Monday, June 25, 2007

Touting: the evidence

In preparation for tomorrow's Department of Media, Culture and Sport hearing into the selling on of tickets, interested parties have submitted evidence to the committee, in which those who want bans on people being able to sell tickets they have legitimately purchsed on in the same way they can sell on unwanted CDs, or their old fridge when they get a new one, have to demonstrate that it's a Bad Thing.

Ticketmaster, for example, are good on the apocalyptic vision:

We believe that our clients, who have invested in the event, should be able to control where and how their tickets are sold, and at what price, not the unauthorised secondary market. Ticket touting is bad for our business, but it is also bad for consumers, fans, tourists, and UK plc as a whole. We fully accept our responsibility to self-regulate our business and to achieve fair distribution of tickets on behalf of our clients to the benefit of their consumers. However we firmly believe that the scale of the emerging unauthorised secondary market requires urgent legislation to support the entertainment sector if we are to be successful in responding to this issue.

(and don't you hate people who refer to this country as "UK PLC"? Reducing a nation and its citizens and history and culture to some sort of small business.)

Ticketmaster are also clear on what they want:
We would therefore urge the Committee to recommend strongly that the Government act to make the unauthorised resale of all event tickets, at higher than face value, a criminal offence through primary legislation.

Got that? If you sell any ticket for more than face value, you'll be committing a criminal offence if Ticketmaster has its way. (Presumably you could always try arguing that the mark-up is, in fact, a booking fee, or to cover your administrative costs - it works for Ticketmaster, after all.) So, they're not just going after people flogging on three dozen Bon Jovi tickets - this is people just selling spares. Something, I'd guess, we've all done at some point. Criminalising a two quid mark-up alongside the five hundred quid profiteers.

So, what is the serious problem for which that this new crime is being proposed to stop? On that, Ticketmaster are a little less clear:
The unauthorised resale of tickets for profit does not promote fair and equitable distribution of tickets, and drains tickets away from the primary market, thus restricting the opportunity for genuine fans to purchase them legitimately.

Well, yes. Although to be honest, loading up all the tickets onto a system, and then allowing them all to go in a burst of "first to get through without the server falling over on them" enthusiasm doesn't do much to guarantee an "equitable distribution of tickets" either, does it?
Event promoters and stakeholders make enormous investments in producing their event, and the unauthorised market benefits from that and the popularity of the event, despite having made no investment themselves. The opportunity cost of touting is also great, as the touts are receiving income that could otherwise have gone to the entertainment or sports industries. The damage this does to event owners’ reputations with consumers and fans, as well as the tourism industry and the economy as a whole, has been well documented in the broader submissions, which the Committee will be receiving.

This sounds a little odd to us. Yes, people selling on tickets make money - but they have made an investment, when they bought the original ticket, and that cash goes to the promoter. Presumably the promoters have set the ticket price at a levelwhich would guarantee them a profit they felt worthwhile? So while, yes, a third party is making a profit on the backs of their event, it's not at their expense.

Likewise, the eyewash about opportunity cost is just bad economics - it's the same sleight of hand employed by the RIAA when they paint every quid spent on a pirate CD as a quid lost to the music industry, assuming that money spent on an unauthorised product would otherwise have been spent on an official one. This is even weaker when it's applied to sold-on gig tickets - if you buy a Prince ticket for 100 pounds off eBay, and they officially retailed for 25 quid, it's erroneous to assume that the 75 quid difference would have gone straight to the entertainment industry. Since it would be unlikely the purchaser would have bought four tickets instead of one, that can't account for this strange "opportunity cost"; perhaps, our theoritical figure would decide not to buy a tshirt, and a programme, and a hotdog while at the gig because they had spent over the odds on the ticket. But equally, they're just as likely to have redirected the cash from money they might have spent on computer games, or put into national savings, or donated to help sick donkeys.

Ticketmaster love the equality of access of the internet, but, ooh, it's a worry:
The rapid growth of the internet has affected the market in two ways. It has expedited the purchase of tickets, and the efficient service Ticketmaster offers means that whole arenas can sell out in a matter of minutes. This is of great advantage to the consumer who benefits from such efficient, fast and effective systems. It also allows greater equality of access to tickets for those in society who may not have the physical capacity or lifestyle to access tickets through traditional methods, such as queuing for a long time on a working day.

...although, of course, selling all the tickets online in a single burst disqualifies those who don't have access to the internet, or credit cards, or the ability to log on at precisely 9.00am on day of sale.

Ticketmaster go on to curse the gift of the internet for offering a way in for people like getmetickets to buy in bulk, and for individuals to buy up extra tickets to flog on for some spare cash.

Which is true, but surely Ticketmaster could do something about this without the need for legislation? They do admit in their submission they need to look to doing something about it; and they could try to work with outlets like eBay to come up with an effective solution instead of demanding a massive catch-all law.

The Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers have been debating new rules with the Office of Fair Trading; their evidence shows they're not happy that the OFT appears to have changed its mind and only wants a ban for business-based reselling:
The OFT have previously suggested support for STAR’s draft term which precludes a ticket holder from reselling tickets without the authority of the event organiser. This position has since changed. It is agreed that the clause can stand in respect of business to business transactions but the OFT is questioning whether or not a ticket seller can remove the right of individual consumers to resell tickets. The OFT have asked STAR to specify events for which resale could be prevented for ‘special reasons’ and have not accepted our argument that this is unduly burdensome. In addition, this term has the potential to allow event organisers and the primary market to take action to help police the unauthorised resales market and to send a clear message to the marketplace.

So, if we understand that right, the OFT offered to allow the ticket agencies to draw up a list of events on which secondary sales could be forbidden - a kind of blacklist to protect the most popular events - but STAR say it would be, oh, too difficult. What an onerous task it would be, when adding details of a new event, to spend thirty seconds weighing up if it should be restricted.

But, of course, if you have a voluntary scheme, there wouldn't been need for legislation, and the ticket industry couldn't have a law of its own to play with.

STAR do make a strong point, though, that if you buy a twenty quid ticket for forty, and the event goes down, you're only going to get face value back. Perhaps, if there must be legislation, that's where it should be focused: protecting the consumer, rather than criminalising the reseller.


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