Last week, in a further session on ticket touting which Nigel Adams MP helped bring before the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, the Committee members heard of distressed fans and collusion, as major resale site Viagogo came under fire both for its business practices and for refusing to send a representative to answer the Committee’s questions. The Committee’s previous session resulted in the entire Committee endorsing Nigel’s proposal to legislate to ban “bots” for use to snap up tickets by touts, which the Government has now incorporated into the Digital Economy Bill, and the Committee met again to consider additional issues with secondary ticketing, including transparency and non-compliance with the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Full story below via Live UK:
Executives at resale site Viagogo must have calculated what would be worse, facing uncomfortable questions from MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport committee (CMSC) or weathering the backlash from not attending. They chose the latter.
It was the second CMSC hearing into ticket abuse and with MPs fueled by revelations from the first hearing in November (see LIVE UK issue 203) and a fan-led Facebook group fighting Viagogo for the refund of tens of thousands of pounds of overcharges, they were in no mood to be ignored.
Nigel Huddleston MP said Viagogo had shown, “if not contempt of Parliament, they have clearly shown lack of respect to Parliamentarians, and by extension the British public.” Switzerland-registered Viagogo’s absence was highlighted by an empty chair and name card, with John Nicolson MP stating, “it says something about … the shady nature of their operations that they feel they can’t appear here and answer questions.”
Explaining its absence, the company said it did not have adequate representation in the UK to assist the committee with its enquiries, and it did not sell tickets itself, but only enabled others to do so. But as evidence came from various witnesses, including See Tickets’ CEO Rob Wilmshurst, Kilimanjaro Live CEO Stuart Galbraith, Ed Sheeran’s manager Stuart Camp and Victims of Viagogo Facebook group leader Claire Turnham, committee members reached some damning conclusions. Information provided by Keith Kenny, sales and ticketing director for hip-hop musical Hamilton at show producer Cameron Mackintosh, led committee chair Damian Collins MP to accuse Viagogo of “making money out of the fraudulent selling of tickets”.
His comments were echoed by Nigel Adams MP who said, “These people make [famous tout] Stan Flashman looks like Mother Teresa. Surely there’s fraud being committed here … taking thousands and thousands of pounds off people, knowing that they’re not going to be able to get in to see the show.” Collins asked Kenny if he had received any word from Viagogo about listing tickets that would become invalid if resold. “I wrote to Edward Parkinson, who I think is the director of Viagogo in the UK. I explained the system that we are operating for Hamilton and anyone with a resold ticket would be turned away at the door,” said Kenny, adding that he received no response. In summary, Collins said, “you have warned them of what will happen, effectively they are virtually party to a fraud on people, aren’t they?” Kenny replied, “They are certainly making money out of the fraudulent sale of tickets that don’t exist.”
Turning to Stuart Camp and quoting Viagogo’s website as saying “all tickets for Ed Sheeran 100 per cent guaranteed”, Nicolson stated, “That is fraud”. Camp replied “Yes, it is”. John Nicolson MP concluded, “That is just naked, fraudulent mis-selling.”
Committee members asked the witnesses if they thought the new Consumer Rights Act (CRA) regulations, which require tickets and ticket traders to be identified on resale sites, were having an effect in curbing industrial-scale touting. Adams asked See Tickets’ Rob Wilmshurst, “Do you think that legislation is working?”, to which Wilmshurst replied, “No, it is not”. Julian Knight MP said, “We have heard evidence separately that it could just be a matter of enforcement.” Wilmshurst replied, “Yes, absolutely”.
Wilmshurst explained that if See identifies tickets that are offered for resale against their terms and conditions. “Of course, we can block them,” but, he added, “These [professional touts] are clever people; they can use pseudonyms, multiple card numbers, multiple e-mail addresses, multiple mobile phone numbers, multiple IP addresses.”
Kenny, Galbraith and Camp told the committee that the Big Four resale sites – eBay-owned StubHub, Ticketmaster-owned Seatwave and GetMeIn! and Viagogo – were all failing to fully comply with the CRA regulations. Galbraith said, “Some comply more than others now that pressure is being exerted,” and he thought the best way to toughen-up compliance was to “bring a prosecution’.
Adams was keen to know whether the Big Four responded when advised that tickets should not be resold and that buyers of such tickets would be turned away at the door. “Knowing that we were going to have such demand for the [Ed Sheeran, 22 June] show, we wrote to the main four secondary sites, first of all asking them not to list the show and, secondly, informing them that as part of our terms and conditions of the show, resale was not allowed and that if we were able to find anyone who had purchased tickets in the secondary market, they would not be admitted to the show,” said Galbraith. “All four sites ignored our request and all four sites listed tickets at inflated prices, knowing that it was our intention to cancel those tickets and not admit their customers.”
Adams, who is also chair of the All Parliamentary Group on Music, recalled a Ticketmaster executive telling him the company is willing to remove tickets from its secondary sites if promoters and artistes specifically request that. Camp said, “That is the conversation we had too, but the evidence is to the contrary for us in this instance.” In a brief moment of humour, Adams asked Camp why Ticketmaster cooperated with Iron Maiden’s manager Rod Smallwood, but not in his case, and Camp replied, “Well, have you met Rod?”.
Adams asked Galbraith, “So there is, in your view, absolute collusion between primary ticket companies and the secondary market in terms of getting access to those tickets?” “Yes, absolutely. In the case of Ed’s show, which we announced at 3pm, the first [resale] sites to list it were Get Me In! and Seatwave and they listed it at 3.27. No other site was able to put it up that quickly. They had that prior information because we had given it to Ticketmaster, who were selling the primary allocations.”
Giving detailed evidence of how hundreds of people claiming to have been overcharged by Viagogo had contacted her since she formed the Victims of Viagogo group on Facebook to recover money for herself and a handful of others, Claire Turnham described the impact of being ripped-off had on people. “They’re very, very distressed. It’s causing not only financial effects, but serious emotional and physical effects too, people are physically sick, they’re having anxiety attacks, they can’t go to work,” she said. “These are real people with real issues and real problems right now that need solving very quickly, because it is affecting them so greatly.” Turnham, who has so far helped recover more than £41,000 in refunds, told MPs she had now been contacted by over 420 people with similar problems from 26 countries. “Like any other form of abuse it relies on people being silenced and it relies on people being isolated,” she said.
Committee members raised several other issues during the three-hour hearing, covering robotic software (bots) used by touts for harvesting tickets, and educating fans to avoid resale sites. “If I can be so bold as to say bots are possibly more of a red herring in this,” stated See’s Wilmshurst. “I am not a firm believer in this. We have a number of technologies in place that allow us to spot this type of stuff and we don’t see it.”
Asked about certain sports bodies taking money from resale sites to supply them with tickets, Wilmshurst agreed it was wrong, “Why would you take a lump of money from these organisations to allow your tickets to be touted and your fans to be ripped off?”
On educating music fans about the dangers of using resale sites, Galbraith said, “Unfortunately customers are only going to learn by continually having lessons that they experience themselves or read about elsewhere. As prosecutions start to be brought under the CRA, which is what our hope is, that will add to the customer education process.”
Present at the hearing was Sharon Hodgson MP, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Ticket Abuse, who has campaigned against industrial-scale and insider touting for eight years. “This is an important step in the right direction to clean-up this parasitical market so that fans are put first and it will be crucial in our next steps to see what comes from this inquiry,” she says.
Also observing was FanFair Alliance’s Adam Webb, who tells LIVE UK, “This session was in many ways astonishing, and MPs heard yet more evidence about a ticket resale market swinging wildly out of control. But the gauntlet has also been thrown down to the other players in this market, whose business models are not so dissimilar. Do these companies really want to be associated with such a tarnished brand? Or will they open up, show some corporate responsibility and stop their support of hardcore ticket touts? The jury is still out.”
You can view the full transcript of the session here.