Executives from Stubhub, Ticketmaster and eBay had to answer probing questions over company practice as the Government’s Culture Media and Sport Select Committee held a special session to discuss secondary ticketing.
Committee members took particular exception when Paul Peak, head of legal, StubHub (Europe), said the company was “under no legal obligation to police users of our site.”
Taking place inside the House Of Commons, the three-hour meeting also saw impassioned speeches from a panel featuring You Me At Six frontman Josh Franceschi, Wildlife Entertainment CEO Ian McAndrew and MMF chief executive Annabella Coldrick, who are campaigning for new legislation on secondary ticketing.
The third panel was comprised of Professor Michael Waterson, who published an independent review into ticket scalping in May, and Reg Walker, operations director of Iridium Consultancy, a leading expert on touting and ticketing irregularity.
Introducing the session, chair Damian Collins, Conservative MP for Folkestone and Hythe, said the decision to hold it was sparked by “a great deal of work” done by a number of MPs including Nigel Adams and Sharon Hodgson. He was referencing the Digital Economy Bill, which Adams has proposed be changed to include possible jail time as a sanction for touts found using botnet software.
Franceschi, Coldrick and McAndrew spoke first, with the latter – whose company manage Arctic Monkeys and Royal Blood – speaking of “industrial touting” and a “distorted market caused by a lack of transparency”.
Coldrick warmed to the transparency issue before revealing her knowledge of “some examples of if you can't beat them, join them attitudes" among artists and promoters towards secondary ticketing.
But, perhaps unsurprisingly due to his position as an artist who has intimate experience of how fans have been affected by scalping, Franceschi’s words packed the heaviest punch. You Me At Six went as far as to buy up tickets for an upcoming gig at Dingwalls in London and stage a special event where they sold them directly to fans in person.
“The main losers are the fans,” the singer said, “I don’t want to drive them away.” Referencing the reported £1.2 billion annual value of the secondary ticketing market he added, “Money's been taken out of the industry and put into the hands of people who are only concerned with lining their own pockets. We need to change the situation so the live scene can thrive.”
The frontman went on to express his fear that if nothing is done, future generations of musicians and fans will suffer. “It’s about the next generation, we have a responsibility to them to change things.”
The atmosphere inside the room soon changed, as Ticketmaster UK chairman Chris Edmonds, eBay’s head of public affairs/government relations Alasdair McGowan and Peak took their places before the MPs.
A heated 45-minute exchange concluded with both Andrew Bingham MP and Nigel Huddleston MP questioning the companies’ moral standpoints and transparency policies. Bingham pointed out that Ticketmaster affiliate Live Nation is promoting an upcoming Phil Collins tour specifying there will be no resale, but revealed he’d found the company’s secondary ticketing arm, Get Me In, is selling tickets online. “You are not helping yourselves,” he said.
Earlier, StubHub’s Peak was subject to intense questioning regarding his comments on policing the site’s users. Although he pointed out “97% of users are consumer sellers,” Labour MP Julie Elliott was unsatisfied by his answers. When she said, “It appears you are not doing anything to check who people are,” it summed up the mood in the room.
It was left to Waterson and particularly Walker to deliver a series of damning closing statements. Waterson, economics professor at the University Of Warwick, said banning secondary ticketing outright “wouldn’t work”, as he’d found evidence of the practice in France (where it is outlawed) while compiling his report.
Walker said “a small number of artists” are “certainly complicit” and referenced the recent row over scalping in Italy. He went on to emphasise the impact of “bad actors” who use “extremely aggressive software and multiple identities” to command the secondary market, adding so much “value” that “platforms have a dependence on them.” He added that the companies’ involvement “goes beyond turning a blind eye” and called for a “full HMRC investigation into secondary sellers”.
Asked about the links between the secondary market and organised crime, he spoke of “paramilitary groups in Dublin and Marbella linked to touting” but stressed “not all touts are criminals”.
As the MPs filed from the room, the mood among campaigners was buoyant. A rigorous morning’s investigation and a group of politicians departing with plenty of food for thought left behind a feeling of positivity, that the hard work of several artists, the MMF and the FanFair Alliance could yet stop fans being ripped off on the secondary market.