Blogs of War: How we can all play our part in ticket tout fight

Following news that Parliament have rejected Iron Maiden and Radiohead’s call to crack down on secondary sales of concert and event tickets, Mischa Pearlman says it’s a war we can still win – if we all pull together.

“In 2006, I went with some friends to see Sigur Rós at the Hammersmith Apollo. They had tickets, I didn’t, and the gig was sold out, so I approached a tout. He offered to sell me a ticket for £100, which was about five times its face value. I said no. It was already pretty close to the time the band were meant to play, so I hung around a while just in case something came up. After a few minutes, the tout I’d spoken to, who had a visible handful of tickets, came up to me again and offered a ticket for £60. I said no. Within less the a minute, he haggled himself down to £25, which was just above face value and probably less when you take booking fees into account. I was happy, the tout was happy (ish) and no-one got ripped off. The point is, if you let people take advantage of you, they will, but it’s always worth fighting back.

“The trouble is, with the advent of the internet and the subsequent boom in online ticketing, that’s getting harder and harder to do. So it’s music to my ears that Iron Maiden, Radiohead, Bullet For My Valentine, Arctic Monkeys and others, including the Lawn Tennis Association, have written a letter to the UK government about the situation and are trying to take a stand against the secondary ticket market. For my sins, I used to edit a website which sold concert tickets. Initially, it was only primary tickets at cost price (plus booking fee), but then the company made deals with other outlets to include secondary tickets on the site. Secondary tickets, to make it clear, are tickets sold by someone other than an authorised/licensed at a price determined by the individual or company in possession of the tickets. And even if that price is less than face value, the charges lumped on top are hugely inflated, so you still end up paying more than you should. I have nothing against someone selling an unwanted/unusable ticket for cost, but this is ‘legitimised’ touting on a grand scale and should be outlawed.

“That was galling enough, and I had numerous arguments with my boss about having to prominently display links to events the day they went on sale that went directly to the secondary partner and not the face value tickets. Because of course, for the secondary partner and my boss, it was only about the money. They were exploiting people’s passion – for music and sport, the stuff where people’s blood runs really high out of devotion and attachment to their favourite band or their particular team – for financial gain. Yes, we live in a capitalist world, but the greed of the whole thing was (and is) disgusting. And while it doesn’t take a genius to discern the difference between tickets being sold at face value and those at inflated prices, there were invariably people who accidentally purchased the wrong type and were lumbered with an extortionately priced ticket.

“Because, of course, you can’t get refunds on these sites – your only option is to resell, thereby giving the supplier another dose of exorbitant commission (their booking fees are a percentage of the ticket price, so the higher the ticket, the more you pay on top of what it’s listed). Thankfully, the site I worked for seems to have dropped out of that side of the business, but plenty still persist. They claim they’re a vehicle for fans to sell tickets to other fans, but that’s really not the case. It’s pure greed and exploitation, with the middle man profiting heavy off fans who are both buying and selling. And often, it’s companies using technology to buy in bulk seem that seem be reaping the rewards more than actual fans. Even worse is the fact that promoters and ticket agencies, who should be looking out for the interests of the band and their fans, often seem to be in cahoots. Look for tickets for any big gig online and there will be loads available at secondary agencies the second they go on sale, and sometimes even before. That happened a lot when I was at that website. Plenty of people emailed and complained, and all I could say was ‘Sorry, there’s nothing I can do. That’s unfortunately the way it works.’

“But it doesn’t have to. It’s why Foo Fighters insisted back in November that you had to queue up for pre-sale tickets at the venue box office for their upcoming US tour. Yes, it’s a pain – especially if it’s cold and rainy outside – but that’s what people did in the old, pre-internet days, and it’s probably good for the soul. Red Bull have had a series of gigs in the US where you can only get in by queuing up the day of the show. What’s more, the tickets only cost $3 or $5. Of course, I’m not advocating either method for every single band out there, but something needs to be done. The more bands who jump on that bandwagon – especially bands with bigger profiles like Maiden and Foo Fighters – should make it increasingly hard for touts, online or otherwise, to exploit fans. But the ordinary person can play their part, too, buy not caving into the touts. However badly I wanted to go to that Sigur Rós gig, I wasn’t going to get ripped off. And I didn’t. And if everybody flat out refused to buy (and sell) tickets at inflated prices, the whole tout industry would collapse. Of course, that’s very wishful thinking, but little by little, band by band, I believe things can and will change for the better. Let’s hope so anyway.”