Security under review after Manchester Arena bomb
As venue operators around the world begin to process the news about the horrific attack on music fans in Manchester, live event security experts are reporting high volumes of queries from an industry that will have its work cut out to reassure concertgoers in the days and weeks ahead.
With festival season due to kick off in just a couple of weeks, urgent reviews of security measures are happening among production crews around the UK, while National Arenas Association chairman Martin Ingham – like most others in the arenas sector – spent the morning in operational meetings with his staff.
“Each of our member venues has been liaising with their own local police force and their network of counter terror officers and I know of at least three arenas who have had briefings with police today,” said Ingham. As well as UK arenas, Many London theatres were also understood to have spent the morning reviewing security procedures.
BBC Radio One’s Big Weekend festival is due to take place in Hull from 27-28 May. A spokesperson for the festival told the NME, “The health and safety of everyone involved in Big Weekend is now our primary focus and we are carrying out a full assessment, with the police and our partners, of every aspect of the festival.”
“Each of our member venues has been liaising with their own local police force and their network of counter terror officers and I know of at least three arenas who have had briefings with police today”
Security expert Chris Kemp, of Mind Over Matter Consultancy, tells IQ that he had received calls from as far afield as New Zealand and emails from clients around the world in the immediate aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing.
“We’ve just created a course with Network Rail on identifying behavioural characteristics and trying to stop perpetrators in their tracks. But the difficulty is that the modus operandi of these terrorists is changing and there is no way you can infiltrate where there are lone terrorists who don’t communicate with others and just decide to carry out the act.
“Another difficulty is that you are asking low-paid staff to engage people they might perceive as suspicious, but if you’re getting £7.50 an hour, are you really going to put your life on the line? So it has to be the police, or [Security Industry Authority] operatives who do this.”
Kemp believes that terrorists are targeting precisely the places and events where people least expect such atrocities to happen, while those behind such attacks are also getting more savvy about what to wear and how to behave to avoid arousing suspicion. “Unfortunately there has to be a limit on how far you go with things because the costs of extra layers of security can be astronomical. But we are continuously working to create more deterrents and we’re doing a lot more stuff with venues and venue associations to improve security measures,” he says.
“There has to be a limit on how far you go with things, because the costs of extra layers of security can be astronomical”
Iridium Security director Reg Walker observes that “there has clearly been some hostile reconnaissance done beforehand for this bombing.” Although early reports state that it was a lone bomber using homemade explosives, Walker speculates that he would have to have had a support structure and that police and security services are already working hard to identify the bomber and any potential collaborators. At press time, reports were already emerging about the arrest of a 23-year-old man in connection with the Manchester attack.
“There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this tragedy,” says Walker. “It appears that this individual waited outside and attempted to walk into the venue on egress before detonating the device with a hand switch. But the fact that he was in a sort of no-man’s land, in a concourse between the venue itself and the train station, is significant.
“Most venues already have security in depth and the cooperation between venue operators and the security services is very good, so that most venues have become hard places to attack – but at the same time this person targeted an area on the periphery.”
Walker warns that it is virtually impossible to make any venue completely secure. “Even somewhere like Buckingham Palace, with its state-of-the-art security, still has incursions,” he says. “But on the flip side, this is the first mainland bombing in the UK since 2005, so the number of incidents that have been prevented is significant.”
Advising venue operators on how to strengthen security measures, Walker concludes, “It’s vital that venues reach out to the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) for advice on how to enhance or adapt their security. And it’s also imperative that venues carry out regular drills so that new staff can benefit from that training and everyone knows what to do if there is an attack.”
“It’s vital that venues reach out to the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) for advice on how to enhance or adapt their security”
While a number of live music operations declined to comment in the immediate aftermath of the attack, one expert points out that what happens both in the short- and long-term will depend on the outcome of the UK government’s emergency Cobra meeting.
“The information that filters down through the SECOs (security coordinators) will determine the response of promoters and event organisers,” said the source. He added that the police and security services would determine what additional measures may be required for summer festivals and concerts in general, but this may not be communicated for a number of days. “Obviously, trying to get hold of counter terrorism experts in the police today isn’t possible, but they are very effective at sharing information with us, so we expect to be briefed in the next day or two.”
Paul Reed, general manager of the Association of Independent Festivals in the UK noted that security at music festivals, as well as venues, is continuously reviewed as the top priority of promoters is the safety of their audiences. He tells IQ that in recent years, there has been a vast increase in dialogue and intelligence sharing between police and festival organisers, while initiatives such as NaCTSO’s counter terrorism Argus exercises are also helping to strengthen security efforts.
“In the aftermath of this dreadful attack in Manchester, audiences attending festivals this season may understandably have some concerns”
“In the aftermath of this dreadful attack in Manchester, audiences attending festivals this season may understandably have some concerns,” says Reed. “I must emphasise the excellent security record of UK festivals. AIF members are experts in organising safe and secure events for between 800 and 60,000 people and a highly effective private security industry has built up around events in this country.
“In addition, organisers have a constant dialogue with law enforcement and other relevant agencies at a local, regional and national level and there is increasingly more intelligence sharing between these agencies and promoters through initiatives such as Operation Gothic and the Project Argus training events. Security measures at festivals are reviewed constantly and the top priority of promoters of festival and concerts is always the safety and security of audiences. If additional measures need to be introduced, we are confident that they will be.”
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Ticket bots: Hidden menace or red herring?
While ticket bots – automated software used to hoover up concert tickets to then resell – remain legal in most of the world, the last 12 months have seen official sentiment in several major markets shift towards prohibition.
The state of New York was the first to criminalise the usage of bots, with legislation introduced by Carl Heastie and Marcos Crespo providing for up to a year in prison for offenders. The Canadian province of Ontario followed suit in September, and the US as a whole outlawed bots in December with then-president Barack Obama’s signing of the Better Online Ticket Sales – or Bots – Act into law.
The vast majority of those working in the live music industry agree on the need for a ban on bots – including, tellingly, secondary ticketing giants StubHub and Ticketmaster (Seatwave, Ticketmaster Resale, TicketExchange, Get Me In!) – but there are concerns among some anti-touting activists that a singular focus on bots could detract from the conversation around what they see as a fundamentally broken ticketing market.
Speaking to the UK parliament committee on ‘ticket abuse’ earlier this month, Rob Wilmshurst, CEO of Vivendi Ticketing/See Tickets – which recently launched its own face-value ticket exchange, Fan2Fan – said he believes bots have been a “red herring” in the debate over secondary ticketing in the UK. “We’ve added more technology to thwart them [bots], but we don’t see conversion rates dropping,” he told MPs.
Similarly, Adam Webb, of anti-secondary campaign group FanFair Alliance, responded to the US’s bot ban with a note of caution, highlighting that the legislation was “supported by companies who run secondary ticketing services, and who benefit directly from mass-scale ticket touting”.
Are ticket bots, then, a straw man on which the big secondaries are happily pinning the blame for headline-grabbing $3,000 Adele tickets, or could a global ban on bots actually be effective in eliminating price-gouging in the secondary market?
“Bots aren’t the only way tickets end up on the secondary market”
Reg Walker, of events security firm Iridium, says any legal initiatives aimed at combatting bots “can only be a good thing”. He concedes that while there are “systemic problems in the ticket industry as a whole”, including ticket agencies with a “foot in both camps” (primary and secondary), “any legislation that goes any way towards levelling the playing field must be welcomed”.
Walker cautions, however, that “legislation is only as good as the amount of enforcement that goes into supporting it”. A major problem with the law in the UK, he tells IQ, is that the onus is on secondary sites themselves to report attempts to buy tickets using bots: “Is there any incentive to report bot attacks when the same company may well end up, by intention or inadvertently, being a net beneficiary of that activity?” he asks.
The chief executive of the UK’s Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR), Jonathan Brown, agrees on the importance of ticketing sites reporting all bot attacks. “Bots are certainly one way that touts get hold of tickets, and it’s great that there is action specifically on this issue,” he explains. “However, we have always said that this also needs to go alongside far greater understanding and technical defences against such attacks – and, of course, a need for attacks or suspected attacks to be reported.”
Legislation targeting bots is a “great first step”, says Ant Taylor, the founder and CEO of Lyte, which powers the new ‘fan-to-fan’ ticket exchange from Ticketfly, a supporter of the bot ban in the US. “The public has experienced longstanding frustration from not having access to tickets for their favourite artists, or having to pay exorbitant prices to do so.”
Taylor highlights the importance of fans genuinely unable to attend a show having a “viable technological alternative”, such as Ticketfly/Lyte, to resell their ticket. “We’ve integrated Lyte directly with a primary ticketing company,” he continues, “so their venue and promoter partners now have complete control of the fan experience. This keeps the money in the hands of those who contribute to these incredible live event experiences and away from scalpers who purely profit off them.”
Patrick Kirby, managing director of recently launched white-label platform Tixserve, cautions that overemphasis on bots could lead to a spike in “low-tech” crime such as counterfeiting. “An unintended consequence of the ban on bots might be an increase in the fraudulent duplication or counterfeiting of tickets, which is a low-tech activity when tickets continue to be paper-based,” he tells IQ.
“Professional touts already use other, non-bot, methods of acquiring primary tickets for the secondary market”
Kirby says the effectiveness of banning bots will depend largely on the “extent to which bot operators will seek to circumvent the new legislation. The previous experience of the Tixserve team in the card payments and mobile-airtime distribution sectors is that the targets of anti-abuse measures always look to find creative ways of protecting their lucrative, ill-gotten incomes. Sometimes, it can be akin to pinning down a lump of jelly.”
Walker believes, however, that it’s extremely easy to tell when a site has fallen victim to a bot attack.
“We live in a technological age, and there is an overdependence on computer programs and algorithms to detect this activity,” he comments. Bot attacks are “so easy to spot on primary ledgers”, says Walker – providing ticket agencies actually take the time to look. “We haven’t found a single case, bar one, where a primary or secondary ticket agent has gone to police or Trading Standards and asked them to investigate,” he explains.
“Bottom line: it [banning bots] is not a silver bullet,” comments Adam Webb, who as FanFair campaign manager welcomed plans by the British government to ban bots as part of its implementation of the Waterson report.
“Moves by government[s to] criminalise the misuse of technology to bulk-buy tickets are an important and welcome step,” Webb tells IQ. “However […] not every tout has this sort of software in their armoury. There are many alternative ways to access large volumes of inventory…
“That’s why FanFair, in our response, was keen to give equal weight to the other elements of government’s announcement, particularly the blanket acceptance of Professor Waterson’s recommendations and suggestion of further actions to improve transparency in this market. (Waterson’s recommendations largely centre on proper reinforcement of the 2015 Consumer Rights Act, which obliges resellers to list the original face value, seat/row numbers and any ticket restrictions.)
“Bottom line: It is not a silver bullet”
Kirby adds that banning bots ignores “professional touts [who] already use other non-bot methods of acquiring primary tickets for placement on the secondary market”. In response to bot bans, resellers could, says Kirby, “ramp up the practice of using teams of people masquerading as genuine fans to buy significant amounts of tickets using multiple identities, addresses and credit cards”.
Stuart Cain, managing director of NEC Group’s The Ticket Factory, agrees with Walker that “banning bots is just one part of a much wider story”, but says any legislation “that allows for greater transparency in the market and help to stop fans being conned is a positive”. “There’s still a way to go, but [banning bots] is a promising first step when it comes to the industry finally cleaning up its act,” he comments.
While Walker praises the recent raft of anti-bot measures as “fantastic” – and the recent British legislation, in particular, as having real “teeth” – he warns against the tendency to think of banning ticket bots as a panacaea to sky-high prices on the secondary market.
“The danger is that while we have all this focus on bots and software, the other structural issues in ticketing could be ignored,” he concludes. “Bots aren’t the only way tickets end up on the secondary market.”
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