Ed Sheeran has taken the dramatic step of cancelling 10,000 concert tickets available for sale on secondary market ticket sites. Ed's management team said that the tickets will be sold again at face value from the official vendors. It's a bold move for an artist to cancel thousands of tickets, but indicates that artists are getting fed up of seeing shady touts earn margins on their shows.
I have used these sites myself because it is usually impossible to get tickets for major shows from the official supplier. Popular shows are sold out within seconds and the tickets are then offloaded into the secondary market forcing fans to pay well over face value.
But I've had all sorts of trouble with the secondary market. I was once waiting for a Damien Rice ticket that was sent to me by courier on the day of the show - I had no idea if I could get into the show or not until just a couple of hours before it started. I once found that a Muse ticket I bought on Viagogo had already been used - who knows how many times the seller had sold the same ticket to different fans. Fortunately a few tickets were available at the venue, so I bought another at the box office and got a refund from Viagogo.
The entire system is broken when shows just sell out in seconds, allowing touts to inflate the price on the secondary market. But the secondary market has become the primary market for most fans as it's usually impossible to buy from the official vendors.
The Glastonbury festival has long insisted on tickets being issued in the name of the person who will use it - just like an airline ticket. ID checks allow the festival to confirm that the correct person is entering the show.
This works for Glastonbury, but it requires investment in bespoke ticket printing and then checking ID. Venues don't need to ID check every single fan - checking every tenth person is enough to ensure that those holding a ticket in a different name are unlikely to take a chance on getting in. It's a step in the right direction at least.
But I went to a football match on Sunday in São Paulo and I noticed a different procedure that very simply ensures that I am the only person that can use the tickets I bought. My payment card was the ticket.
When I arrived at the stadium and got to the entry turnstile, I needed to swipe my card on the gate. It recognised my card, printed a ticket with my seat details, and then the gate opened to let me in. It was simple and it worked.
The only problem with this system is if I have legitimately purchased tickets that I either want to give to someone as a gift, or I can't attend the show so I decide to give my tickets to a friend. In this case, I don't see why the venue cannot offer the option to transfer them to a new card number - so I can ask my friend for their visa number and then just allocate this new number to the tickets.
However, this could just allow the tickets to continue being available on the secondary market, people would buy them and when selling just change the card number associated with those tickets, but I think two simple options might avoid the problem:
- Gifts; you can allocate the ticket to another person at the time of purchase, but not later.
- Can't attend; you release the ticket back to the venue to be sold again. If sold you automatically get a refund. If not sold then you missed out.
This seems to me to be a very simple system that avoids most of the problems associated with touts. Only the people who actually buy event tickets can use them and it is still possible to give tickets as a gift to someone else and get the tickets reallocated to another fan if you are unable to attend. But what do you think? These ideas are still not as flexible as buying a ticket you can hand to anyone, but that flexibility supports this distorted secondary market and touts.