Back to basics to try to stop ticket touts

Stuart Fuller

The battle against the ticket touts took an interesting turn this week when the producers of hit Broadway show Hamilton announced the ticketing process for when the show opens in London. Although technology has made so many aspects of our life easier, in the world of event ticketing, it has actually fueled the problem of counterfeiting and scams. So the move by the Victoria Palace Theatre and the production company to go ‘old school’ will be monitored with interest to see if it does in fact reduce some of the problems that have blighted the industry for years.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning show, based on the life of one of America’s founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, will transfer from the US to the newly renovated Victoria Palace later this year, complete with the huge demand for tickets that has seen eager theatre-goers queuing round the block on Broadway. One issue that has hit the headlines in the US has been the resale of tickets on secondary marketplace sites – and the inflated prices they’re on sale for.

In late 2016, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a new law that criminalized the use of ticket bots, which had been the main tool used by ticket touts to grab as many tickets as possible to sell at hugely inflated prices on secondary sites such as StubHub, Seatwave, Get Me In and Viagogo. Unfortunately, simple economic theory dictates that where there is a demand, there will be a supply. With genuine tickets in very limited supply, those with the demand were forced onto this secondary market to fulfil their desires to watch the show. It’s too early to tell whether the law will have any impact on the availability of tickets for the show, but a simple search on a couple of the more popular secondary market sites shows them being (re)sold for upwards of $450.

However, the laws are very different here in the UK. Although we do have consumer legislation on the resale of tickets for events, it is largely ignored by the event promotors, the ticketing websites and the authorities who should be enforcing it. This is why the Victoria Palace Theatre and the production company, Cameron Mackintosh, have decided to try something different.

Tickets went on sale online earlier this week to people who had a pre-general-sale code and, unsurprisingly, within minutes were appearing on the secondary ticketing websites for many times their face value. However, tickets will not be sent electronically, or available on apps, or even posted to those who have bought them. Instead, all ticket holders will have to present themselves in person on the night of the performance with a unique code, the payment card used in the transaction and relevant ID. They will then be allowed into the venue and given a ticket stub.

This means that those who have bought the tickets looking to make a profit must be present at the show to collect their tickets and somehow pass them onto the buyer. With ticketing legislation within the Consumer Rights Act 2015 in theory in force, it should make spotting the resellers, or ‘scalps’ as the Americans call them, fairly easy. The Act states that the operators of resale facilities need to ensure that purchasers of any tickets are clearly shown the row/seat and face value of the ticket. Looking at the resale websites, not one of the tickets being offered for up to and over £1,499 displayed this information.

Viagogo states within its ‘ticket guarantee’ that with every order it ensures that sellers deliver, and that buyers are guaranteed to receive valid tickets in time for the event. Based on the proposed system for ticket distribution for Hamilton, I do not see how this is possible. They cannot monitor the physical pick-up of the ticket from the theatre, and cannot therefore guarantee that the tickets will be valid.

Although this is an interesting development in the ongoing fight against the profiteers, it is hard to know how it will reduce counterfeited tickets. Without sight of the real thing, counterfeiters can print convincing-looking tickets and resell them on ticketing websites with impunity. Only when a theatre-goer either doesn’t receive the tickets or is denied entry at the venue will they realize that they’ve been duped.

The Victoria Palace Theatre has an approximate capacity per show of 1,500. With most tickets sold as multiples (in groups of two upwards), the task of checking each and every ticket-buyer’s validity will not be that onerous, although I would imagine the theatre will need to bring in extra staff to handle the authentication – perhaps manageable for this scale of event, but not practical for, say, a football or rugby match where the number of people attending could be 50 times bigger.

So what can the event industry try next to reduce the problem? For years, the organizers of major sporting tournaments have been telling fans that unless their name is printed on the ticket and relevant ID is presented then they will be denied entry. In reality, with tens of thousands of fans arriving in a short window, checks actually cause crowd-management and safety issues. Likewise, when ticket holders for Adele’s recent tour were told they had to bring ID that matched with the name printed on the tickets, they were still being sold online on secondary market sites for upwards of £5,000.

Unless the ticketing companies start to see themselves as part of the solution and not the problem, we will still be having the same conversations in years to come. An educated ticket buyer needs to be aware of the dangers out there, but likewise needs to make decisions that are based on sense and logic and not on emotional demands.