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.
FEAT launch ruffles feathers in Europe
Both major European secondary ticketing sites have responded to the launch of the Face-value European Alliance for Ticketing (FEAT), the continent-wide anti-ticket touting association which broke cover at Eurosonic Noorderslag last week.
San Francisco-headquartered StubHub, a division of eBay, and Switzerland-based Viagogo each issued statements following the launch of FEAT, which is backed by promoters, agents and managers in seven European countries.
While Viagogo’s response doesn’t actually mention FEAT by name, sticking instead to the tried and tested ‘we don’t sell tickets’ spiel – Viagogo “is not the ticket seller”, reads the statement, with the company simply making sure “everything goes smoothly” once “buyer and seller have entered into a transaction” – StubHub’s goes further, saying the company is “concerned by the rhetoric of the newly formed Face-value European Alliance for Ticketing (FEAT) and its potential to harm consumers, especially as we observe the trend of rising average face-value prices”.
“As outlined in the independent Waterson report presented to the UK parliament, the desire to implement price caps is ill-advised and will, among other things, likely drive resale back onto the streets and other parts of the internet, like social media, where enforcement is limited and there are no equivalent consumer protections,” says StubHub’s managing director for its northern EMEA division, Wayne Grierson.
Following on from an IQ comment piece in which he challenged primary ticket sellers to make clear how many tickets go on sale, Grierson says FEAT should instead be advocating for transparency in the primary market. “Fans have the right to understand how many tickets are being made available for sale, and when and at what price, and whether those prices will fluctuate due to demand,” he continues.
“Fans have the right to understand how many tickets are being made available for sale, and when and at what price”
“In the state of New York, it was reported that an average of 54% of tickets never even go on public sale and are instead held back by promoters and primary sellers. When consumers have this information available to them, they can make informed purchasing decisions.”
Referencing recent developments concerning Viagogo – specifically the Consumer and Markets Authority (CMA)’s court order which, among things, compels the controversial platform to end speculative listings and list the face value of tickets – Grierson adds: “[W]e’ve seen the positive effects that regulation can have on the consumer experience across the secondary market. Any further regulation should look comprehensively at the entire industry and focus on protecting consumers, not policies that will have negative consequences.”
This argument would hold more water had StubHub itself not been previously compelled by the CMA to change its business practices, suggests promoter Scumeck Sabottka of Germany’s MCT, one of the founders of FEAT.
“While we agree on the importance of a secure environment for fans to resell tickets when they can no longer attend a gig, we disagree on the need for this to involve price-hiking to the value of €8bn annually,” Sabottka tells IQ, referencing the estimated cost to European consumers for tickets resold above face value. “FEAT advocates for transparency in ticketing, [to which] our website attests.
“However, on that subject, we question why it took a CMA investigation for StubHub to commit to telling UK ticket buyers what they are buying, whether they are buying from a business and whether their ticket might not actually get them into the event.
“Both artists and fans want face value resale”
“Both artists and fans want face value resale. We note the closure of Seatwave and Get Me In! in the UK, the success of face-value resale platforms like Twickets in the UK and Spain, and the fact that countries like Ireland are moving towards a face value resale-only policy. We hope StubHub will catch this wave and work with organisations like ours towards a resale ecosystem that is truly fan-first.”
As for Viagogo, which was given a deadline of last Thursday (17 January) to comply with the court order, the CMA said this morning it has not done so, despite claims to the contrary.
“Following initial checks, the CMA has serious concerns that Viagogo has not complied with important aspects of the court order we secured against them,” reads a statement from the authority. “The CMA has now raised these concerns with Viagogo and expects them to make any necessary changes without delay. If they do not, the CMA will return to court to ensure they do.”
Responding, Adam Webb, campaign manager for anti-touting group FanFair Alliance, says: “Last week, Viagogo passed a strict deadline to comply with a court order and overhaul its business.
“True to form, we have seen little evidence of change. In fact, our concerns with how this website operates have only intensified, and while we welcome today’s update it is now vital that the CMA act quickly and decisively to enforce the law. Viagogo has run out of road.”
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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.