Ticket to ride

Armed with dozens of fake copies of the same ticket for a West End show, ticket touts makes a fast buck reselling the same seat time and time again. It’s a massive problem for entertainment businesses that have to work out the genuine ticket holders from the fakesIn the jet-set lifestyle of a modern day Head of Communications I am currently speeding through the French countryside on Eurostar after a day in our Paris office.  Sounds very glamoros I’m sure, but with the competitive nature of travel these days, my seat in standard class costs less than a seat at Wembley Stadium to watch England play San Marino on Friday night.  Today we are so used to buying our travel online, receiving our tickets there and then to print out at home.

Gone are the days of sitting for hours on end in a travel agent as they “tried one more time” to get through to the tour operator on the phone.  It is all seamlessly done these days, with travel to the furthest flung places completed in seconds.  It is not just travel that has been revolutionized by the Internet.  On Friday I am going to see a West End show, where my tickets were paid for and printed weeks ago.  A few weeks ago when I was in the States I planned to take our sales team out to see the Yankees play.  Literally within three clicks I had procured tickets for a bargain $5 each, printed them out and placed them as a treat on the team’s desks.

Everyone’s happy surely?  The likes of you and me get tickets in our hand straight away, giving us that warm glow of satisfaction and the vendor keeps more of their hard earned cash by not having to worry about postage (and possible insurance charges).  But with simplicity comes the spectre of dangers online.  Whilst the hoops we have to jump through to get the tickets are high, it has never been easier for a criminal to make money off the back of the process.

There is no limit to the amount of times you can print a ticket at home.  Armed with dozens of copies of the same ticket for a West End show, ticket touts can very quickly make a fast buck reselling the same seat time and time again.  All of the tickets look as genuine as the original, yet all of them potentially can be fraudulent.  This is a massive problem for venues that have to try and work out who is the genuine ticket holder, and how they explain to a sweet old couple that the tickets they bought from the “nice man with the trilby” hat in Leicester Square are illegal copies.

This is a case where technology has created a business model for the criminals.  Ticket touting, or Scalping in the US, has been a problem for decades.  But now the problem has increased massively.  In many countries it is illegal to BUY as well as sell tickets on the black market, meaning if you do fall victim to this crime there is very little you can do to recover your money.

Ticket agencies, box offices and travel companies are all very aware of this issue and have tried to combat the problem.  Personalizing tickets puts a burden of proof onto the venues to verify the ticket holder is exactly who they are.  This is the approach that was used by LOGOC in the recent London Olympics and Paralympics with some success.  However, the answer is actually  the adoption of more, not less technology.  By using Apps on Smartphone’s, ticket distribution can be tracked with relative ease.  British Airways were one of the first airlines to introduce boarding cards on smart phones, which have aided both the airline as well as the passenger.

Other companies have adopted the Smart Card approach where purchased events can be loaded onto a personalized membership card that can only be used once.  This approach is used successfully by many of the biggest football clubs in the world and has reduced the illegal resale of tickets dramatically.

It will only be a matter of time before other organizations follow suit.  The main question they have to ask is if the investment in the technology (specialist bar code readers for instance) will bring an acceptable ROI on the problem of dealing with forged tickets.  Obviously what they cannot quantify is the reputational damage that every forged ticket does to their ‘brand’.  A ticket holder for a West End show who is denied entry due to his fake ticket is hardly likely to spend more money on a real ticket for the show.

So be warned when you manage to pick up tickets to your next sold out ‘One Direction’ concert.  Those bargains may not be all that they seem and you may end up missing the show.  Which, depending on your current age, may not be a bad thing.

Written by Stuart Fuller, Director of Communications, NetNames

17 October 2012