Ticketing websites have called on the government to crack down on rogue online operators after a spate of high-profile examples of consumers being ripped off.
Andy Burnham, the culture secretary, is believed to be close to launching an industry consultation based around proposals first floated this year in response to concerns about the booming online market in tickets for concerts and sporting events.
Last week, a website called Paperticket became the latest in a string of sites to be shut down by police after complaints from consumers who had paid for tickets for gigs by artists including Kings Of Leon, Barry Manilow and the Killers but had not received them.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is keen to draw a distinction between illegal activity and the resale of tickets by genuine fans who cannot attend an event. It believes there is little appetite for an outright ban on reselling tickets, despite Burnham saying this year that it ‘leeches off’ the UK’s cultural life. Instead, it is ready to press ahead with plans for a ‘crown jewels’ list of events for which resale will be banned.
A large industry has developed in offering consumers the ability to resell tickets, with sites such as eBay competing with dedicated offerings such as Viagogo and Seatwave. Most now offer an element of protection to buyers.
Meanwhile, the line between touts and fans has become blurred, with it becoming commonplace for some people to buy a few extra tickets and sell them online in the hope of funding their own purchase.
The Association of Secondary Ticket Agents (Asta), a body that speaks for about 50 mostly traditional agencies that have also moved online, is calling for a kitemark scheme that would reassure consumers.
‘The government’s failure to endorse a kitemarking scheme means the consumer has no way of identifying legitimate traders, leaving them open to exploitation,’ said Asta chairman Graham Burns. ‘We would urge consumers only to buy tickets on the internet from accredited suppliers or legitimate ticket brokers who have signed up to the Asta code of conduct.’
But some of the biggest operators, including Seatwave, have not signed up to the Asta plans, preferring to offer their own indemnity schemes. Most sporting authorities continue to favour an outright ban, while artists including Robbie Williams and the Verve proposed a system whereby they would receive a cut of the proceeds of tickets that are resold.
Both are now seen as unlikely. The government’s ‘crown jewels’ list is likely to be based on the existing list of sporting events of national importance that are reserved for free-to-air television, including the rugby and cricket world cups, the Grand National and Wimbledon. Provision for big one-off concerts such as the Nelson Mandela concert in Hyde Park last summer could also be included.
But some websites, including eBay, are to lobby against even these events being banned from resale. They will say that consumers who have bought tickets to any event should have the right to sell them on, and argue that sporting authorities themselves are guilty of restricting supply via their own licensed hospitality agencies or affiliated clubs.
The government is also working with the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers, which represents so-called ‘primary’ sellers, to draw up a new code of practice in an attempt to allow fair and equal access to tickets.
Trading standards officers are concerned that unscrupulous online operators can easily bring in a lot of money in a short space of time by outbidding rivals on Google keyword searches for gig tickets, so appearing at the top of sponsored rankings. They can then take orders for a high volume of tickets in a short space of time, before disappearing with the money and failing to come up with the goods.
‘One of the biggest problems is that we generally only find out after there’s a problem. We deal with the aftermath. Because they’re web-based, they are hard to track down until it’s too late,’ said Tony Northcott of the Trading Standards Institute, who reported a steady rise in such cases.
‘On the internet, they can be based anywhere in the world. I’ve heard whispers of ticket sites setting up in Dubai and suchlike. Often they’re long gone by the time we’ve tracked them down. Our advice is to be wary and to always pay by credit card.’
Northcott also warned that the London 2012 Olympics would give rise to a new wave of unscrupulous websites.