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Ticketmaster chief responds to latest secondary ticketing hoo haa Stateside, while Viagogo sparring continues in the UK

By | Published on Tuesday 25 September 2018


The President of Live Nation’s Ticketmaster has spoken to Billboard about an exposé in the Canadian media last week about the firm’s secondary ticketing operations in the US. The report from the Toronto Star and CBC showed the ticketing giant courting touts at a trade fair in America, and being both very candid and very blasé about how those touts routinely break the rules on Ticketmaster’s primary site in order to access tickets to resell.

Amid the debate around secondary ticketing on both sides of the Atlantic, allegations have been repeatedly made that some people in the music industry are complicit in ticket resale – even while sometimes publicly criticising the touts – by actively making tickets available to resellers. Or, at least, by turning a blind eye to resellers who routinely break the rules that limit the number of tickets any one individual is allowed to buy from the primary seller.

Some promoters argue that they only ever got involved in the touting of their own tickets when it seemed that lawmakers would never regulate the secondary market, and so they adopted an ‘if you can’t beat them join them’ approach. Which is to say, if anyone is going to benefit from a resale mark-up, it might as well be the promoter.

But some reckon that promoters benefit from touting in other ways too. It helps them offload large numbers of tickets quickly aiding cash-flow, plus it provides the option to anonymously put discounted tickets on the market at the last minute if sales haven’t gone well.

Meanwhile, with a company like Ticketmaster, which has both primary and secondary ticketing platforms, there has long been the allegation that it is in the company’s interest for tickets to go from promoter to primary site to secondary site to fan, because it gets to charge two fees instead of one. It can charge a commission on the primary site, and then a higher commission on the secondary site.

In Europe, of course, the Live Nation ticketing company recently switched sides in the ongoing secondary ticketing debate, announcing it would shut down its two resale sites, Get Me In! and Seatwave. When confirming that shift, Ticketmaster UK said: “That’s right, we’ve listened and we hear you: secondary sites just don’t cut it anymore and you’re tired of seeing others snap up tickets just to resell for a profit”.

However, in the US Ticketmaster is still very much in the ticket resale game. The Toronto Star/CBC report focused on a trade fair for touts – or ‘ticket brokers’, if you prefer – in Las Vegas. The journalist fronting the report spoke to a rep for Ticketmaster’s TradeDesk platform, which helps touts organise and manage the tickets they have bought and which they are reselling on the secondary market.

The journalist asks the rep whether Ticketmaster would seek to stop him from using multiple user accounts on its primary site in order to access large quantities of tickets to resell, in violation of those rules that limit the number of tickets any one individual can buy. “Uh, no”, the TradeDesk guy responds. “I have a gentlemen who has over 200 accounts … who syncs his tickets in every day”.

Reckoning that pretty much every tout is using multiple accounts on to access the tickets they resell, the TradeDesk rep then muses that “they have to, because you want to get a good show, the ticket limit is six or eight, you’re not going to make a living on eight tickets”. Which is in many ways stating the obvious, but it’s newsworthy because this guy is a Ticketmaster employee.

While in the secondary ticketing business, Ticketmaster has generally been critical of touts harvesting large numbers of tickets off its primary sites in this way, and of technologies said touts use to help with the process. But the TradeDesk guy was adamant that his side of the business would never share information with the other side of the company which is looking to crack down on the kind of activities his clients participate in on a daily basis.

In a statement last week, Ticketmaster said that it did not “condone the statements made by the employee” in the Toronto Star/CBC video, “as the conduct described clearly violates our terms of service. The company has already begun an internal review of our professional reseller accounts and employee practices to ensure that our policies are being upheld by all stakeholders. Moving forward we will be putting additional measures in place to proactively monitor for this type of inappropriate activity”.

Subsequently speaking to Billboard, Ticketmaster President Jared Smith has now insisted that “we absolutely do not turn a blind eye to the misuse of our products”. He then added that the Toronto Star/CBC story was “predicated on misinformation and a misunderstanding”. However, he did then concede that “there’s clearly some things that we’re not doing well enough. We’ll learn from it and we’ll make some changes. I’m happy to make those changes. We think we should make those changes”.

He insists that Ticketmaster continues to actively stop people who harvest tickets off its primary platform in violation of its own rules and regulations. The tools employed to do this are not perfect, he says, but the company continues to hone and improve them. However, he added, just because a reseller using the firm’s TradeDesk service has 50 tickets to a show where the cap on purchases was eight, that doesn’t mean they can assume that reseller has broken the rules. “They could have bought them from other resellers or directly from the venue”, he says.

Elsewhere in the interview Smith defends the secondary market and his company’s continued involvement in it. Some of the arguments he employs relate to specific features of the US ticketing market, while others mirror the arguments previously employed by his colleagues in Europe until their decision to shut down Get Me In! and Seatwave.

“At the end of the day, the secondary market is going to exist”, Smith says. “People are going to buy these tickets, whether they use TradeDesk or not. If tomorrow we said, ‘OK, we’re in conflict, we’re going to shut down TradeDesk’, all that’s going to happen is that these tickets are going to go someplace else. [Touts] aren’t going to stop trying to buy tickets. They’ll buy the tickets, they’ll put them in a different marketplace, the tickets won’t be validated and fans will be worse off”.

But Smith does then say that new ticketing technology – including that conveniently being developed by Ticketmaster – can be used to restrict touting. “The real solution is in the ticket”, he states. “We’ve got to get rid of PDFs, we’ve got to get rid of the barcode, and we’ve got to expand identity-based ticketing. We have to use ‘verified fan’ and digital tickets so the artist has the tools that they need to be able to dictate how those tickets are sold”.

Elsewhere in secondary ticketing news, this weekend Damian Collins – chair of the UK Parliament’s culture select committee, which recently put the spotlight back on touting – penned an op-ed piece for the Daily Record. The Scottish newspaper has been more prolific than most in documenting and investigating the secondary ticketing market, and in calling for better rules and regulations of touting, and for existing rules to be enforced.

In the piece, Collins calls for Ticketmaster and other primary sites to step up their efforts in stopping touts from harvesting large numbers of tickets. He writes: “I agree with the Daily Record’s assertion that Ticketmaster should be blacklisting touts. It is very easy for the platforms to identify people who are selling large amounts of tickets”.

He goes on: “Whenever they see someone has bought a cluster of tickets for an event, all at the same time, where tickets are going to the same address or to a bunch of connected emails, the platform should cancel them at the primary stage”. Noting that activity of this kind indicates industrial level touting, he says that if and when Ticketmaster et al “can see that these tickets are being bought and resold in bulk, [the buyers] should be banned”.

Although, perhaps unsurprisingly, Collins is most scathing in his piece about that other major player in resale: Viagogo. Because, of course, the most controversial of all the secondary ticketing sites recently stood up Parliament’s culture select committee for a second time.

“We have seen with the non-appearance of Viagogo before the committee, proof that they are rogue operators who aren’t interested in playing by the rules or abiding by our laws”, Collins writes. “My message to anyone wanting to see their favourite band or sports event is clear – don’t buy from Viagogo … it’s just not worth the risk”.

Collins’ article follows the news last week that Ed Sheeran will play four more shows in the UK next year, with measures being put in place to make it even harder to tout tickets for those gigs. Sheeran’s promoter also urged fans to not buy tickets from the rogue resale site. Urging customers to only buy from official ticket agents as listed on the musician’s website, its statement added: “ is not an official ticket vendor for this tour”.

But the newly chatty Viagogo is adamant that it will be selling tickets for those Sheeran concerts, and that that’s just fine. Responding to the statement from Sheeran HQ, it said on Friday: “All tickets on Viagogo are genuine and we will have tickets to all Ed Sheeran’s UK tour dates at a wide range of prices. Fans can buy from us with absolute confidence that they can turn up to the gig and simply walk straight in”.

Viagogo, of course, has sued one of Sheeran’s UK promoters, Kilimanjaro Live, over the anti-touting policies it employed at the last round of his shows. It argues that, while Kilimanjaro was cancelling tickets resold on the Viagogo site, the promoter generally didn’t know which tickets had been touted unless a buyer revealed the source of their ticket at the venue.

With that in mind – and ensuring that its war of words with Kilimanjaro and its boss Stuart Galbraith continues – the company then alleged: “Ed’s promoter, Stuart Galbraith of Kilimanjaro, made grandiose claims that he could cancel any tickets listed on Viagogo but he recently admitted in a BBC interview that he cannot. In fact, he is now being sued for these and other fraudulent claims he made during the last Ed Sheeran tour”.

Kilimanjaro, of course, strongly denies all the allegations Viagogo has made against both it and Galbraith. And while it may be true that, at past Sheeran concerts, fans with Viagogo sourced tickets could often get into shows if they avoided the ‘Victim Of Viagogo’ desks, the promoter would likely point to the additional anti-touting measures it is employing next time.

Either way, while in America it is Ticketmaster’s continued involvement in resale that remains the story, in the UK it seems likely that it will be the Viagogo v Sheeran saga that keeps us most entertained as the big secondary ticketing debate marches on.