The secondary ticket market – bots beware!

The Secretary of State now has the power to make facilitating or purchasing excess tickets using online bots an offence.

26 September 2017

New powers mean the Secretary of State could now level the playing field in the ticket release madness.

The global secondary ticket market is expected to have an annual growth rate of 19% by 2020. While not all of the tickets that are sold on this market are lining the pockets of ticket touts, it is clear that the secondary ticket market has issues to resolve. Many fans are unable to buy tickets as they go on sale; only to have the opportunity minutes later on websites such as Viagogo, Seatwave and StubHub – if they are willing to pay tens if not hundreds of times face value. 

There have been various attempts by the industry to try and tackle this issue. For example, the singer Adele tried to control this problem by deciding that only buyers whose name was on their ticket would be admitted to her concert. Despite this effort, tickets were still offered for sale online for as much as £9000. Ed Sheeran recently cancelled 10,000 tickets to one of his concerts to try and prevent his fans being defrauded by ticket touts. Within minutes of the tickets first being offered for sale, it was reported that a pair of tickets were offered for sale at an incredible £174,000 – on official channels the price was between £49 and £88. 

The Government has recognised that action is needed to prevent abuses of ticket sales markets. The Digital Economy Act 2017 (Commencement) Regulations brought into force section 106 of the Digital Economy Act 2017. This is designed to target events that are recreational, sporting, or cultural, with conditions of sale that set a limit on the number of tickets that can be bought by a single buyer. Section 106 gives the Secretary of State the power to make it an offence to facilitate, or enable the completion of any part of the purchasing process with an intention to acquire excess tickets - i.e. the use of so-called “bots” to bulk buy tickets.

Despite the limits that are placed on buyers, these ticket bots are able to purchase a large number of tickets – in excess of the seller’s limit – as soon as they are offered for sale online. To illustrate this, on 8 December 2014, one ticket bot bought 1012 tickets in 60 seconds for U2’s performance in Madison Square Garden. 

While the Secretary of State’s power to make exceeding ticket purchase limits an offence is of course good news for music fans, many will be disappointed that it did not go further. The House of Lords proposed an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill that would have required ticket resellers to obtain authorisation from event organisers to market their tickets. Failure to do this would have resulted in a fine of up to £5000 – wiping out the potential profit on the ticket sale. However this did not make its way into the final legislation.

At present it remains to be seen when, if at all, the Secretary of State will use the power effected by Section 106. Until that time, fans will continue to battle against bot s to try and secure a ticket at a reasonable price.

If a new summary offence is created, we will provide further analysis as the details emerge. Should you have any queries regarding this update, please get in touch with Paul Carlyle, Alison Rochester or your usual Shepherd and Wedderburn contact