U.K. Review of Ticket Market Calls for Tout Monitoring, Draws Radiohead, One Direction Managers' Praise
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A British government-led review into the secondary ticketing market has called for tighter scrutiny of services like Viagogo and Seatwave, but rejected calls for a blanket ban on secondary sites, or making the use of botnets illegal.  

Published today (May 26), Professor Michael Waterson’s review into the sector makes nine recommendations, the most significant of which are a “concerted investigation” into secondary ticketing sites compliance with U.K. law and, if they breach those rules, are subject to stronger penalties, including the possibility of court proceedings and higher fines.

Under current regulations, consumers of secondary tickets for a sporting or cultural event in the United Kingdom must be notified of the ticket’s original face value, any restrictions it contains and, where appropriate, information on whether it is a standing or seating ticket, including the seat number and block/row. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 also states that secondary ticketing vendors have to indicate whether the reseller has a relationship with the event organizers or ticketing facility.

Waterson’s review, which followed lengthy consultation with representatives of the live music industry, found “little sign of this information being provided” and added that there “has only been limited success in establishing full seat or standing locations.”

In response, he recommends that platforms such as Seatwave and StubHub should “take more responsibility and undertake greater checks to identify traders.” He notes that one possibility is that platforms presume anyone who lists a ticket for resale one month before the event is likely to be a trader. If no progress is made using this voluntary course of action, Waterson says that the authorities should consider alternative approaches to regulating the market, including the introducing of licensing for services “selling beyond a certain volume of tickets.”  

Expanding his review to the primary ticketing market, the professor goes on to call for greater transparency across the whole of the live industry, including the standardization of pricing and refund information. Primary ticketing vendors also need to be more transparent about the extent to which a ‘general sale’ is in fact a sale of the whole venue’s tickets, Waterson says, citing the large number of presales, corporate tie-ins, priority and premium bookings that have already taken place prior and therefore significantly reducing the amount of ticketing that are really available at any given venue.  

“It is clear that in many cases, only a minority of tickets is actually available for purchase at the time of the general sale, leading many people to waste time in trying to access them, and possibly to panic buy.”

The report also recommends that primary ticket vendors need to implement stronger prevention methods -- such as confirmed identity software -- to stop scalpers using botnets to mass purchase tickets with a view to resale.  

“Whilst I accept that primary sellers are in the market to sell tickets, they have longer-term interests in ensuring the public feels well served,” Waterson states, adding that ticket vendors have a duty to report ‘bot’ attacks to the police so they can be investigated.

Measures considered in the 227-page review, but ultimately rejected, include a blanket ban on the secondary ticketing market on the ground that it “would not lead to the absence of secondary ticketing, but would simply drive it underground/offshore.”

The fact that several primary operators, such as Ticketmaster, operate their own secondary agencies suggests their “implicit approval of such activities,” notes Waterson, while the fact that a large proportion of tickets on secondary sites are priced below face value means better value to music fans. The review also rejects the idea of introducing a cap on resale prices.

Although the long-awaited review doesn’t go as far as some were no doubt hoping, its findings have been welcomed by the live music industry, with a host of artist managers backing Waterson’s recommendations.

"Professor Waterson exposes a dysfunctional and under-regulated ticketing market. His review calls on Government to enforce the law, and for secondary ticketing sites to apply the law and show responsibility. Fans must have clarity and fairness,” reads an open letter signed by over 30 leading music industry figures, including the managers of Mumford & Sons, Arctic Monkeys, One Direction, PJ Harvey, Radiohead, Arcade Fire, The 1975, Florence + the Machine, Ed Sheeran and Iron Maiden, alongside a number of promoters, agents and trade body representatives. 

“Professor Waterson has clearly recognised these long-term failings, and makes nine pragmatic recommendations that, if implemented, will help reform the market,” the letter goes on to say, before concluding: “We believe that fans should be given every opportunity to buy and exchange tickets at the price they were intended -- not see them used as collateral to boost the profits of scalpers.”

The Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR) has also welcomed the review with Chief Executive Jonathan Brown pledging his support to Waterson’s “efforts to safeguard the future of this hugely important industry."

“This is not about whether tickets should or shouldn’t be offered for resale or for how much they are sold,” Brown went on to say. “It is about pragmatically working to fill a gap in consumer protection by ensuring that customers are able to feel confident whenever they buy tickets and by improving standards even further in the legal ticket resale sector.”

“We welcome Professor Waterson’s recognition of the benefits for consumers from the secondary market," a StubHub spokeperson says, "and his decision to reject further legislation at this stage, including price caps and any general resale bans or bans for ‘crown jewel’ events. We also welcome the suggested action on bots and the other measures which are directed towards the primary market. But we are concerned that there are still insufficient legal safeguards to stop event organisers using row and seat number details to cancel without compensation tickets offered for resale. Transparency should not come at the expense of people’s right to resell their tickets.”