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Ticketing issues are draining the music industry of fun and spontaneity

Fans deserve fairness, openess and transparency, but do they really want punitive measures when Safeconcerts already has the answer for them?

Since the blossoming of the on line ticket market the process for your average ticket buyer has changed forever. It is no longer a simple or easy matter to buy your tickets and potter off to the gig of your choice. Nowadays the ticket market has become very big business, there are millions to be made from tickets and where there's money to be made you can be certain that corruption and crime will follow.

It didn't take long for the unscrupulous to catch onto the potential opportunity that the on line ticket market presented. Hot on the heels of Ebay the so called "fan to fan" websites quickly appeared with a host of on line sites where you can buy and sell with ease and, more importantly, anonymity creating the perfect hiding place for touts.  It wasn't long before the fraudulent sites arrived and the opportunity for crime was quickly capitalised on. The ticket business has rapidly became a serious money spinner and a breeding ground for criminals, fraudsters and the just plain greedy. The people that inhabit this world have a network of sites where they can share hints and tips designed to make it easier to rip off Joe Public.

Who would have thought we would reach a stage whereby the sleazy tout outside the venue would look like a saint in comparison to the on line shenanigans faced by today's on line ticket purchaser?

The whole issue of ticket buying has descended into a minefield for the unwary, it is as complex as it is baffling, and with a little help from the primary sites the boundaries between primary and secondary have become blurred and the so called 'good guys' are as helpless and embroiled in the whole issue as the 'bad guys' who are up to their necks in, at best, sleazy practices, at worst, criminal activity.

The Channel 4 Dispatches programme back in February showed what we at Safeconcerts knew years ago; primary and secondary markets for major live events have become impaired and dysfunctional, with levels of corruption that an Eastern Block country would be proud of. 

Viagogo acted swiftly and very quietly liquidated its assets relocating to Switzerland following the Dispatches broadcast. Yet Viagogo was still chosen as the official 'partner' for many festivals and events by some of the UK's most trusted top promoters, the very same promoters who are now calling for legislation and action. The same people who stood firm against legislation and demanded the right to put their own house in order.

GetMeIn is a subsidiary of Ticketmaster, a primary ticket outlet, yet tickets for major gigs and events appear on their 'secondary' website within minutes of selling out on their official, primary site. It is hard not to jump to conclusions, despite the repeated protestations from the companies involved. 

What Dispatches showed very clearly was that just about everybody had their finger in the pie, no one came out of that investigation smelling of roses. Viagogo and Seatwave have since claimed that the programme has had the effect of enhancing their business considerably.

Once again industry professionals MP's and others are calling for action. Yet what 'action' is appropriate? What will actually enable the ticket buying public to make informed decisions and avoid the many pitfalls?

MP Sharon Hodgson is calling for legislation, having previously failed to get a Private Member's Bill through parliament. Is legislation the answer? When we began Be Ticket Safe we would have said a resounding YES. We felt that tickets should not be sold above face value and whilst we still believe this, legislation in the way that the current campaign envisages it, is not necessarily the best way forward for the music fan although there may be many advantages for the industry.

The burdens of legislation will without doubt have unseen consequences and any change must be weighed against the potential risks and benefits to ticket purchasers. You can be certain that the industry professionals responsible for ticketing will not agree to anything that will in any way diminish their profits. You can also bet your boots that if they get this level of control the people who will profit will not be the intended recipients. You will see ticket prices increase to counteract the loss in secondary profits. Profiteering is the name of the game and people in the legitimate market have now seen the potential in ticket pricing, they want a slice of that pie.

There have been a number of on line petitions calling for action; none have gained the necessary numbers to enable the question to be debated in parliament. Does the ordinary music fan actually want more legislation? They certainly want the fraudsters dealt with.

We live in a society that is becoming increasingly punitive and puritan, a society where far too many people are quick to jump on a bandwagon, a society where the loudest voices have all the power and those loudest voices say NO to everything - especially fun. We are living in a society where fun has become prescriptive and formulaic, that's not the way we want to see our vibrant music industry moving - is it?

There is talk of bringing in a number of different mechanisms for ticketing; new technology makes all sorts of possibilities viable, many of them will not in any way enhance the experience of the music fan. They may, in fact, detract from it and will certainly remove any possibility of spontaneity.

Does any ordinary music fan feel that legislation will really benefit them? Do they even care?

Without question the person who loses out in this muddled, argumentative and judgemental minefield is the ticket buyer, the person who just wants to go to a gig, see a band live, have fun and create lasting memories. It is the ordinary, everyday fan that is at the bottom of the pile when it comes to the very complex and complicated ticket market. And it is the fan who is never properly consulted when it comes down to what changes they might or might not want to see implemented.

It becomes more and more apparent that when you want to buy a ticket to a gig or event in today's climate you need a PHD to work out whom you are buying from and what exactly you are buying. Who really wants to have to understand and know the difference between primary, secondary, re-sellers, affiliate sites, speculative ticketing, ticket comparison sites when buying a ticket to an event? The reality is that on line fraudulent ticket sites can be put up in a jiffy, are run by people with sufficient money to buy Google ads so they come up first in any search, and are deliberately set up using logos, images and information so that they fool the consumer into believing that they are legitimate and genuine. People simply do not know that they are buying from a fraudulent site until the money has been taken and the tickets don't arrive, or they find once at the gig that the tickets are counterfeit. This has not just been the province of the fraudulent site, the main secondary ticket agents, along with the likes of eBay, Gumtree and others have also proved to be a very fruitful hunting ground.

If legislation is to be part of the longer term answer it simply isn't sufficient to say 'put a cap' on what tickets can be re-sold for, why not make it a requirement to make it clear and obvious on every site whether you are a primary, secondary, re-seller, affiliate, price comparison or other type of site?

Most importantly, why not force the primary sites to tackle the bots so commonly used by ticket touts on their sites? These bots enable touts to acquire large numbers of tickets very quickly, effectively preventing the ordinary ticket fan from purchasing tickets at face value. This is a major issue and this is the main reason why touts are able to buy up large amounts of tickets and have them listed within minutes of them selling out on legitimate, primary sites.

Why not force the primary sites to have a re-sale section for fans who genuinely can't get to the gig of their choice? This is one of the biggest bones of contention for ticket buyers. Tickets are often sold a year or more in advance and a number of fans (we believe it is a very low statistically) have a change in circumstances and are left with tickets they cannot use, surely the primary sites can figure out a way of achieving a mechanism for genuine fans to sell unwanted tickets on? Who really believes that a fan buys a ticket and finds out within minutes that they can't go?

If you want fair legislation why not make it illegal to sell on charity tickets unless the money obtained is donated to the intended charity?

Inevitably with an issue as complex as the ticket market everyone has an opinion, those opinions usually conflict and contrast and no-one seems able to reach a consensus or agreement on the best way forward. We all know there is something wrong; that the market place is dysfunctional, but how best to tackle it is where things come to an abrupt and argumentative stop. This situation means that the current state of affairs is allowed to continue and the ticket buying public are left to cope as best they can, frequently they are being ripped off and artists, charities and these involved in the music industry are missing out.

In the past few weeks Mumford & Sons fans became victims of a ticketing scam at Portsmouth Guildhall, after purchasing counterfeit tickets from secondary sites; the O2 were faced with Rolling Stones fans who had travelled from abroad only to discover that their tickets were counterfeit.

Safeconcerts have campaigned continuously to raise the issue of on line ticket fraud, scams and touts. We have provided a mechanism to inform the ordinary ticket purchaser about the different types of ticket suppliers and with the Be Ticket Safe ® Directory we have provided a resource for the ordinary fan to be able to make an informed decision as to where they buy their tickets from.

It is interesting to note that the industry have not been keen to get on board with the message or the directory despite the fact that we have prevented many fans from getting stung. Instead they insist on never ending meetings, new charters, summits - all of which cost money - money that could and should go toward resolving some very simple issues.

Most recently we've seen AEG launch a “fan-friendly” ticketing service, AXS then announcing a partnership with StubHub. Confused? You should be.

Some organisations take the issue seriously and take up the fight, there's been a landmark legal decision in favour of the Rugby Football Union, Viagogo fought this all the way to the Supreme Court. The court ruling means that Viagogo must give them the details of those re-selling tickets to England rugby matches, the impact of this decision on live music events has not yet been felt but the RFU have said that they will be taking action against those involved. Meanwhile Viagogo safely ensconced in Switzerland continue in their own sweet way, unphased by events and with sufficient funding to continue to do things their own way.

When Safeconcerts began fighting ticket fraud we found that the authorities were disinterested, the police refused to take reports and issue crime numbers; this obviously obscured the number of people falling victim to ticket fraud. The situation improved only due to the Olympic games, the government had to take action as a condition of the licence, therefore Operation Podium was born. Operation Podium have had some success and it has enabled other organisations to have a focus on ticket fraud, police have now begun to take it seriously, laws are already in place to tackle fraud are being used effectively. Operation Podium however, is due to disappear by next spring, would it not make more sense to keep Operation Podium alive and fighting ticket fraud? Shouldn't scarce resources be targeted there? Operation Podium have built up a huge amount of expertise, all of which is in danger of being lost by the dissolution of this unit.

Safeconcerts have continued to work hard to get the message out there, we have sat back and watched as various people jump on the bandwagon when tickets become 'newsworthy', usually when some criminal manages to defraud large numbers of ticket buyers for a major gig, the 'little people' scammed on a regular basis are rarely newsworthy and often don't even report the fraud. Many feel foolish and are made to feel that somehow becoming a victim is their own fault. It isn't, these fraudsters are experts in their fields. The shameless exploitation of desperate music fans by very rich individuals is unpalatable to say the least. Music fans deserve better than the industry has so far provided, the Dispatches programme showed that nobody within the industry was without their fair share of the blame.

Rather than spend the vast sums of money currently disappearing onto new projects all of which seem to sing the same old song, why not look at actually enabling people to buy their tickets from legitimate sites whilst allowing them to make up their own mind if they want to pay over the odds? There are already laws in place to tackle fraud, the problem is that it isn't being taken as seriously as it should be and the current laws are underused. The loss of Operation Podium will only serve to once again allow an open market for the fraudsters.

The reality is that the number of genuine fans who buy a ticket and are then unable to make the gig is statistically low; the vast majority of tickets on the secondary market are NOT from genuine music fans unable to make the gig. This begs the question why is the industry not tackling this at the point of sale? Why are they not investing in resources to tackle the bots?

Further regulation will backfire, more and more regulation removes spontaneity, fun and all the aspects of the live music industry that we fans love so much.

The answer is already out there with the Safeconcerts Be Ticket Safe Directory ®. Why have the industry have been so reluctant to support an initiative that provides a free service to the ticket buying public and allows them to make an informed decision as to where they buy their tickets? A website that spells out what type of site they are about to buy from and a site rich in advice for the ticket purchaser? Fans themselves can help by simply not buying from sites set up purely for profiteering, but fans need to know what is and what is not a legitimate site. We know that this is not easy and this needs to be tackled.

The live music industry is vibrant, music fans are willing and able to support it, most want to see the money they spend go back into the industry whether it be the promoter who takes the financial risk, the artist, the host of other technicians involved in live gigs and of course the talented artists who pull it all together.

What fans want is an easy, hassle free arrangement, an ability to sell their tickets back if they can't go and above all a great gig or event. The UK industry excels at putting on the best gigs and events and is full of talented, clever individuals who can sort this problem out, be fair to the music fan, be transparent, be open and above board and stop biting the hand that feeds it. What gig goers want ultimately is the best gig-going experience possible and that process starts with the ticket buying experience.

While we wait for the industry to catch up there is a way that the ordinary music fan can easily and readily check whether or not they are buying from a legitimate, primary source or whether they are buying from any other source - simply check the Safeconcerts Be Ticket Safe Directory ®

Are we getting to the stage where music fans really have to 'fight for their right to party?'

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Ticket Safe
7th December 2012
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Ticketing issues are draining the music industry of fun and spontaneity
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