The lights are on and the gig is over - touting is on the way out

Despite Seatwave’s pre-emptive announcement of closure, we need to move forward with legislation on ticket sales, writes Noel Rock

The lights are on and the gig is over - touting is on the way out

Despite Seatwave’s pre-emptive announcement of closure, we need to move forward with legislation on ticket sales, writes Noel Rock

The announcement that Ticketmaster intended to pull the shutters down on Seatwave, the largest secondary resale website, was greeted warmly by practically every sports and music fan in the country.

As the biggest website, Seatwave facilitated touting on an industrial scale and made it very easy to partake.

If you had some money to spare, there were far worse ways to “invest” it than to snap up a few tickets to a gig you knew would sell out, and double or triple your return a few hours later.

The main resale websites knew this well, and were happy to skim the cream of 15% commission off both sides of the sale: the buyer and the seller. It was a cosy relationship.

However, with the strain of repeated public scrutiny came the attention of legislators both here and overseas.

The UK is moving through the phases of finalising legislation in this matter. Belgium has already enacted legislation (Seatwave closed there the same day it was enacted).

And here, just four weeks ago, the Cabinet threw its weight behind mine and Stephen Donnelly’s legislation,

signalling its intent to put government support behind passing the bill before the end of the year. The signal was clear: The lights were on, and the gig was over.

Noel Rock TD
Noel Rock TD

So, what next? Despite Seatwave’s pre-emptive announcement of closure, we need to move forward with legislation for three reasons:

- One: the principle still stands — snapping up tickets with the sole intention of reselling them, therefore preventing people from buying them at face value, while simultaneously cornering the market and jacking up the price — is wrong.

- Two: there are still plenty of other outlets in operation which are less high-profile than Seatwave.

- Three: there is nothing to stop Seatwave from doing a U-turn, should we stop pushing forward with legislation.

It is worth noting the overwhelming public support for these measures. A poll which I commissioned in 2017 from Ireland Thinks, found that some 86% of people supported an outright ban on above-cost reselling of tickets.

When this bill becomes law, a few things will happen: It will reduce the number of people buying tickets with the sole intention of reselling them. That’s inevitable — when you add any sort of friction to a sales process, fewer people partake in it on both sides of the equation.

As such, it stands to reason that it will be easier to purchase tickets at the primary point of purchase for the people who actually want to attend. Will this eliminate disappointment due to events selling out?

No, but will it reduce the speed with which big events sell out? I strongly believe so.

Similarly, will this legislation completely eliminate touting?

No, absolutely not, I’m not that naive. As with any legislation — for instance drink-driving legislation, or legislation which prohibits drugs, you find that the law doesn’t completely eradicate the behaviour, but it certainly reduces it, as people are aware it’s punishable by law.

The final question people ask when looking ahead is — if you can do this for tickets, why not for housing?

Homeless people outside Apollo House
Homeless people outside Apollo House

There are a variety of reasons when you think about it — but the one that makes people realise they’re not quite as comparable as they might seem at first is that, unlike tickets, practically no two houses are the same, so it’s impossible to say what’s “above face value”, unlike a ticket which very clearly has a set value.

Even if you take two absolutely identical properties, once you introduce the most basic variable — for instance let’s say one has an overgrown garden — then suddenly their likely face value deviates as one involves labour or the cost of labour to restore the garden, while the other doesn’t. Housing is a far more complex issue demanding far more complex solutions.

The final thing to consider is how we continue to respond to the challenges the industry poses: exorbitant service charges and fees, the suspicion people have that the position Ticketmaster has appears to be monopolistic, and the threat that Ticketmaster keep raising of variable pricing (akin to airline tickets or hotel rooms) are all things that we must as legislators remain vigilant of.

It’s not as trivial a sector as people think, with Ticketmaster alone worth a little over $10bn (€8.8bn), there is serious money here and it demands serious scrutiny.

Nevertheless, with Cabinet approving my legislation to prevent above-cost ticket reselling, and Seatwave announcing its exit from the market, I am more confident than ever that we can bring about a conclusion to the practice of systematic,

industrial-scale touting, and do a bit of service for people who go to concerts and matches.

Noel Rock is a Fine Gael TD for Dublin North-West since 2016 and campaigned for legislation to ban touts

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