20 February 2015

Supporting the right to resale


For many fans of sports and music, the ticket touts hanging around venues advertising their wares are a ubiquitous presence. Understandably, they don’t have a great reputation. And not surprisingly, consumers have opted for the safe route of buying tickets via a number of online marketplaces which offer more robust consumer protection and fan guarantees.

If you’ve been following the news over the last several weeks, you may have seen attempts by a small group of peers in the House of Lords to introduce an amendment to the Consumer Rights Bill, which is designed to regulate the secondary ticket market.

The amendment, supported by event organisers, would force anyone wanting to sell their ticket on an online platform having to publish far more information than they do currently. This would include the seller’s full name and address, the row and seat number, the booking reference number and whether the resale contravenes the terms and conditions of the ticket.

But while this proposal has been sold to peers and others as being about consumer protection and transparency, in reality it is really about allowing event organisers to tightly control the resale of all tickets so that they can only be resold via their authorised resellers. Under the plans, organisers will have enough information given to them from online platforms to cancel tickets sold on the secondary market at will, making them totally worthless.  This is despite the fact that fans with spare tickets are typically unable to get a refund for tickets unless the event is cancelled completely.  We also have evidence of organisers going even further and blacklisting fans caught trying to sell tickets, barring them from ever attending a particular venue again and banning them from fan clubs and supporters’ clubs.

This heavy-handed approach is not only contrary to basic consumer rights, but could also be seen as a severe invasion of privacy. As everyone knows, publishing your details online can be risky. It is not hard, for instance, to foresee fraudsters using this proposed change in the law to farm personal information, or get tickets diverted to different addresses. It also raises questions over what other product this could apply to. If people are no longer allowed to sell tickets that they’ve bought, what is to stop the scope of the law being extended over time to other products? What’s to stop the car industry, seeking to protect its sales, pushing to outlaw the secondary market in used cars?

Aside from the myriad problems with the amendment, we believe peers are actually missing the most important thing they could do to improve the fairness in the ticketing sector – banning the use of so-called ‘bots’. Bots, for the uninitiated, are computer programmes that automate the process of buying tickets online.

Organisations use bots to buy up huge numbers of tickets for popular events as soon as they go on sale, preventing anybody trying to buy the old-fashioned way from getting a look-in. This, in our opinion, is a far more serious problem affecting the ticketing market than ordinary people who just want to sell a ticket which they can no longer use.  The bot problem is only getting worse.

Aggravating this are reports that many event organisers do back-hand deals with online platforms, selling huge amounts of tickets which were never put on the primary market in the first place. This has seen genuine fans frozen out of the ticket-buying process, while lining the pockets of those who use these underhand tactics. At Fan Freedom UK, we want to see an end to these practices, with clear requirements for all tickets to be placed on the primary market in the first instance, and the use of bots banned.

In a positive development, the House of Commons has now rejected twice the proposals put forward by event organisers. We are therefore urging peers, when the Bill returns to the Lords on 24th February, to vote against any attempt to reinstate their amendment, or some variant of it. Instead, we are calling for an independent review of the ticketing sector, which would pave the way for action on the real problems it faces.

If you agree with our argument, we urge you to sign our petition, available on Change.org. You can also email all Lords who previously voted for the amendment through our website, voicing your disquiet, with just two clicks of a button. If you have any queries about the campaign, please contact [email protected], and we’ll be happy to help.

George Robinson is Director of Fan Freedom UK