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Transparency troubles: ticketing’s pinnacle issue

Imagine you’ve long wanted to see your favourite band live.

Then one day, they announce a tour, with a date in your hometown in eight months’ time. This band hasn’t toured in a long time, and they always draw in the masses. What do you do? Buy the ticket of course – and maybe another for a friend, so you don’t go alone.

Fast forward six months. Now it’s clear that you will be travelling with work. Or you’ve not been able to find anyone to go with you. What should happen?

If you can’t make the gig, you should be able to resell the ticket to someone else, at a mutually agreed upon price, on a secure and transparent marketplace. That gives other people who weren’t as quick off the mark when tickets went on sale, the chance to go.

This is the essence of the secondary ticketing market. The transferability of tickets is necessary to achieve the best results for everyone. Without it, customers lose their money, venues lose their valued customers, nearby restaurants miss out on your footfall and your favourite band performs to a smaller crowd.

In recent years, the resale of tickets has come under scrutiny. Transparency has emerged as the pinnacle issue, to ensure consumers make informed purchasing decisions. This is a positive step forward for the ticketing industry. The fans must come first.

Transparency in the ticketing industry must be holistic if the true objective is to put consumers first

Yet what is increasingly clear is that transparency with respect to the first sale of tickets – i.e. how many tickets are available for sale, at what price, and at what time – is lacking. Recent media reports have begun to raise valid questions about whether fans are getting a raw deal.

We know that when tickets go on sale, they are not all sold at once. In addition to pre-sale opportunities through fan club memberships or having a particular credit card, it is an established industry practice, in many markets, to hold back tickets and release them for sale over time. Increasingly, those tickets held back from initial sale are being priced differently from the tickets sold previously – not necessarily because they are better seats – but because the demand for the show justifies higher prices.

This practice in itself isn’t objectionable, but the lack of transparency and customer awareness around it is very concerning. Ironically, many of the same industry players calling for transparency and fixed prices in secondary sales are resistant to adopting the same standards for themselves. Transparency in the ticketing industry must be holistic if the true objective is to put consumers first.

Our position is clear. Fans should know the reality of their purchasing options when they try to buy a ticket – as much with primary as secondary. Organisers and marketplaces must be honest if fans are to trust us.

And choice, and transferability, gives fans the best chance of seeing the artists they love in packed out, atmospheric venues – enjoying the best of live.

 


Wayne Grierson is general manager at StubHub UK.

FTC workshop calls for greater enforcement of bot ban

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Tuesday held its first workshop examining online ticket sales, inviting lawmakers, academics and industry representatives from both the primary and secondary markets to examine consumer protection issues in how event tickets are sold on the internet.

Announced last October, the 11 June event included contributions from Ticketmaster’s head of music in North America, David Marcus, Live Nation president of US concerts Bob Roux, SeatGeek founder Russell D’Souza and International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) chair Michael Marion, among others, and tackled alleged anti-competitive practices in the primary market, as well as greater enforcement on the US ban on ticket bots.

According to Law360 (via CMU), Joe Ridout of consumer rights group Consumer Action said the FTC being able to fine those using automated software to buy tickets is not a big enough deterrent. “The penalties just aren’t sufficient to deter bad actors without criminal penalties,” he told the panel, adding that the FTC should also bring tech firms into the debate on bots: “We need to do more if we’re going to get to the bottom of who’s behind bots”.

Addressing whether fees should be applied to the price of tickets up front, as in several other countries, Vox reports that both primary and secondary ticketers appeared to welcome a move towards that model. “Essentially every person on the panel agreed, appearing to politely beg the FTC to regulate them so that people would like them again,” the site reports, referencing customer dissatisfaction with ticket fees.

Gary Adler, executive director and counsel of the National Association of Ticket Brokers (NATB), which lobbies on behalf of ticket resellers, says both primary and secondary sellers appeared united on the need to increase transparency and end deceptive practices in the US ticketing market.

“There was a lot of mutual interest at the workshop, specifically around reducing fraud and deceit in the market and increasing transparency”

“I am happy the FTC invited me to participate, and I hope we can harness the momentum from the workshop to see some positive change,” he comments. “The workshop marks an an important day for anyone who enjoys live events and purchases tickets, or who works in the ticketing business and competes with large and powerful companies that control most of the supply of tickets and their price. There was a lot of mutual interest at the workshop, specifically around reducing fraud and deceit in the market and increasing transparency for consumers when it comes to ticket prices and fees.”

Adler says regulators must now push for a system in which consumers are informed of the number of ticket holdbacks and comps at the time they go on sale. “At the workshop it was revealed again that for high-demand events, oftentimes large percentages of tickets never go on sale to the public,” he comments. “Fixing this central problem should be a top priority so that consumers have the information they consider meaningful when deciding whether or not they are being offered a fair deal on tickets.”

Efforts to introduce similar transparency measures elsewhere have been unsuccessful: in 2017, Ontario, Canada, dropped plans for legislation that would have required ticket sellers to disclose how many tickets are available to the public for a given event seven days before they go on sale, allegedly under pressure from the primary sector.

“This begins most importantly with the first, initial sale of the ticket, but also during any resale of that ticket too,” continues Adler. “Hopefully the workshop is the catalyst for much-needed change in the ticketing system – as there is existing authority at the FTC as it relates to deceptive advertising and marketing practices which means the commission can act now, and where new authority is needed, there were renewed calls at the workshop for federal legislation to provide that authority or to create new rules for the ticketing market.”

 


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Viagogo overhaul should be just the start of putting fans first

As a fan-first marketplace, StubHub is delighted that Viagogo has finally been forced to operate in line with industry standards and existing legislation.

Now, you might think it odd that we at StubHub are pleased that a competitor has finally been forced to improve itself.

Indeed, some companies might like it when their competition fails to adhere to industry standards, believing that it will ultimately drive consumers to themselves. But that is a narrow and self-defeating view.

True consumer-minded businesses know that unless everyone plays by the same rules, it actually undermines consumer confidence in the whole sector, which is good for no one.

For those who haven’t seen the news, I’m referring to the announcement on Tuesday 27 November that the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) secured a court order which means Viagogo must overhaul the way it does business, marking the conclusion of legal proceedings initiated back in August over concerns that Viagogo was breaking consumer protection law.

Finally, a court has agreed to make a legally binding order instructing Viagogo to respect the law, and agree to the standards which the majority of the secondary ticketing sites have already signed up to.

But StubHub would like to see things go further.

We would like to see greater transparency in the primary ticketing market so that fans have all the information they need

Specifically, we would like to see greater transparency in the primary ticketing market so that fans have all the information they need on the availability of tickets.

The allocation and distribution of tickets on the primary market has traditionally been a closely held secret. Primary sellers typically do not tend to make every ticket to an event available. As we have seen in other countries, tickets are often held back for artists, venues, teams, sponsors, fan clubs and pre-sales.

There may be legitimate reasons for this, yet fans have little insight into how many tickets are actually available at onsale.

Indeed, according to a 2016 report by the New York state attorney general, an average of only 46% of tickets were made available to the public. The remaining 54% were held back. And for top shows, the average proportion of tickets that went on sale to the general public fell to 25%, and in some cases as low as 12%!

StubHub believes that this needs to change, and consumers think that, too – as was made clear by a Censuswide polling we conducted back in September that showed 67% of people surveyed agreed that event organisers or ticket issuers should be required to post online the proportion of tickets actually being made available to the general public.

Ultimately, this is about a level playing field for everyone.

We believe that consumers benefit if all ticketing operators embrace the same rules and standards.

 


Wayne Grierson is general manager, northern EMEA, for StubHub.

SH blasts neutered Ontario regs as ‘bad for fans’

StubHub’s general manager for concerts and theatre in North America, Jeff Poirier, has penned an “open letter to fans” criticising Ontario’s abandonment of the planned ticket transparency provisions in its new Ticket Sales Act, which passed into law yesterday.

In its current form, the Ticket Sales Act caps the price of resold tickets at 150% of face value, bans ticket bots and requires business selling or reselling tickets to disclose certain information, including the capacity of the venue, the number of tickets on general on-sale and the original face-value ticket price.

It also originally required ticket sellers to disclose how many tickets are available to the public for a given event seven days before they go on sale – a provision abandoned last month following reported opposition from the concert industry. Among those believed to have pushed back against the transparency clause were Live Nation/Ticketmaster Canada and industry association Music Canada Live; according to local media, Ticketmaster’s Canadian COO, Patti-Anne Tarlton, told Ontarian parliamentarians that revealing total ticket numbers “could enable [touts] to better use bots to buy bulk tickets where they’re known to be scarce”.

Poirier disagrees, and in the open letter, published yesterday, says the stripped-back legislation will be remembered for its “unintended consequences” on ordinary ticket buyers – and push the secondary market underground.

“Today, the Ontario Liberals passed their Ticket Sales Act,” he writes. “Consultations were initially approached with the best of intentions: increase transparency on availability of tickets on the market and level the playing field so you have better access and more insight into the ticket buying process. In the end, this legislation will be known more for its unintended consequences than its protection of fans like you.

“The government has maintained proposals that set fans back and stripped important transparency requirements that could have truly benefited you”

“In its original form, the Ticket Sales Act banned the use of bots to procure tickets, required ticket businesses to disclose more information to consumers and capped the resale price of tickets. Yet the government has maintained proposals that set fans back and stripped important transparency requirements that could have truly benefited you.”

While he reiterates StubHub’s previously expressed support for banning ticket bots, Poirier cites the January 2016 study by New York attorney-general Eric Schneiderman – which found that up to 75% of tickets are being held back from the general public – as evidence that “the issues impacting ticket access are broader than just bots”, which many consider to be only a small part of wider structural issues affecting the ticketing sector. This shortage of publicly available tickets, he continues, “is one of the reasons why you see popular shows ‘sell out’ so quickly”.

“The original legislation required ticket sellers to disclose how many tickets were actually being made available for sale – a simple concept that would provide you better insight into the actual availability of tickets,” writes Poirier. “This is the very issue the proposed legislation was trying to solve. Yet, the government chose to remove this critical provision from the legislation, citing pressure from the live entertainment industry as a prevailing reason over establishing transparency for Ontario fans like you.

“At StubHub, we understand transparency is important across the entire ticket industry, not just in the resale market. You should be able to know how many tickets are available for an event, what your seats will look like and how much you’re going to pay for them. Only in that circumstance can you make a purchase that you truly feel good about.”

“You should be able to know how many tickets are available for an event, what your seats will look like and how much you’re going to pay for them”

“When it comes to price caps,” he continues, “StubHub joins the industry in opposing this measure. This proposal stands to negatively impact Ontario fans like you and Ontario-based businesses like StubHub as ticket resales are driven off platforms that have robust consumer protections. Ticket resale prices will continue to be driven by supply and demand, not by arbitrarily set price caps. The fact is, if a venue holds 20,000 fans, but 100,000 fans want to attend the performance, ticket prices will reflect that demand. If the established market rate exceeds the 50% cap established by government, those sales won’t stop or adapt to reflect the price caps – they’ll just occur at their true value through channels the government cannot regulate. It will happen on street corners where the risk of counterfeit and fraud is significant, and no guarantees are in place; or it will happen on ticket resale websites located outside of jurisdiction of the Ontario government. Either way, you and businesses that have invested in the province will be hurt.

“Consumers benefit from a competitive ticket market where transactions occur through secure channels that prioritise fans. At the same time, it is important to incentivise and encourage this ecommerce to remain right here, in Ontario.

“We have said from the onset that we believe there is a better way for the industry and for you. It’s our mission at StubHub to connect you to incredible live event experiences, and to do so safely and securely by including money back guarantees and fraud prevention measures. This legislation is a disappointment for the ticketing industry, and a disappointment for fans like you.”

 


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Ontario drops proposed ticket transparency rules

The Canadian province of Ontario has abandoned plans for legislation that would have required ticket sellers to disclose how many tickets are available to the public for a given event seven days before they go on sale.

The measure was announced last month as part of a consumer protection bill that also provides for capping the price of resold tickets at 150% of face value; banning ticket bots and prohibiting the resale of bot-bought tickets; and requiring business selling or reselling tickets to disclose information including the capacity of the venue, the number of tickets on general on-sale and the original face-value ticket price.

While those measures remain largely uncontroversial, Ontario’s Liberal party government is to drop the transparency clause under pressure from artists and the industry, reveals the Globe and Mail, concluding that the rule “would be a disincentive for musicians, particularly small and medium acts, to tour the province”.

“Revealing ticket numbers could enable touts to better use bots to buy bulk tickets where they’re known to be scarce”

While some argue a lack of transparency around the amount of tickets actually on sale is a symptom of a “broken” ticket market – “The murky nature of how many tickets are ever available to the public makes the secondary resale market an easy scapegoat when fans fail to acquire tickets on regular sale,” argues TicketNews’s Sean Burns, “only to see immediate resale options at substantially higher prices on the secondary market” – promoters and primary ticketers largely disagree, with the abandonment of the transparency measure following a concerted effort by Ticketmaster Canada and promoters’ association Music Canada Live, reports the Globe and Mail.

According to the paper, Ticketmaster’s Canadian COO, Patti-Anne Tarlton, told Ontarian parliamentarians that revealing total ticket numbers “could enable [touts] to better use bots to buy bulk tickets where they’re known to be scarce”.

A different proposal, backed by opposition parties, would force primary sellers to make at least 75% of tickets available to the public – although leaving artists and promoters with just 25% of ticket inventory would make Ontario less appealing to companies based outside the province, so is similarly unlikely to make it into law.

 


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