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Legitimising the Secondary Ticket Market

October 28, 2015

So, as posted on Friday, it has happened, and STAR – Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers – have voted to look at how they can bring Secondary Ticket Sellers, sites like Seatwave and Stubhub into STAR’s protection system.

One of the earliest things Theatremonkey.com was known for, was protecting readers against ticket touts (scalpers, to Americans). Paying £300 for a ticket worth £10 happened often, as it wasn’t easy to distinguish the good outlets from the bad.

As ticketing evolved the “STAR mark” became the way to distinguish the safe places to buy. Levels of booking fee and service were backed by an independent place to complain to.

But now times have again changed.

Ticket touting has been going “legitimate” for a while, with the biggest international ticket agency, Ticketmaster owning both “Get Me In” and “Seatwave,” and Ebay having “Stub Hub.”

The sites allow anyone to trade their tickets for any event, setting the price and getting it if they are lucky. Further, the sites have deals with venues to sell a selection of tickets themselves. Usually prime seats, with prices to match.

And now, they too could be covered by STAR.

My question was, bearing in mind that as a STAR member myself, I get a vote, was “Why?”

The answer I got was reasonable. While there are some laws to protect ticket buyers, they are not really enforced. As I was told, “it’s hard enough getting someone to help when you return home to find your household valuables tied up, your hamster badly beaten and your girlfriend stolen (I think I have that the right way round). So, in the absence of anything else, it’s up to the industry to ‘self-police.’ STAR have the experience, and the members with the knowledge to do that, so, they may as well be the ones to attempt to win the Wild West End again.

And yet, and yet…

… I’d actually still rather see efforts made to stamp out the secondary market than legitimise it. It causes pain to anyone caught out with bad tickets of course, but worse, it damages irreparably the image of the ticketed entertainment industry for consumers, and kills the desire to attend live performances because tickets are now hyper-expensive and hard to get, too.

Who wants to pay hundreds for a seat near the stage – when the price has been set by producers taking a look at what the secondary market thinks it can get for the seats, and deciding they want a slice of it? Worse, why should touts get the tickets ahead of normal people and then profit from it with a legitimated marketplace to sell in?

The argument about selling unwanted seats could be dealt with by a simple universal policy in all box offices: “you can exchange your tickets for another date of the same show, if seats are available. If all remaining performances are sold out, then you may have a refund. If can’t go, have a very valid reason and death certificate we could take into account; if you simply decide you don’t want to go, tough.” A genuine fan should be happy with that. No need to dispose of tickets via a secondary outlet.

If that were to be an option, however, can the box office not issue a “ATR – authorised ticket resale number” which STAR regulated secondary ticket websites require before listing the tickets? A double check that they are legitimate, and if it is linked to the customer’s payment card and account with the theatre, a maximum number of such permissions can be imposed and traders spotted.

For venues and promoters selling through secondary sites – STAR type ‘reasonable maximum fee added’ rules should apply, as indeed they do to credit card transactions. Only a fair extra booking fee should be allowed, the 25% theatre guideline, and no more.

For the public, the crux of the matter is how to prevent making legal the buying of tickets by them, purely for the purpose of resale for profit. If venues lose the right to decide whether or not a ticket can be resold… that means even I would happily buy up as many for a show as I can, then resell at a massive profit… probably… if everyone else were to… ouch. And there are a good few others with the same “ticket buying skills” who can get their hands on seats before most folk even know they are on sale…

Regulation is needed, yes, but it needs to be in favour of ordinary people looking for a good night out. After all, without a willing audience, who will buy tickets, however safe the booking process?

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