Ticket sales on the secondary market

An update on recent developments in the online secondary ticket market.

22 March 2017

Consumer protection measures relating to secondary ticketing facilities is a complex sector. It is still possible to see people outside venues for popular events buying and selling tickets, but the internet has fundamentally changed the ticketing environment over recent years. This has enabled the resale market to thrive.

The expansion of the resale market has led to various difficulties for event organisers and consumers. Shortcomings in the existing law and failures in enforcement have left such groups frustrated. However, recent developments suggest that the secondary ticket market is an area that will become subject to increasing scrutiny and regulation.

Banning digital harvesting software
A problem the law currently fails to address is the situation where consumers are unable to buy tickets as soon as they go on sale on the primary market, but immediately see them appear on the secondary market, often at hugely inflated prices.

The Digital Economy Bill, which is currently passing through the Houses of Parliament, seeks to address this shortcoming by criminalising the use of digital software used to purchase an excessive number of tickets. The legislation would affect both internet and other sales, and apply if an offer is made or anything is done to obtain tickets in or outside the UK.

Such a development would mirror recent changes to the laws in New York state, where the use of such technology was made illegal after a report found that 1,000 tickets were bought by digital harvesting software in one minute for a U2 concert at Madison Square Garden.

High profile artists such as Adele and Ed Sheeran have previously criticised the touts and asked their fans not to buy tickets from secondary sites. In February, resale site Viagogo was accused of "moral repugnance" for selling tickets to an Ed Sheeran Teenage Cancer Trust concert for up to £5,000.

CMA investigation
A CMA enforcement investigation into suspected breaches of consumer protection law was launched in December 2016. The investigation concerns potential breaches by the four main secondary ticket platforms - Viagogo, StubHub, GetMeIn and Seatwave – and follows the CMA's compliance review launched in June 2016, which concluded that one website was not fully complying with the undertakings.

The investigation, which is ongoing, primarily focuses on whether the following information is given to individuals purchasing tickets on the secondary market:

  1. who the seller of the ticket is and any connections the seller may have with secondary ticket websites or event organisers;
  2. any restrictions on the use of resold tickets which could result in a person being denied access to an event; and
  3. where a seat is located at the relevant venue.

Over the coming months the CMA will continue to use its powers to gather and assess evidence about the suspected breaches and, where it considers the law has been breached, take the necessary action to secure compliance.

Government response to independent review
Professor Michael Waterson was appointed to chair an independent review of consumer protection in the online ticket resale market. His report was published in May 2016. The Government responded to his report earlier this month, accepting Professor Waterson's recommendations in full.

The Government's response to the recommendations can be summarised as follows:

  1. A lead body, such as National Trading Standards (NTS), should carry out an investigation into compliance, followed by action coordinated with the police.
  2. Enforcement action (and if necessary court proceedings) should be taken in respect to breaches of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 in order to test them in relation to practical scenarios.
  3. Operators of secondary ticketing facilities should take responsibility for compliance and identification of traders, to ensure that traders in tickets comply with their obligations to consumers. If the four main UK secondary ticketing platforms fail to make progress on identification of traders, the Government will seek advice for the CMA and NTS as to what further steps may be necessary.
  4. The primary ticket industry should come together to consider how to improve the way consumer information is provided. This includes the ways in which tickets are released to the market, fees and charges, ticketing terms and conditions, and whether refunds are available.
  5. If necessary, the government will call a further roundtable to help implement the recommendations.
  6. The live event industry should be represented in the Cyber-security Information Sharing Partnership (CiSP), a joint industry and Government initiative to share cyber threat and vulnerability information.  
  7. Primary ticket sellers should co-operate with the Government and appropriate organisations to deal with the mass purchase of tickets by individuals using bots and other security threats.
  8. Practical tips for consumers on ticket purchasing will be supported and the ticketing industry will be encouraged to work with consumer organisations to improve consumer knowledge.
  9. The industry as a whole needs to be committed to a high level of ethics, openness and transparency, and comply with the law to maintain public trust in the ticketing market. It requires the industry to address issues such as ticket authentication, ticket speculation and reporting of suspected criminality.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee
The Culture, Media and Sport Committee, a select committee of the House of Commons, held an evidence session on ticket abuse on 21 March. Viagogo was subject to criticism for failing to appear at the session, having been summoned to give evidence.

The Committee is considering the actions the Government is proposing to tackle the issue of ticket abuse, as well as its response to the independent report by Professor Waterson.