Ticket Touting: Noel Rock Is Planning A Bill To Address The Issue In Ireland

U2, Radiohead (pictured), Coldplay, Guns N’Roses, Ed Sheeran: some of the biggest musical acts in the world are set to descend on Irish soil in 2017, for sell-out shows. But with tickets being offered on re-selling sites at exorbitant prices, the momentum towards anti-touting legislation is building.

Tickets for U2’s much anticipated 30th Anniversary Joshua Tree show at Croke Park, in Dublin, went on sale on January 16, at 9am. Prices were set at between €35 and €70. Within minutes, the gig was sold out – and later that day, tickets were being re-sold for upwards of €300 (not including an additional €56 booking fee).

The tickets were being offered on Seatwave – a secondary ticket-selling site that is owned by the primary seller, Ticketmaster.

Whatever way you looked at it, the optics weren’t good – and the angry reaction from fans, who had missed out on securing tickets, was spontaneous.

DEEPLY FRUSTRATED

In many ways, a U2 gig is like a litmus test. They are the biggest live attraction in Ireland, and have been for the past 30 years at least.

During their iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour, in a pioneering move, the band had put tight restrictions in place, to ensure that tickets would get to fans, including the stipulation that ticket-holders had to have the card with which a ticket was bought available on the night of the gig, to confirm their identity. Even then, however, tickets appeared on secondary ticketing sites, including the likes of eBay. It was a clear indication that – the best efforts of an artist notwithstanding – in Ireland, as elsewhere, what hard-pressed fans see as ticket-touting is a difficult problem to solve.

And then came Croke Park: inevitably, it was a source of huge disappointment for many long-standing fans of the band that they couldn’t get tickets for U2’s only Irish gig this year. But for those same fans to see tickets being immediately sold-on, at a huge premium, was like a red rag to a large number of aggrieved bulls.

“For the last tour and this one I have found myself as one of many Dublin fans unable to get a decent ticket on either pre or general sale,” long-standing U2 fan Pat Lynch posted on the Hot Press Facebook page. “Only to see Seatwave are selling tickets at massively inflated prices. And not on the black market, but on Ticketmaster’s very site!

“Touting by any other name, no?,” he added. “Why aren’t big acts like U2, Bruce Springsteen and Coldplay stepping up to stop this?? Loyal fans just want a fair shot at getting tickets… today I feel like flinging my entire three decade U2 collection in the Liffey! Yours in disillusionment.”

Pat was just one of many who were left feeling deeply frustrated by what was happening.

At the time of going to press, there are 543 tickets available for U2 at Croke Park on Seatwave. The top price being asked for the tickets is €1,057.68. Meanwhile, there are 374 tickets available for Coldplay’s Croke Park show, with prices running as high as €940.16. And, similarly, tickets for Ireland’s rugby game against Wales in Cardiff, of which there are 251 available on Seatwave, are on offer for as much as €1,174.03.

It might strike some as bizarre that people are prepared – and can afford – to pay that kind of money. But they do.

THE FAN FAIR ALLIANCE

There have been a number of attempts in Ireland, in the past, to deal with ticket touting via legislation – but the proposed bills have always foundered. Now, however, the momentum towards addressing the phenomenon of scalping has been gathering pace. A Bill that seeks to outlaw the reselling of tickets at a higher price aims to be ready to put before Dáil Éireann within the next few weeks. The architect of the Bill is Fine Gael’s Noel Rock TD.

“This was a Private Members’ Bill that we started compiling back in August as a reaction to concerns raised about the OCI ticket touting fiasco in Brazil, when it came to light that we had no real laws or regulations in place to deal with such matters,” Rock explains.

“I spoke to a few colleagues and began drafting a Bill, which I brought before the Oireachtas. There were some legal issues that they asked us to look over, so we got the amended version finished by December.”

Ireland is not alone in having failed to address the issues raised by the new style of secondary ticketing. It was only in December 2016, for example, that Barack Obama signed into law measures that banned the use of ticket tout bots – software that allows touts to purchase large quantities of tickets from sites like Ticketmaster – in the United States. However, in reality, ‘bots’ are only part of the problem.

Stubhub, which is owned by eBay, has been in the business of openly reselling tickets since 2000. They launched Viagogo, based in London, in 2006 – it is now said to be the world’s biggest ticket resale outfit. Viagogo are partners with Chelsea FC and Manchester City FC, among other football clubs, allowing – among other things – season ticket holders to sell the tickets they effectively hold, for any games they cannot attend.

Reselling is seen, in this context, as providing – as Viagogo’s Wikipedia page states – “a secure online ticket marketplace that allows consumers to buy and sell tickets to sports, music, theatre and comedy events.”

Seatwave, now owned by Ticketmaster, was also established in London in 2006. At the time, it was seen by the company as a response to eBay’s exploitation of a growing market in re-selling tickets.

“Viagogo ticketing marketplace is designed to give consumers access to tickets that were often previously difficult to get hold of,” Wikipedia continues. Ticketmaster’s contention was that there was no reason to give Viagogo a free run at owning the emerging secondary marketplace.

Idealistic as Viagogo’s pitch might sound, however, whether through the use of bots or other means, the immediacy, extent and profitability of reselling has reached alarming levels.

“There’s a trend that seems to be happening again and again because of the systematic, automated nature of the ‘new’ ticket-touting,” Noel Rock says. “I call it ‘new’ as opposed to the ‘traditional’ ticket-touting of a lad selling a few tickets out the back of a venue or sporting-ground.

“This systematic form of touting means that somebody can sign up for a fan club pre-sale on a Wednesday, then sell the tickets on the secondary site for five times higher on a Thursday. That really pisses people off.”

While legislation may well be the answer, in the UK, a Government decision was made not to introduce Anti-Ticket Touting legislation. The activities of touts there are covered by the Consumer Rights Act – but, increasingly, this is seen as being ineffective by people in the industry.

As a result, the Fanfair Alliance has been formed, to take a stand against what they describe as “industrial scale online ticket touting.” Among those involved in what is a radical, artist-driven, pro-fan initiative are Brian Message (manager PJ Harvey and Nick Cave), Ian McAndrew (manager Arctic Monkeys, Royal Blood, Travis), Harry Magee (manager One Direction, Little Mix, Cheryl) and Adam Tudhope (Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling, Keane).

So far, Fanfair have stopped short of calling for anti-touting legislation.

“We believe a coordinated and pragmatic approach between Government, creative businesses, entrepreneurs and consumers can make major inroads to curbing industrial-scale touting in the secondary ticketing market,” they say, spelling out their aims. “Our supporters are committed to supporting fair and ethical ticketing practices, as well as pro-consumer legislation and technologies.”

To achieve this, they argue that the UK Consumer Rights Act 2015 should be given teeth – and then rigorously enforced.

TRADITIONAL TOUTING

In contrast, specific anti-touting legislation has been passed in a number of places around the world. In Belgium, legislation introduced in 2016 allows reselling – but 'face value' rules. No increase in price is allowed during the resale.

“I think this is the way forward here in Ireland,” Noel Rock says. “I think the simplicity and the neatness of the Belgian model is one that’s worthy of replication. Tickets must be resold at face value – and everyone understands exactly what that means.

“It doesn’t affect the amount that an act receives,” he adds, “nor does it affect the capacity to put on the concerts in the first place. I spoke to Belgian legislators at length about this and what I discovered was that there had been no downturn in the amount of performances in a given year, nor indeed was there a downturn in the quality of those performances. The only thing that has happened is that ticket-touting has been reduced by somewhere in the region of 90%.”

In a parallel development in Ireland, at the end of January, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) announced that it was launching an investigation into what they described as “suspected breaches of law.” Ticket sellers, promoters and venues will all come within the scope of the inquiry.

According to Noel Rock, the issue was raised with the CCPC by the then Wicklow Independent TD, and now a member of Fianna Fáil, Stephen Donnelly – who recently became a co-sponsor of the Fine Gael TD’s Bill. So what does Noel Rock think about the fact that legislation was put before the Dáil twice before, and was voted down both times?

“This was brought up way back in 1998 and again in 2005,” Noel Rock agrees, “but the legislation was more geared towards ‘traditional touting’ – people selling tickets outside venues or sporting grounds, which wasn’t seen as a pressing problem.

“However, it’s clear now that this has evolved to a highly structured industry; it has an estimated market value of £1.5 billion in the UK alone. The lack of regulation by the industry itself means that it’s necessary that legislation should step in at this stage, in much the same way as legislation was required to cap mobile roaming charges. This is very similar to that.”

In general, Private Members Bills don’t have a great track record of success. However, Noel Rock believes he has the wind behind him now.

“I’m delighted to say that, firstly, both Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein are supporting this Bill,” he says. “And secondly, I spoke with the Taoiseach on January 25, and he confirmed that he had no objection to us pursuing this Bill, which is very encouraging.”

Whether he has or not remains to be seen. Hot Press understands that an official report is to be commissioned, between the Department of Transport and Tourism and the Department of Enterprise, which might well put the current bill on the long finger.

Time, as they say, will tell…

 

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