band’s November 25th gig at The O2.

In an inverse echo of John Lennon’s infamous “rattle your jewellery” comments at the 1963 Royal Variety Show, Mick Jagger made comic reference to the £95 cheap seats at this 50th anniversary celebration being not so…well…cheap.

All these developments are liable to be grist to the MusicTank mill on December 5th, when the likes of PRODISS’ Aline Renet, Labour MP Sharon Hodgson, AIF co-founder Ben Turner, Richard Marks of ticket exchange website Scarlet Mist and Which?’s Caitlin Graham come together to discuss regulation of the secondary market.

Fittingly, in an area ripe for disruption and continuing to attract VC investment they will be joined by Dave Newton from WeGotTickets, Wildlife Entertainment’s Ian McAndrews, Christiaan Munro from Sandbag, Dan Rogers from Songkick, and The Ticket Factory’s Peter Monks, in a complementary debate on innovation.

Led by brave artists and innovative companies, there are plenty of interesting experiments going on right now – experiments that not only enhance artist/fan relationships, but also, as a positive byproduct, limit the potential of profiteering.

Whether such initiatives can work on the biggest stages, where the financial stakes are higher and artists control only a small proportion of the inventory, remains a key question. As is the role of Government, and how legislation, as has been recently enacted in France, might support and enhance the potential of technology.

Rather than looking back with anger, now is clearly the time for levelheaded debate. Surely the industry can grasp the nettle here and help shape a truly functioning market – where tickets end up in the hands of genuine fans, and where primary and secondary markets are restored to their rightful order.

Adam Webb

JOIN US – Ticket To Ride: Getting Primary Tickets Back into the Hands of Fans, Dec 5th

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