Viagogo’s brazen no-show was the talk of the town after yesterday’s Culture, Media And Sport Committee meeting on ticket abuse, but there were plenty of other titbits to come out of the session.
The committee picked up on some of the issues considered at the previous meeting last November, and considered the government's response to Professor Michael Waterson’s independent report on secondary ticketing.
Speakers who gave evidence to MPs in the House Of Commons included Ed Sheeran's manager Stuart Camp, Stuart Galbraith of promoter Kilimanjaro Live, See Tickets boss Rob Wilmshurst and Hamilton producer Cameron Macintosh, alongside Daily Record journalist Mark McGivern and Claire Turnham of the Victims Of Viagogo group.
Here is a run down of some of the key moments:
Viagogo’s empty seat
Having given up on winning the PR game aeons ago, it would have been more surprising if the Switzerland-headquartered resale firm HAD shown up to be grilled in parliament. Still, MPs were left decidedly unimpressed by Viagogo’s snub, blasting its "arrogance" and "lack of respect”, with one going as far as accusing the company of “naked, fraudulent mis-selling”. It’s unlikely we’ve heard the last of this.
Ticketmaster comes under fire
Stuart Galbraith, MD of Kilimanjaro Live, which promotes the likes of Ed Sheeran, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rag’N’Bone Man, Bastille, The 1975 and Catfish And The Bottlemen, accused Ticketmaster of trying to "blur the margin" between primary and secondary sales via its Seatwave and Get Me In resale sites.
“There are people in the room, myself included, who would never dream of buying a ticket from a secondary site, but we have bought from Ticketmaster,” said Galbraith. “We now regularly receive emails advising us of shows going onsale and advertising secondary tickets to us, so they are using their primary database to sell secondary tickets. That’s their business choice, but what I really have an issue with is that they do that when there are still enormous volumes of primary tickets at face value available.”
Banning bots might not be the answer
Though the recent bots ban announcement was warmly received in most quarters, See Tickets boss Rob Wilmshurst questioned what difference it will actually make. "Bots have been a red herring in this,” he advised the panel. “We've added more technology to thwart bots but we don't see conversion rates dropping."
Neither is following Glasto's lead
Glastonbury Festival's photo ID system, implemented by See Tickets, has been a resounding success in eliminating secondary ticketing at the event. But Wilmshurst dismissed the idea that it could work across the board.
"For Glastonbury it makes a ton of sense. It’s massively oversubscribed for the tickets available," he said. "For other events that don’t have that sort of demand ratio, it’ll be a barrier, an impediment to sale."
A harsh lesson for Catfish fans
Hundreds of Catfish And The Bottlemen fans were turned away at the door before their Kilimanjaro-promoted concert at The SSE Arena, Wembley last November, having tried to gain admission via tickets bought on Viagogo - which was not permitted by the terms and conditions agreed with the band's management.
“We had 450 customers turn up, all of whom we unfortunately diverted back to the box office and said, I’m very sorry but your ticket is not valid,” recalled Galbraith. “We sold them a ticket at face value, they were admitted and we told them to go back to Viagogo to claim their refund on something they shouldn’t have bought from them - and Viagogo blamed us. Unfortunately, customers are going to learn by having lessons that either they experience themselves or read about elsewhere. You can guarantee that no self-respecting Catfish And The Bottlemen fan will ever buy a ticket in the secondary market again.”
Ed Sheeran won’t be quite as strict
“It’s a fine line between a fan service and policing it,” suggested Sheeran’s manager Stuart Camp, of Rocket Music, when asked whether tickets bought on the secondary market would be valid for the singer’s upcoming arena tour. “You don’t want to make it a hideous experience for these people [who buy tickets on resale sites], because they are still fans.”
He continued: “Every advert we do; every email we do; every Twitter post from myself or Ed is always saying the same thing - go to edsheeran.com, don’t go to these secondary sites. But some people still get lulled in. Viagogo, in particular, looks like an official Ed Sheeran outlet. It’s about education, but it’s so difficult to get that message across sometimes.”
Those charity tickets
Viagogo was accused of "moral repugnance" for profiteering from reselling tickets for Ed Sheeran's Royal Albert Hall fundraising gig in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust at wildly inflated prices. "There were tickets going for over £5,000 on Viagogo," sighed Camp. Face value was £40 to £110.
The Consumer Rights Act needs work
Amendments to the Consumer Rights Act, passed by MPs in 2015, require information to be clearly displayed by ticket resellers such as face value and seat number, but appear to have been largely ignored by the secondary sites. “I don’t think it is sufficient,” stressed Galbraith. “There is not enough protection and it is not being enforced. The sites are starting to comply with the Consumer Rights Act more; some were getting as close to it as they possibly could. The latest trick is that they’ll tell you the block and the row and will tell you a range of seats that you’re going to sit in – but won’t tell you the [actual] seat, which is what they have to tell you by law - because they know that, if I know that, I will cancel the ticket.”
And that’s only half the issue
“The other problem with the Consumer Rights Act – even if it was complied with even fully – is when we come to standing tickets, we have general admission. You have no way of tracking that order," pointed out Galbraith. "So we believe that the Consumer Rights Act should have an amendment added to it that [includes the] unique booking reference in the original primary sale - then we can track that back to the source.”
But there could be some light at the end of the tunnel
Without enforcement, the Act will remain toothless - whatever amendments are drawn up – but there could be some progress on that front.
“The Consumer Rights Act has been in existence now for two years - there hasn’t been a single prosecution under that piece of legislation,” noted Galbraith. “So it was very pleasing to see in the budget there was now an amount of money that had been set aside for Trading Standards to actually start to investigate and bring prosecutions on a national level.”
And Galbraith added he had no issues with the secondary market itself. "If you are unable to go to event then you should have a platform where you can actually then dispose of that ticket – but our belief is that you should be able to dispose of it at a similar price that you bought it to. So there is a reason for a secondary market to exist but it should be, in effect, an exchange, rather than a secondary market."