The music industry must innovate to tackle secondary ticketing rip-offs

Alison Lamb

The following article comes from Alison Lamb, Product Manager at So Recordings and regular blogger of music business shenanigans for the likes of Midem and Music Tank. Here, Alison tackles the plight of the ticket resale industry, especially as it applies in the UK…

As a music fan and avid gig-goer I understand all too well the desperation of frantically clicking refresh on a web page in the hope of being able to secure tickets for a band I want to see.

When Radiohead recently put tickets on sale for three nights at the Roundhouse in London, tickets were reported as selling out in around 5 minutes! (1)

Sadly, within no time they were reportedly on secondary ticket selling sites such as Viagogo and Stubhub for up to £1,400 – a huge mark up on their original £65 selling price (2).

Sadly, this is just one example of big name gig tickets going on sale and almost immediately appearing over on ticket resale sites, and sadly only one, of many examples, of music fans being hugely ripped off.

This issue of ticketing has become more and more prevalent within the past few months. With artists from Coldplay to Elton John: who claimed he would prefer to have empty seats rather than have his fans pay over the odds for tickets to his gigs (3) to Mumford and Sons, who went as far as posting an open letter encouraging their fans to get in touch with the Department of Culture, Music and Sport to inform them of ticket buying ‘bad practices’ that they had encountered’ (4).

The ticket buying process is currently heavily under the control of bots, which are depriving fans of being able to buy tickets when they initially go on sale.

The recent upsurge in coverage and conversation around this issue was predominately due to the expected update to the UK’s Consumer Rights Act and the independent review of the live ticketing sector which Professor Waterson recently carried out to advise the British Government.

Ahead of the report’s findings, the primary concern about the ticket selling process was that at present, touting and the reselling of gig tickets on resale websites (or outside venues) is not illegal.

It is also not illegal to add a huge mark-up to in-demand gig tickets (5) – issues which stem from bots. Professor Waterson’s findings stated that primary ticket vendors should guard against the possibility of mass purchase by individuals in order to allow ordinary consumers the opportunity to get hold of tickets on the on-sale date and at the original sale price (6).

Genuine music fans are currently getting a hugely raw deal and missing out on opportunities to see their favourite bands live and this is an issue which affects the entire industry and something which we will need to continue to work together and tackle.

Stuart Cain, Managing Director of The Ticket Factory said “we need more help and protection to take these guys down” (7).

Positively, we have recently seen examples of how the industry is looking to tackle this issue itself…

Earlier this year, when tickets for Adele’s World tour went on sale, her team looked to make an active stand against touting. Adele’s team worked alongside Songkick with the aim of getting her tickets immediately into the hands of fans and not touts.

Having a zero tolerance approach, fans had to register for tickets in advance of the on-sale date, when Songkick then made used their proprietary technology to identity potential touts (8), acting to cancel as many suspected touts as possible. Upward of 500,000 people registered for tickets, with Songkick reported as being responsible for the sale of 165,000 tickets across Europe.

It was reported that 18,000 touts were prevented from purchasing tickets (9), a significant number indeed.

Although the process was hit by a brief privacy scare (10), the process was ultimately deemed a success against touts with only around 1000 of the ‘first wave’ of tickets ending up on secondary sites on the day this round of tickets went on sale (11).

But, the process didn’t stop there, employing one of the stipulations from The Consumer Rights Act 2015 – that ‘where applicable’ tickets for sale on secondary ticket sale sites must include some sort of identification as to where the tickets are for – for example the block or seat row number.

Music Business Worldwide reported that any tickets listed on secondary sites which did not include a way of identifying where the tickets on sale were based were cancelled by Songkick and relisted offering genuine fans the opportunity to purchase the ticket (11).

Waterson flagged this point within his report, highlighting that it is being hugely neglected in the current market place and suggested that National Trading Standards should look to investigate breaches such as these in the future (7).

In the case of Adele’s tour, Kudos to her team for taking such a positive step to tackle touting and flagging this issue for the industry to learn from.

The process applied here reflects the ticketing system that Glastonbury has had in play for a number of years now.

Keen Glasto-goers have to show their interest and register online a good number of weeks in advance of tickets going on sale. In order to register, fans have to upload a passport-style photo of themselves, pay a small (refundable) deposit ahead of receiving a registration code (12), which is needed to secure tickets when they go on general sale.

These multiple stages of registration all work to block touts from being able to purchase tickets to re-sell. Once on sale, Glastonbury also have an official re-sale process (13) for tickets which have been cancelled/ refunded – again only pre-registered fans are able to go through this process which usually takes place a few months before the festival takes place.

This hugely effective process definitely needs to be considered more for large and in-demand gigs.

Yes, this would likely mean more administration fees due to the additional work that would be involved but admin fees are already something that need to have better transparency. The introduction of a process such as this could work well to support an overhaul of the entire ticket sale system.

As we saw in the case of Adele’s tour, fans are prepared to go through a registration process to ensure that they can secure tickets when they go on sale.

With streaming services working to support the idea of a full stack industry (14) more and more, there could be potential for Spotify and Apple et al to work to offer a way for fans to purchase tickets. After all, these services already have access to email addresses and bank details of music fans.

Spotify is already actively working to make better use of the fan data that it has, as seen when they targeted the Foo Fighters top listeners via email with the exclusive chance to win tickets and limited edition items from the band last year (15).

This ability to use fan data in such a way alongside their integration with Songkick (16) begs the question – will they naturally evolve further and facilitate the actual ticket sale process?

With their huge data pool, the next progression of fan ticketing pre-sales could look to happen in the same vein as the Foo Fighters targeted mail outs, with Spotify getting in touch directly with fans who have built an active and genuine streaming relationship with artists on the platform.

This potential could of course also be said for all streaming services across the board.

A number of ticketing platforms have also been developed that are looking to directly tackle the issue of touting.

For example (17) which offers tout-proof tickets via their app. All tickets purchased are linked to the device that they were purchased from, so it is not possible for tickets to be resold online. also offer a ‘waiting list’ feature (18), which provides gig-goers with the chance to be able to return tickets if they cannot make a show, giving other fans the opportunity to be in line to then purchase these tickets.

We Got Tickets (19) is another platform which is campaigning against reselling. Again, fans who buy tickets here are given a unique booking reference, which fans have to take along with ID to the gig (20). We Got Tickets similarly offer a ticket reallocation process enabling purchased tickets to be transferred to another name.

While Twickets (21) is an industry-wide endorsed ticket re-sale site as it only lets fans who are unable to attend shows to sell tickets at face value or less. Sites such as these are successfully taking on touting and giving the power back to genuine music fans. Here’s hoping their position in the market place will continue to grow.

The potential of Facebook in the ticketing sector cannot go unmentioned. Similarly to streaming services, Facebook has huge potential to play a part in and offer a solution to the ticketing process.

At the end of last year, the social network began a pilot with ‘a small group of independent venues, artists and event promoters’ (22) to sell tickets in the San Francisco area via external ticket sources. But the potential of this could be endless.

With a reported active user base of 1.55 billion people Worldwide (23) at the very least, they could look to work with ticket sites to provide a ticket registration process – offering support with auto photo uploads. Plus, they would have the ability to confirm that active, and so genuine, profiles had registered their interest in tickets.

Let’s hope that when the Consumer Act is updated, it takes into account Professor Waterson’s findings and suggestions.

But as an industry we need to be innovative and tackle the issue head on to support genuine music fans and make it easier for them to get hold of the tickets that they want when they go on sale and at a reasonable cost to them.

And I’m saying this as a fan, because were The Smiths to ever reform, I don’t think I could cope with the chaos that would ensue…
























23 Business Worldwide

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