This week’s PhD blog is by Alessandro Moretti, a final-year Criminology PhD student at Greenwich University. The subject of Alessandro’s thesis is black market ticket touting. He conducted ethnographic research to gain new knowledge in the strategies adopted by touts with the aim of contributing to the current debate on whether the practice should be regulated. This blog questions the extent to which recent legislation on the much-discussed practice of ticket touting offers effective consumer protection, particularly against fraud.
Alessandro offers some of his findings in this blog, through which he argues that attempts to protect the consumer have ultimately been futile. Alessandro’s independent, ethnographic research has thus far consisted of: 100 hours of observational fieldwork on touts outside venues; monitoring and participating in the secondary online market; and in-depth interviews with 25 sellers during a two-year period.
Contact Alessandro Moretti firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @Moretti131
Protecting the consumer from what?
Ticket touting is understood to mean the buying and reselling of tickets for a profit.
Traditionally an activity for the “sheepskin-coat-wearing” characters loitering outside venues (Collinson, 2015), the black market of tickets has in the last decade expanded considerably into the world wide web (Jones, 2015). Most notably, this has been facilitated by “the big four” resale platforms Get Me In!, Stubhub, Viagogo and Seatwave (APPG, 2014).
The key word here is expanded, as in no way whatsoever have street touts ceased to operate. A large number of transactions also continue to occur on websites like Gumtree, or through social media. And yet, the first ticketing legislation to target the practice since 1994 (1) covers the big four and little else.
The obvious question is: what do consumers need protection from?
Professor Waterson’s recent review of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (“CRA”) found that the most sensitive issue relates to the “(high) prices” of ticket resale (2016: 182). In the same review it was also asserted that: “…the consumer…above all else does not want to be a victim of fraud” (2016: 170).
The CRA was arguably introduced to increase transparency on online secondary ticketing facilities. The focus on requiring seat numbers to be published on resale listings, however, left questions around ticket prices unanswered.
A price cap has been strongly vouched for by Sharon Hodgson MP since 2010 (2), but, consistently with the government’s reluctance to interfere with free-market entrepreneurialism – an entrenched position held since the criminalisation of ticket touting beyond football was rejected in the 1990s (3) – the Bill was never ratified.
The Waterson review, published in May 2016, has once again advised against a price cap, this time on the grounds that it would be unlikely to be enforced, or that resellers may move abroad to get around such a law.
Given that not even the most basic requirement of publishing seat numbers has been enforced (Davies and Jones, 2016), can this be considered an acceptable rationale? And aren’t illegal resellers of football tickets already based abroad (such as Spanish platform Ticketbis, amongst others) to evade UK law?
The central element of the debate – the cost of tickets on the secondary market (4) – has, once again, been completely sidestepped.
With regards to fraud, my research has led me to the following conclusion:
• Fraud does not occur in the places targeted by the legislation
The arrival of the internet has spawned countless opportunities for touts and others to exploit (CMSC, 2008). In the same way that traditional street touts expanded their repertoire into online resale, fraudsters who sell fake tickets on the streets are now able to exploit the “buzz” of a sell-out event online, too.
“Bogus companies” created by “fly-by-night opportunists” (Sugden, 2002: 26) imitate the big four in both appearance and function. The difference is that the tickets on offer are either counterfeit or do not exist (see Christie, 2015 and Hopkins, 2016 on companies “Circle-Tickets” and “Getsporting”, amongst others).
This, in my view, is where online ticket fraud, estimated at £5.2m for the year ending October 2015 (Peachey, 2016), is primarily occurring – not on the big four. In addition, fraudsters still imitate touts on the streets. It is happening on Gumtree, Craigslist and Twitter, meaning the cost of ticket fraud is in fact much higher. Sadly, the CRA seems ineffective in all such instances of fraud.
Whilst most critics insist that more should be done against online touts (Savage, 2016; Chapple, 2016; Jones, 2016), the problem, in my view, is that focusing primarily on the big four has neglected the true, historical nature of ticket touting, the link that exists between the internet and the street, and the opportunistic crimes that can spawn from it.
My research aims to show that, despite intensified calls on the government to protect consumers, recent legislation has been misdirected. It is not just a problem of enforcement; the legislation has targeted the wrong area, namely the “legitimate” online secondary market, and has ultimately left consumer protection as a mere afterthought, despite it being heralded as the CRA’s primary focus.
1. Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Legislation was introduced for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics but these were, of course, temporary measures for one-off events
2. Sale of Tickets (Sporting and Cultural Events) Bill
3. This statement from the parliamentary debate in April 1994 illustrates the point well: “At Wimbledon there are not two sides who will have a punch-up if someone’s favourite loses the match. There is no such problem at pop concerts, or at the Derby and other horse races. Although I am against touts making a profit out of those events, at least one can say that the market economy can prevail there” (emphasis added).
4. Additionally, a direct consequence of the high cost of tickets is that pockets of society are being priced out from attending events. A ticket tout, by targeting the more affordable tickets and reselling them at a premium, “undermines the whole point of subsidy” and “denies access to those who the tickets are aimed at” (Bennett, 2014).
All Party Parliamentary Group on Ticket Abuse (2014) Secondary Market Investigation: Putting Fans First. London: House of Commons Library.
Bennett, A. (2014) Royal Opera House warns culture secretary Sajid Javid over ticket tout support. Huffington Post 10 April 2014. Available from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/04/10/sajid-javid-ticket-touts-naive_n_5124008.html. Accessed 4 June 2016
Chapple, J. (2016) UK industry reacts to Waterson report. IQ Live Music Intelligence 1 June 2016. Available from http://www.iq-mag.net/2016/06/uk-industry-reacts-michael-waterson-secondary-ticketing-report/#.V1MGQMdllEJ. Accessed 4 June 2016
Collinson, P. (2015) Ticket prices will go in one direction due to government U-turn. The Guardian 31 August 2015. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/money/blog/2015/aug/31/ticket-prices-one-direction-thanks-government-u-turn. Accessed 4 June 2016
Consumer Rights Act 2015, c.5. Available at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/15/part/3/chapter/5/enacted. Accessed 4 June 2016
Culture, Media and Sport Committee (2008) Ticket touting, Second Report of Session 2007-08. London: The Stationery Office Limited
Christie, S. (2015) Police fraud agency warns of surge in ticket fraud at start of festival season. The Telegraph 25 June 2015. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/money-saving-tips/11696458/Police-warn-of-surge-in-ticket-fraud-at-start-of-festival-season.html. Accessed 4 June 2016
Davies, R. and Jones, R. (2016) How the touts get away with bleeding fans dry. The Guardian 15 May 2016, Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/money/2016/may/15/shady-world-of-the-ticket-touts. Accessed 4 June 2016
Hopkins, J. Rugby World cup spurs big rise in online ticket fraud: cost of fake tickets soars 55% to £5.2m. This is Money 21 March 2016. Available from: http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-3501482/Rugby-World-Cup-spurs-big-rise-online-ticket-fraud-Cost-fake-tickets-soars-55-5-2m.html. Accessed 4 June 2016
Jones, R. (2015) Are ticket resale sites just hi-tech touts without the sheepskin coats? The Guardian 28 February 2016. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/feb/28/ticket-resale-sites-hi-tech-touts. Accessed 4 June 2016
Jones, R. (2016) Ticket touts face licencing threat. The Guardian 26 May 2016. Available from http://www.theguardian.com/money/2016/may/26/ticket-touts-review-licensing-enforcement. Accessed 4 June 2016
Lord Ashton (1994) HC Deb, cc 348-57, 13 April 1994. Available from: http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1994/apr/13/sale-of-tickets-for-designated-football. Accessed 4 June 2016
Peachey, K. (2016) Football and rugby hit by ticket fraud. BBC News 21 March 2016. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-35862010. Accessed 4 June 2016
Savage, M. (2016) Ticket sites ‘must do more to fight touts’. BBC News 26 May 2016. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-36382463. Accessed 4 June 2016
Sugden, J. (2002) Scum airways: Inside football’s underground economy. London: Mainstream.
Waterson, M. (2016) Independent review of consumer protection measures concerning online secondary ticketing facilities. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/525885/ind-16-7-independent-review-online-secondary-ticketing-facilities.pdf. Accessed 4 June 2016