Live Music Contents

2Problems in the ticketing market

‘To put it bluntly, we are starting to clear up the acne that has blighted our industry, and I think that we are coming to the point where we just have one major boil left to lance.’ (Stuart Galbraith, Kilimanjaro Live)

The live music ticketing market

25.Most tickets for live events in the UK are bought from primary ticketing agents, secondary ticketing sites or directly from venues. Primary ticketing agents such as Ticketmaster or See Tickets sell tickets from an inventory provided by the event promoter at face value, plus any booking or delivery fees. However, secondary platforms, such as StubHub and viagogo, enable people who have previously bought on a primary site to list a ticket for resale at any price they choose, and then charge their own additional platform fees accordingly.

26.In practice, ticket inventories are usually distributed across numerous primary platforms and evidence has suggested that, at least in the past, promoters have also put tickets directly on secondary sites.38 All this has led to a complex and fragmented ticketing market that means consumers are often unclear about whether they are buying from a primary or secondary platform. Professor Michael Waterson’s 2016 independent review of the market identified that nearly a quarter (23%) of buyers thought a reseller was an official vendor.39

27.Our predecessor Committee heard from artists, managers and consumer representatives about the scale of ticket resale on secondary platforms; its negative effects on the industry, including the perceived ripping-off of fans; and the need for improved transparency and enforcement of consumer law.40 As Ed Sheeran’s promoter Stuart Galbraith told us, people paying inflated prices through secondary ticketing websites ultimately limits the amount of money going back to the industry:

To put it bluntly, if somebody has paid £1,000 for a ticket that had a face value of £100 then, in my opinion, that is nine shows they will not go and see, or if they were smaller shows and they were £20 tickets it is several dozen shows they will not go and see. It is sucking money out of the top of our industry and putting it into the pockets of investment funds and large institutions, which are now offshore and elsewhere. It means those monies also do not have PRS paid on them, so the songwriters and the creators of that art do not share in it and HMRC do not get their VAT return on it either.41

Arguments for and against a secondary market

28.Although the weight of evidence we received was critical of the resale of tickets for profit, there are recurring arguments in favour of a secondary ticketing market of some kind. Professor Waterson acknowledges the need for a resale market because consumers buy tickets far in advance of events and then find their circumstances change.42 As the primary market does not allow buyers to return tickets and obtain a refund, the resale market allows fans to recoup their costs if they are unable to attend. This is a central argument by the secondary platforms, as StubHub states:

We believe that the consumer has the right to transfer a ticket […] from a consumer perspective, people believe that once they own the ticket they have the right to either gift it […] or to resell it, based on their circumstances changing.43

29.It could be argued, therefore, that the problem is not the reselling of tickets but the perceived exploitation of the market through inflated prices and profiteering.44 Consumers feel ripped off when the price they pay for tickets on secondary platforms is considerably higher than the face value on the ticket and/or accompanied by high platform fees, which have not always been made clear throughout the purchasing process. A member of the public who purchased tickets via viagogo told us that he “would like to put a stop to this cruel and cynical scam that will leave many folk heavily out of pocket and extremely disappointed.”45

30.Claire Turnham who founded ‘Victim of Viagogo’, which has helped thousands secure refunds for tickets mis-sold through the site, told us of the “substantial ‘human’ cost” experienced by people who feel they have been ripped off and then face a struggle to enforce their consumer rights.46 This has been clearly communicated by the wealth of evidence we received from people distressed at viagogo’s business practices. One customer who was charged £225 for two tickets, which they only later learned had a face value of £45 each, said that “the whole experience has put me off going and spoilt the whole thing”. Furthermore, they told us that the total charge was not made clear until after they had confirmed the purchase, and that they “tried to back track and look for options to cancel, but there were none.”47 Another, whose daughter pursued a refund from viagogo after being supplied restricted view tickets instead of unrestricted view, said:

there was no treat for the family … only a couple of months of frustration, anger, time wasting and disbelief that our Government have done nothing to prevent this Company from existing.48

31.Both StubHub and viagogo argue that problems of supply in the primary market exacerbate demand in the secondary. They blame consumer dissatisfaction at not being able to secure tickets for popular events on “scarcity of supply” and the “significant disconnect between the expectation of how many tickets will be available at general sale and the actual number of tickets which are put up for general sale.”49

32.It can, however, be argued that the ticketing market is inherently different to other markets. For example, artists may wish to set the price of their tickets so that a particular demographic of fans—such as young audiences—can afford to go.50 Others, including the Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town, claim that tickets “should not be compared to any other commodity that can be traded” but rather might be considered a licence granted by a promoter to give a named individual the right to attend an event.51 Yet without a clear legal definition as to what a ticket is, such an approach is difficult to enforce.

33.The Fair Ticketing Alliance echoes the principle that secondary ticketing corrects a market distortion by enabling prices to be set by the principles of supply and demand:

When consumers want to see their favourite artist whose performance has sold out, they are willing to pay extra for the opportunity to purchase tickets or to secure better seats than those made available by the primary market.52

However, research by FanFair Alliance undermines this assumption by demonstrating that tickets are made available on secondary platforms before selling out on primary platforms.53 Furthermore, without clear information about the face value of a ticket, people do not always know that they are paying more on secondary platforms.

34.Moreover, many of the criticisms of the secondary ticketing market are not simply related to prices. In cases we have heard throughout this inquiry consumers have not been properly informed by sellers about other important information related to the tickets they are purchasing. This can include whether or not the venue has banned ticket resale by consumers, the seat, row and block numbers for the tickets themselves, and whether or not the seller is even in possession of the tickets. This is where the robust enforcement of consumer law becomes critical.

Developments in the ticketing market

35.Adam Webb of the campaign group FanFair Alliance acknowledges that since our predecessor Committee last took evidence on the ticketing market, there have been “massive improvements” and that, thanks to both the enforcement of consumer law and the actions of key players in the industry, “we are seeing a new kind of secondary market take root.”54 This is exemplified by Ticketmaster’s decision to close its two secondary sites, Seatwave and GET ME IN!, and launch a new platform that integrates primary and resale tickets on one page and, crucially, caps the price at which tickets can be resold at whatever the buyer paid in the first place.55 This form of fan-to-fan ticket exchange addresses the fundamental need for a secondary market and has been welcomed by many in the music industry; however, it does not address the problem of people simply reselling for profit elsewhere, which Ticketmaster admits “remains a very real threat”.56

Enforcement of consumer law

36.When we launched this inquiry, several submissions cautioned that it was too early to tell how successful legislative reforms to the ticketing market had been as the outcome of enforcement action was yet to be seen.57 Since then, however, the Competition and Markets Authority, Advertising Standards Authority and National Trading Standards have made significant progress on bringing secondary platforms into line with consumer law.

37.In the first half of 2018 both the CMA and the ASA took action against the then four main secondary platforms to ensure that the information they displayed complied with consumer law and did not mislead buyers. The CMA sought undertakings that the sites would make clear whether there is a risk a customer might be turned away at a venue, which seat the customer would get and who is selling the ticket, so customers can benefit from enhanced legal rights when buying from a business.58 Similarly, the ASA ruled that secondary platforms must make clear the total price, including booking and delivery fees, at the beginning of the purchasing process.59

38.Three of the four platforms—StubHub, Seatwave and GET ME IN!—undertook to comply with the CMA and ASA’s rulings by the necessary deadlines; however, viagogo did not. At the end of May, the ASA duly referred viagogo to National Trading Standards, but the platform eventually agreed to comply with the regulator and the ASA dropped its sanctions in September.60 At the end of August, the CMA brought legal proceedings against viagogo over the company’s continued refusal to comply with its rulings.61 In late November, the CMA secured a court order compelling viagogo to make changes to its business practices to bring it in line with the CMA’s rulings by 17 January 2019.62 Regrettably, although that deadline has now passed, there are still serious reservations about whether viagogo has made the necessary changes. On 24 January 2019, the CMA stated that:

Following initial checks, the CMA has serious concerns that viagogo has not complied with important aspects of the court order we secured against them. The CMA has now raised these concerns with viagogo and expects them to make any necessary changes without delay. If they do not, the CMA will return to court to ensure they do.63

Then, on 5 March, the CMA issued a statement noting that:

Although some improvements have been made since we first demanded action to address areas of non-compliance, further checks have shown there are still issues of concern.

For a company not to comply with a court order is clearly very serious. We are therefore now preparing to take legal action to ask a court to find viagogo in contempt.64

39.The court order against viagogo addressed some of the practices that were highlighted by dissatisfied customers in their evidence to us. For example, as a result of the CMA’s action, viagogo is expected to no longer display misleading information about the availability and popularity of tickets, which consumers say pressures them into making a purchase; to make it easier for people to get their money back under the platform’s guarantee, which has been a source of frustration for thousands; and not to allow the sale of tickets that sellers do not own and may not be able to supply.65

40.Although the CMA and ASA’s enforcement action has been widely welcomed, some have argued that it is taking too long to enforce the law, especially against viagogo.66 The Minister described the fact that secondary platforms were given until January 2019 to comply with provisions in the Consumer Rights Act 2015 as an “Alice in Wonderland world.”67 However, Ticketmaster’s view is that “the CMA has shown itself to be a very competent regulator in this space.”68

41.We welcome the changes that the Advertising Standards Authority and Competition and Markets Authority have secured to the business practices of some of the major secondary ticketing platforms; however, we regret that such time and public money is being spent on bringing the platforms, principally viagogo, into line with consumer law that they should have complied with from the outset. We believe that viagogo has yet to prove itself a trustworthy operator given its history of resisting compliance, court orders and parliamentary scrutiny, and flouting consumer law. We recognise that it will take the CMA time to prepare evidence on whether viagogo is compliant with the court order against it; however, we are concerned that while that work takes place, consumers remain vulnerable to the site’s misleading sales practices. It is imperative that the CMA acts promptly and decisively to bring viagogo into line with consumer law and, until it does so, we advise the public not to buy or sell tickets via viagogo.

Further steps to protect consumers

42.The delays in securing secondary ticketing sites’ compliance with consumer law have been compounded by the difficulties that consumers face when seeking recourse from the sites. In the first half of 2018, viagogo told us that it had “doubled the number of its customer service department personnel over the past 12 months and […] invested heavily in technology to support customer service”.69 However, this account from a viagogo customer reflects the experiences of many who have contacted us during the inquiry:

I had emailed them several times asking for a refund and explaining my reasons why. Their customer service team are very unhelpful. I get the same automated response each time which doesn’t even answer my queries or concerns.70

Moreover, campaigner Claire Turnham told us how viagogo’s business structures make it difficult for individuals to pursue legal claims against the company:

Viagogo as a company is often not clear to consumers who they are, where they are based, how to contact them or what their relationship and connection is with VGL Services. This makes it difficult to seek a refund from them and also redress via the courts. In some cases individual fans have received legal letters from Viagogo’s law firm after initiating a small claims court claim and have reported feeling both confused and intimidated by this approach (which usually asserts that the claim has been served on the wrong part of Viagogo—VGL Services in the UK—claiming the website is Viagogo AG which is based abroad. It is actually unclear where Viagogo is based and under whose jurisdiction they fall).71

43.People who have been charged more than expected for a ticket, or who have learnt that they may not be let into an event with a ticket they have just bought, need immediate and authoritative support on what steps to take to secure a refund. Historically, that has been a role largely performed by volunteer campaign groups, such as ‘Victim of Viagogo’, or artists and promoters. While we commend them for their important work in championing consumers’ rights, it is unacceptable that any individual has had to bear the brunt of that task and responsibility.

44.Consumer education is also key for the effective functioning of the market: if consumers are not aware of the structure of the ticketing market, their rights within it or the reputation of certain actors it is unreasonable to expect, as viagogo suggests, that “market competition will continue to drive improvements in the services offered to consumers.”72 Wayne Grierson from StubHub was keen to emphasise the company’s consumer satisfaction and its FanProtect guarantee, saying that StubHub is “fan-first”.73 However, as we have already explored, understanding of the ticketing market among consumers is limited and much of the evidence we received suggested that people did not know about viagogo’s reputation until after making a purchase.74

45.We have therefore heard repeated calls for a ticketing ombudsman or an independent Alternative Dispute Resolution scheme for the secondary market, such as the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR) offers in the primary market.75 It should be in secondary sites’ interests to establish or join such a scheme voluntarily; however, it has been suggested that if they do not do so “the Government should legislate to require them to […] just as [it has] in other markets such as housing, energy, financial services, etc.”76 The Government told us that although it keeps this area “under constant review”, it is not considering legislating for an ombudsman as it wishes to “bed down the changes” made after the 2016 Waterson review and “get the maximum effectiveness out of that” before embarking on further action.77

46.StubHub and viagogo’s ultimate compliance with consumer law should mitigate many of the problems that consumers have previously experienced; however, it would be naive to assume all problems will immediately cease. Indeed, this is recognised in the primary market, which has the STAR Code of Practice and Alternative Dispute Resolution scheme, both of which are also needed in the secondary market. Fans need a quicker and easier process for dispute resolution; given that the ticketing market is the first stage in most fans’ journeys, poor experiences risk blighting people’s enjoyment of live music and draining even more money out of the industry.

The Breaching of Limits on Ticket Sales Regulations 2018

47.The secondary platforms have been keen to emphasise their function as a place for fans to resell tickets they are unable to use.78 However, touts buying up large numbers of tickets to resell at a profit is another crucial aspect of the secondary business model, with preferential deals struck between secondary platforms and large-scale resellers who are incentivised to harvest tickets for live events.79 One—but by no means the only—way that touts harvest tickets is by using bots to make large volumes of transactions at speed. Both the Government and the primary industry are acting to prevent bot purchases, with Ticketmaster blocking 20 billion bot attacks across its global platforms in 2017.80 Ticketmaster is also developing technological solutions to make it harder for people to harvest and resell tickets, including paperless ticketing and systems to verify a buyer’s identity.81

48.In July 2018, the Breaching of Limits on Ticket Sales Regulations 2018 came into force under the Digital Economy Act 2017. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport told us that “this legislation will put the UK at the forefront of the fight against online touts exploiting fans.”82 The regulations make it an offence to use automated computer programmes to purchase tickets in excess of any limit set out in terms and conditions regarding the maximum number of tickets a consumer may buy and where the intent is financial gain.83

49.It has been questioned whether the regulations sufficiently address the actual means by which touts harvest large numbers of tickets. FanFair Alliance states that it:

wholeheartedly supports Government’s aim to target those who bulk-buy tickets for personal gain. However, to be truly effective, this legislation should go beyond outlawing “bots”—and cover all methods used to harvest tickets. For instance, those who employ teams of people or use multiple credit cards to impersonate consumers.84

Likewise, questions have been raised about how offences will be identified in the first place. Ticketmaster told us that, as it blocks any bot purchases it detects, any successful bot purchases will, by definition, be highly difficult to identify.85 Moreover, because attempted bot purchases are blocked from the site’s system, Ticketmaster is unable to gather information on the source to feed back to enforcement bodies.86 Ed Sheeran’s promoter Stuart Galbraith explained that for his latest tour they manually identified “nearly 10,000 multiple purchases that had slipped through the defences of all of the agents”, which they then cancelled. He went on to suggest that bots could be a “red herring” and should not be the exclusive focus of enforcement action:

It is the multiple use of computers as well. The only way to pick that up is by very, very laboriously manually checking all the sales records.87

50.We asked the Minister whether the enforcement bodies are sufficiently resourced to undertake such work. She recognised “the painstaking efforts” of National Trading Standards and cited the £15 million given to it and Trading Standards Scotland to increase their enforcement action.88

51.The Breaching of Limits on Ticket Sales Regulations 2018 are a welcome step in the fight against ticket touts; however, they are not the only solution to the harvesting of tickets. Robust enforcement, technological solutions and the work of primary platforms will be central to combatting the use of bots. We request that in its response to this report the Government lays out how it intends to review the effectiveness of the regulations. We also ask the Government to publish a review of the regulations no later than 18 months from their coming into force, and for it to include how much has been spent by National Trading Standards on monitoring and enforcement activity related to the regulations.

Industry solutions to ticket touting

52.Increasingly, artists and promoters are preventing tickets from being resold on secondary platforms. A key example is the ticketing policy for Ed Sheeran’s 2018 stadium tour—the first of its kind for a tour of that size. As co-promoters, Kilimanjaro Live implemented terms and conditions stating that any ticket resold on an unauthorised site would be automatically invalidated. Although the terms and conditions stated that tickets could be resold only via the secondary site Twickets at a maximum price of 10% above face value, many still ended up on unauthorised sites such as viagogo. The promoters advised anyone with invalid tickets to seek a refund through the relevant site and gave them the opportunity to buy a new ticket at the face value of £150. Ed Sheeran’s promoter told us that the policy “worked very well”, but cautioned that the costs of delivering it make it unviable for certain tours or artists.89

53.Many in the industry share Ticketmaster’s view that technological solutions, such as digital ticketing, will “be the way that we will address the issue of touts being able to exploit fans and access tickets” in the long term.90 We heard about mobile app DICE, which issues digital tickets, features a ‘waiting list’ function for sold-out shows and enables tickets to be transferred between users.91 The Venue Business Manager of Islington Assembly Hall, which uses DICE, detailed the positive impact digital ticketing has had on attendance figures, which in turn supports the venue’s other revenue streams. She told us that:

before when a show was sold out, we would be at 75% capacity. As a small venue, it is one of the most distressing things: you are losing your bar sales, which is the thing that keeps you afloat in your business. With our change to digital ticketing, we have noticed that we are at 90% capacity on a sold-out show.92

54.This is a time of significant change in the ticketing market, as illustrated by Ticketmaster’s new integrated platform; however, voluntary fan-to-fan exchange is not going to solve all the problems in the secondary market. Touting for profit, or harvesting tickets ahead of other consumers, is still a major source of consumer dissatisfaction. We recognise the industry’s adoption of technological solutions such as digital ticketing or terms and conditions limiting resale; however, it is important that these are always exercised in the interests of consumers and are not used to stifle competition or unfairly penalise fans who have unknowingly bought tickets on resale sites.

Google’s role in the ticketing market

55.For many who buy from secondary ticketing platforms, Google is the first stage of their consumer journey: 43% of respondents to a consumer survey said that Google was their first port of call to search for tickets.93 This was borne out by evidence from dissatisfied customers of viagogo who went to the site because it appeared at the top of Google’s search rankings and presented itself as an official—not resale—ticketing site. They told us:

I did a search on Google and Viagogo was the first result. I am unfamiliar with concerts and assumed I was on an official site. There was nothing on it to suggest otherwise.94

I searched using Google for tickets to ‘An Evening With John Williams’ at The Royal Albert Hall […] The first search hit was Viagogo, I had not heard of the company before and was unaware of their business model and their reputation.95

56.It follows that advertising on Google is crucial to the secondary market. Indeed, the importance of Google to viagogo’s traffic led FanFair Alliance to argue that “we have a situation where one of the world’s most trusted brands is providing life support to one of the worst.”96 Likewise, in arguing that viagogo’s position on Google’s search rankings is “ridiculous”, UK Music made the case that “there is a strong role that Google can play in the way that a trusted brand like that exists for people accessing tickets that way.”97

57.Google has made changes aimed at increasing transparency around how the secondary market operates. In February 2018, it introduced a new certification policy for resale platforms. To run adverts on Google, resale sites must disclose on their homepage that they are a secondary marketplace, and that tickets might be sold at above face value. Moreover, they cannot use the word “official”.98 This has been largely welcomed; however, concerns remain that the transparency requirement does not extend to the text of the sites’ adverts or search listings. FanFair Alliance argues that:

to be truly effective we believe that the text and tone of Google advertising should also disclose that these are resale sites listing second-hand tickets. Unless that is made clear, we will continue to see Viagogo, […] and StubHub use AdWords to dominate search results and potentially mislead the public.99

58.Furthermore, Google sometimes hosts adverts for tickets that carry express terms and conditions prohibiting resale. In June 2018 a viagogo advert for tickets to Ed Sheeran’s tour appeared at the top of Google’s search results, despite the fact that terms and conditions set by the promoter meant that tickets resold on viagogo would be invalid.100 FanFair Alliance correctly argues that Google “are breaking their own AdWords guidelines” in accepting such advertising.101 In particular, Google’s policy states that:

We expect all advertisers to comply with the local laws for any area that their ads target, in addition to the standard Google Ads policies. We generally err on the side of caution in applying this policy because we don’t want to allow content of questionable legality.102

However, Google has repeatedly allowed adverts for tickets being sold in clear breach of UK consumer protection law.103

59.It is firstly the responsibility of the advertiser to ensure that they are complying with the advertising code and consumer protection law when marketing their goods and services to potential customers. However, media owners also have a responsibility to the audiences they serve. Google has repeatedly allowed ticket resellers to target customers with products that are being sold in breach of Google’s own ad policies and UK law. It is time for companies such as Google to take more responsibility and act against such advertising, or else be considered to be knowingly making money out of fraudulent selling.

60.We ask the Government to set out the responsibilities of companies such as Google to ensure that adverts targeted at their users comply with UK consumer protection law. This should include what action these companies should take against the adverts themselves, and the advertisers. Ticket sellers found to be trading in breach of the law should be prevented from advertising. Companies such as Google should also face some sanction for failing to act against sellers in breach of the law.

38 FanFair Alliance (LMU 0044)

39 Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, Independent Review of Consumer Protection Measures concerning Online Secondary Ticketing Facilities, (May 2016), p 21 and p 156

40 Oral evidence taken before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on 15 November 2016 and 21 March 2017, HC (2016–17) 823

41 Q90 [Stuart Galbraith]

42 Michael Waterson (LMU 0078)

44 Michael Waterson (LMU 0078)

45 Ronald Johnston (LMU 0005)

46 Claire Turnham (LMU 0068)

47 Melissa Gray (LMU 0004)

48 Patsy Wiggins (LMU 0008)

49 viagogo (LMU 0061) and StubHub (LMU 0033)

50 Oral evidence taken before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on 15 November 2016, HC (2016–17) 823, Q6

51 Baroness Hayter (LMU 0026)

53 FanFair Alliance, ONLINE TICKET TOUTING: GOOGLE, WE HAVE A PROBLEM…., (10 July 2017), accessed 10 December 2018

54 Q1

55 Ticketmaster blog, ‘GET ME IN! and Seatwave are shutting down’, accessed 13 August 2018

58Secondary ticketing sites pledge overhaul”, Competition and Markets Authority press release, 25 April 2018

59 Advertising Standards Authority, Clamping down on misleading pricing practices by secondary ticketing providers, (7 March 2018), accessed 14 December 2018

61CMA launches court action against viagogo”, Competition and Markets Authority press release, 31 August 2018

62 GOV.UK, Secondary ticketing websites, accessed 10 December 2018

63 GOV.UK, Secondary ticketing websites, accessed 14 February 2019

64 GOV.UK, Secondary ticketing websites, accessed 6 March 2019

65CMA secures court order against viagogo”, Competition and Markets Authority press release, 27 November 2018

66 FanFair Alliance (LMU 0044)

68 Q2

69 viagogo (LMU 0061)

70 Carl Laverick (LMU 0065)

71 Claire Turnham (LMU 0068)

72 viagogo (LMU 0061)

74 Graham Rose (LMU 0027), Richard Perkins (LMU 0007), Carl Laverick (LMU 0065)

75 Claire Turnham (LMU 0068)

76 Claire Turnham (LMU 0068)

78 viagogo (LMU 0061) and StubHub (LMU 0033)

79 FanFair Alliance (LMU 0044)

80 Ticketmaster (LMU 0085)

83 The Breaching of Limits on Ticket Sales Regulations 2018 (SI 2018/735)

84 FanFair Alliance (LMU 0044)

89 Q5

91 Dice Purchase Terms, accessed 13 August 2018

92 Q3

93 FanFair Alliance, Ticked off: Consumer Attitudes to Secondary Ticketing, (30 October 2017), p 14

94 Ronald Johnston (LMU 0005)

95 Graham Rose (LMU 0027)

96 FanFair Alliance, ONLINE TICKET TOUTING – GOOGLE, WE *STILL* HAVE A PROBLEM (20 June 2018), accessed 17 December 2018

97 Q292 [Tom Kiehl]

98 Google, About event ticket seller certification, accessed 1 August 2018

99 FanFair Alliance (LMU 0044)

100 FanFair Alliance, ONLINE TICKET TOUTING: GOOGLE, WE HAVE A PROBLEM…., (10 July 2017), accessed 10 December 2018

101 Q95 [Adam Webb]

102 Google AdWords policies, Legal requirements, accessed 25 February 2019

Published: 19 March 2019