Ticket touting at scale is a consequence of digital and its solution, alongside legislation may also lie in digital.
The establishment of the FanFair Alliance– led by artist managers, but also marshalling others in the live music business – is the first concerted and concentrated effort by the music industry to cauterise the secondary ticketing business that is estimated to bleed £1bn a year away from the primary market.
At the press event to launch the initiative in London yesterday (14th July), Brian Message of Courtyard/ATC described it in corporate responsibility terms, saying that the companies involved here have a duty to “move beyond the industrialised ticket touring” that the sector is seeing today.
Ian McAndrew of Wildlife Entertainment – whose management clients include Arctic Monkeys, Royal Blood and Travis – says the seeds were sown in 2003 with the arrival of StubHub, which had a benign intention that quickly morphed into something more pernicious.
“It relied on a fan-to-fan ticket exchange as a way of entering the marketplace,” he said. “That fan-to-fan exchange soon changed to become a platform through which ticket touts could sell tickets. It served as a great opportunity for profits to be derived from selling tickets at vastly inflated prices. Then 2005 saw Viagogo enter the market – a European equivalent to StubHub.”
FanFair outlined the scale of the issue today by citing research that showed how 11,695 tickets for Black Sabbath’s 2017 UK arena tour, which only runs to seven nights, made their way onto secondary sites within minutes of tickets going to general sale on the primary market.
“What we detected was touts becoming more organised and deploying technology to harvest large volumes of tickets,” said McAndrew.
He explains how the issue really arrived on Wildlife’s radar in 2007 as the Arctic Monkeys were exploding, whereby fans started to write to them to express their frustration at tours selling out instantly and the secondary marketing being flooded with tickets at vastly inflated prices.
FanFair wants the government to take four key steps to address this head on:
- Enforcement, whereby the Consumer Rights Act 2015 is actually swung into action properly and given real strength to fulfil its stated duty;
- Transparency, whereby power-sellers on secondary sites no longer have the cloak of anonymity;
- Responsibility, where secondary sites adhere to strict guidelines on corporate responsibility;
- Supply, where the use of bots to automate the scalping of tickets is seen as breaking the Computer Misuse Act and made a criminal offence.
At the moment, this is all at the very earliest stages – but it will not confine itself to music and will also focus on secondary ticketing in regards to sport and the theatre.
There are three main targets of the initiative here – government, Google (to possibly down rank secondary sites in its search results) and Ticketmaster (as it owns two of the four biggest secondary sites in the world in Seatwave and Get Me In). Addressing them simultaneously is impossible while addressing them individually is still at the tentative stage.
Music Ally asked Message how far talks with Google had gone. “It’s really early days on that front at the moment,” he said. “I don’t know what they will do yet and I don’t know what we will pitch to them; but they are an important part of the game plan and so we have to do something about it.”
Adam Tudhope of Everybody’s says Google is in the firing line for lots of things relating to music and secondary ticketing must understand that it’s in a queue – but it can learn from the mistakes made by those from other parts of the industry (such as labels in regard to piracy).
“Google is a much wider question – and one that is not just limited to the area of tickets,” he says. “There is all kinds of communication going on with Google at a much wider level. What we can do is just represent the artist voice really, really strongly. Maybe even more strongly than record labels can.”
Message added, “Is this ticketing’s Napster? Potentially. I do draw the parallels with recorded music. The big corporations and their trade organisations – BPI, IFPI, RIAA – have made a catalogue of bad decisions in terms of licensing streaming services. Now it’s the time for the big corporations of the live business to make some good decisions.”
If digital was the catalyst for the secondary market hitting the scale it has, then it should follow that digital can provide, if not the full solution, then at least some armour.
“We are re-doubling our efforts to try and figure out how we can beat secondary through technology,” says Tudhope. “That’s things like limiting the number of tickets people can buy, trying to put names on tickets where possible, getting as much of the inventory of the tickets to sell through our own platforms as we possibly can so we can control where they are going to. Those are all things we can try to do.”
Message says the live industry should look to streaming to see how the record industry, finally, responded to the threat of Napster and to take some learnings from that. “In recorded music, the advent of streaming made it easy for the younger generation to access their stuff on their phone, so we need a simple and easy-to-access ability to purchase tickets,” he says. “That has to be the game changer. It’s mad that we are still in a paper ticket world. It has to be a mobile solution.”
Music Ally spoke to the managers spearheading this initiative about what they see as the problems and how they are hoping to fix them.
BRIAN MESSAGE (COURTYARD / ATC)
This is not a new issue and has been put in front of the government several times yet nothing has really been done. Will anything happen this time?
“It feels to me that it will do. It’s been a subject matter [growing] for years and years. I could be wrong, but it feels we have some momentum. We’ve had Adele, Elton John, Mumford & Sons – a whole bunch of artists have come out and spoke out on this. The big difference today compared to three years ago is that everyone knows the size of the secondary market. It’s not a little problem; it’s a big problem.”
What can you do with Ticketmaster? It dominates the primary market and has two secondary sites (Get Me In and Seatwave) that make it significant income. Can they be brought to heel?
“Ticketmaster and [parent company] Live Nation want to engage. We know that. So we are going to take up that engagement and run with it. We don’t know at this moment in time but that is one of our challenges.”
Will they voluntarily cut a significant source of income?
“We’ll see. For the long-term benefit of the ecosystem, there are some decisions that need to be made. This is not about short-term cash generation; this is about economically growing the market. There is a bunch of smart people there who will get that.”
ADAM TUDHOPE (EVERYBODY’S)
Mumford & Sons have been very vocal on this for years. Are most artists now willing to speak out about it?
“A big part of our job is to try to continue to educate the industry – the business side of the industry – and hopefully in so doing, managers, agents and promoters will speak to their artists. A really important thing that I think needs to happen is for artists to speak directly to their audiences – as Mumford & Sons have done – and explain what they feel are the rights and the wrongs of things, showing where they think it’s safe for fans to buy tickets and basically where their principals lie.”
Will Ticketmaster ever acquiesce to your demands?
“Ticketmaster’s stated aim is to be aligned with artist interests so we just need to, over the next few months, persuade them as strongly as we can that artists are against secondary generally.”
And the government? Will they listen and act this time?
“Who knows, man? Fingers crossed. It definitely feels like the last government felt the secondary market was just ‘entrepreneurs’ being ‘entrepreneurs’ and we all think that’s bunkum. Hopefully we’ll have a government now that has more of a moralistic [stance].”
HARRY MCGEE (MODEST! MANAGEMENT)
You work with lots of pop acts who tend to have young fans. How do you educate them about what is a complex industry and business issue?
“It starts with educating your artists so they, especially in a social media sense, can actually respond to any complaints about ticket pricing and get a message out to their fans as to where to buy the tickets and what the procedure should be. It’s an education process that is going to take a while, but there is no reason it shouldn’t start with the artists.
With younger fans it’s often the parents who are buying the tickets. So that’s another issue there. The parents need to be educated as well. When people haven’t got time, they’ll Google something and they’ll overpay just because they want to keep their kids happy or do something quickly as they don’t have time to do the research on it.”
What is the best way to get results here?
“It’s about enforcing the consumer legislation that is already there to actually say what the face value of a ticket is and to say where it is in an arena – and to have that transparency at the point of sale so that even if it’s a secondary site the fan or their parent is going to they can see that it’s not a very good ticket at a very inflated price.
It’s not an evangelist organisation trying to turn the industry on its head. It’s about getting a fair deal for the fan though educating them and getting the consumer rights legislation enforced.”
Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino recently said that if they could “price the house better” (i.e. charge several times more for front row tickets than standard ones) it would stem secondary ticketing and also raise what acts get paid – but no act wants to do that as it makes them seem greedy. Is this stalemate?
“Most artists don’t want to do that. At the end of the day, we are a business and as managers we are trying to get the best deals for our artists by monetising what they do and giving them the career we are trying to carve out for them or maintain. We will always price our tickets, just from a commercial point of view, at the time as high as we possibly feel the market can take.
What you don’t want is an undersold show. That goes the same for the promoters. It’s all very well Live Nation saying that, but actually there are very few concerts where you can be that bold and generally you have to create a balance where you are going to sell the tour out. We don’t always get that right. You don’t want to be taking too much of a risk and getting it wrong.”