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Shutting down the touts

 Wednesday, 15th August, 2018

Theatre critic and member, Mark Shenton

Theatre Critic Mark Shenton speaks about the problem now faced with ‘secondary’ ticket suppliers and how systems are being put in place to create a fairer future for ticket buyers.


Theatre and live concerts tickets are, like airline tickets and hotel rooms, perishable commodities -- if they're unsold when the show starts or the plane takes off, the revenue earning potential from them is entirely lost. They all operate in a supply-and-demand based business environment, where there's a finite inventory of stock available to sell; so if the demand outstrips the supply, theatre and concert producers, airlines and hoteliers can profit by charging more than they had originally planned to by increasing prices, thereby regulating the market that wants access to it. Its capitalism in full working order. 

And like everything in the new digital economy, the age of 'dynamic' pricing has been facilitated by computerisation -- and the ease of adjusting those prices in response to the perceived demand has led to the kind of price gouging that some theatre producers and concert promoters can freely indulge in (tickets for Hamilton on Broadway topped $1,000 each at the height of its demand), but can also lead to great bargains for theatregoers when hefty discounting is applied to sell off tickets that the promoters can't shift. (There's a kind of theatrical karma to that). 

But a whole parasitical industry was long ago spawned alongside this in which 'secondary' ticket suppliers respond to the lack of supply to service high-value customers with what can't be readily found on the official market. It's what always used to be called 'ticket touts', with people -- invariably men -- lingering outside venues with piles of available tickets they had secured somehow (whether in suspected back-hander deals with the box office, or buying up inventory on the open market early in anticipation of the demand) which they would offer to the highest bidders. 

This, has of course, got ever more sophisticated in the digital age, in which tickets can be bought and sold online without having to lurk around street corners. 

And gradually, the official ticketing channels have adopted this as part of their own business strategy, with the world's largest ticket supplier Ticketmaster even offering its own re-sale website brands, GetMeIn and Seatwave. Tickets unavailable on its main channel would be readily available on its re-sale outlets, at variously inflated prices. 

But now Ticketmaster have finally got wise to the terrible publicity that has accompanied this, and are shutting down those secondary ticketing platforms, with owner Live Nation saying it would now introduce a fan-to-fan exchange site, selling tickets at face value or below. Ticketmaster's UK managing director, Andrew Parsons, has commented, "We know that fans are tired of seeing tickets being snapped up just to find them being resold for a profit on secondary websites, so we have taken action. We’re excited to launch our redesigned website, which will make buying and selling tickets fast and simple, with all tickets in the same place. Our new Ticketmaster ticket exchange lets fans sell tickets they can’t use directly through their Ticketmaster account, for the price originally paid or less."

It's about time. Of course like a hydra serpent, it may be that cutting off one head will only spout two more in its place. There's still StubHub and Viagogo in the market, too, in which alleged 'fans' can also re-sell their tickets freely, at whatever profit they can make. 

But as these and other companies are increasingly being held to higher standards of scrutiny and accountability, it may well be that a fairer future is being created, too. Ticketmaster's business decision to curb its own baser instincts could be the start of a seachange in how ticketing works.