Just days after Ed Sheeran began enforcing a controversial campaign to cancel tickets purchased through resale site Viagogo, the "Shape of You" singer's manager Stuart Camp and promoter Stuart Galbraith with Kilimanjaro Live have acknowledged inadvertently working with a professional ticket reseller to move tickets for past tours, including Sheeran’s 2015 European tour.
Camp verified a story that first emerged on Twitter over the weekend, alleging a ticket manager for Kilimanjaro sold 600 tickets in 2015 for three Sheeran concerts at Wembley Stadium to Britain's "Ticket Queen," Maria Chenery-Woods, but says he had no idea she was a professional ticket tout or would resell them on the secondary market.
"A few years ago she was presented as a legit seller,” Camp told Billboard in an online message. “Found out later it was a bad practice and ceased and blacklisted [Woods]." He added the falling out took place “all before this album [and] tour.”
The situation highlights how difficult it has become for artists to prevent the reselling of their concert tickets — even for those most passionate about doing so. Galbraith has met with British MPs to discuss the power of the secondary market and said he was "horrified" when tickets to a Sheeran benefit gig for the Teenage Cancer Trust ended up on Viagogo, marked up from £40 and £110 to more than £5,000.
While the U.K. and European Parliament have begun to crack down on resale — and, like the United States, have criminalized the use of automated bots to buy up tickets — ticket resale is still fairly common in the U.S. Sheeran had fans sign up for Ticketmaster's Verified Fan platform for Stateside dates, confirming their identities and receiving a special code to buy tickets within a set window. Taylor Swift is deploying a similar system for her current Reputation Tour, and while she's breaking attendance records in some of the markets she's visited, tickets are still available for most of her shows.
To help move tickets for big stadium shows with tens of thousands of seats, it's not uncommon for promoters in the U.K. to work with multiple ticketing companies to widen distribution and market tickets to a large audience. But those tickets are typically sold via consignment, where a pool of tickets are allocated to a primary ticketing company and unsold seats are returned to the promoter, or through an API that provides access to the ticket allotment. It's rare for a promoter to actually sell tickets to a primary ticketing company. Camp did not respond to a request for further elaboration.
The documents linking Kilimanjaro Live to Chenery-Woods first popped up on an anonymous Twitter account, @Ticket_Leaks, created after Sheeran announced he was canceling 10,000 tickets sold on Viagogo. As Twitter users debated the authenticity of the "leaked documents" from the @Ticket_Leaks Twitter account, which showed tickets for Sheeran's three 2015 shows at Wembley being sold by Kilimanjaro’s Clancy Sheriffs to a redacted company, Kilimanjaro Live execs took to Twitter and confirmed the documents were real.
"There is no story here. Clancy (who handles ticket sales for Kilimanjaro) was working under company instructions when he legitimately allocated tickets to Ticket Queen who we had used for several years as a primary seller,” a two-part tweet from the Kilimanjaro Twitter account reads. "These tickets were allocated in good faith to be sold at face value in the same way we do for ticket agents at all our shows.”
The tweet explained, "In 2016 we learned that Ticket Queen were acting as touts & we have refused to work with them since,” adding, "we discovered they had bought 180 tickets using a bot so we cancelled them.”
It’s unclear how Ticket Queen operates — a holding page simply lists a phone number and email address, but no additional information. The company appears to be solely owned by Chenery-Woods, who the Guardian called a “big player” in the space in 2016. A Mirror article from 2016 describes Chenery-Woods as "among the biggest resellers at GetMeIn,” a Ticketmaster-owned resale site.
The news comes as pressure mounts on Viagogo — the U.K's National Trading Standards announced this week the opening of an investigation into Viagogo for allegedly misleading consumers, and the country's digital minister Margot James is calling for a boycott of Viagogo.
Last year, Sheeran announced his own plan to battle Viagogo, warning fans who bought tickets through the resale site that their tickets would be canceled. Galbraith told the BBC that 500 tickets for the show opener at Manchester's Etihad Stadium on Saturday (May 26) had been invalidated. Dozens of fans reported showing up to the stadium with tickets in hand, only to have their tickets stamped "void" and sent to a sales queue where they had to buy new tickets to gain access to the show. Officials with the tour told affected fans they would help pursue a refund with Viagogo, but the experience angered many who took to Twitter to complain.
Sheeran addressed the controversy in a BBC interview, saying "It's all being done properly, I'm not trying to stitch fans up,” adding, “people just need to start taking a stance and within two or three years companies like Viagogo are going to be kaput.”
He compared the cancellations to similar campaigns by the Arctic Monkeys and Adele, saying, "The fans are not okay with secondary tickets. Sometimes you can spend all that money and it is a fake ticket.”
In the case of the Manchester shows, fans have pointed out that the tickets that were canceled were legit and that it was a decision by Sheeran’s management that kept them from seeing the show, not fraud. Galbraith agreed. "Everyone who has been through this process has been really grateful," he said. "We’ve had no complaints, we are just trying to make sure people don't get ripped off.”