Artists who seek to control ticket sales are agents of the Bully State

Artists who seek to control ticket sales are agents of the Bully State

by Brian Monteith
article from Monday 4, March, 2019

MY TICKETS to see Gladys Knight at London’s Albert Hall in June arrived today. I was fortunate to see her in Dallas last year and my wife and I enjoyed it so much she bought me these latest tickets as a surprise Christmas present, as well as the more predictable biographies and vinyl albums I half expect.

I noticed they came from Viagogo and thought I would look up if any other of my faves were appearing in the coming year only to end up, as one can with the internet, reading how some artists and politicians are trying to place heavy restrictions on the ticket market in general and Viagogo in particular. 

Some artists are actually banning anyone who turns up at their concerts without having bought tickets from their own preferred network. That seemed a rather outrageous position to take; what if you turned up in good faith having shelled-out your hard worked for after-tax earnings to find you were not allowed admittance to a gig you had been waiting months to experience and were all hyped-up for? Do we have to take passports to concerts to show we bought the tickets first-hand? Really?

The “problem” of ticket touts will never go away. For those used to access to gigs from corporate hospitality, being on the Green Room guest list, media passes and other freebies and backhanders, the challenge of getting a prized ticket for an artist you might never have the chance to see for the rest of your life might not seem important, but for many of us punters it’s different. 

Cup final tickets to see my football team win the Scottish Cup for the first time in 114 years? Three generations of my family had not managed to see Hibernian lift the trophy, but every so often they reached the final I was trying every possible avenue to get a ticket to be there just in case they won. (Important to me? I once flew from Botswana to Glasgow and back again over a weekend for a final, and yes, they lost!) 

Would I have used “touts” to get me into a Cup Final, of course. No question. For some people it’s Wimbledon, for others it’s rugby – or the latest teen-idol.

One of the wonders of the internet is how it opens up access to events all over the world. When I first started going to concerts in the seventies (I still have my ticket stub for Slade with Thin Lizzy and Suzie Quatro at the Edinburgh Empire in 1972) I would have had no idea how to see Alice Cooper in Detroit or Marvin Gaye in Los Angeles. Nowadays I just go to a site like Viagogo and look up an artist and find where they are playing and work out what’s the best option, what are the relative costs and travel hassles involved and decide if it’s for me or not.

That’s how last year I found Gladys in Dallas (pictured) and last month saw Little Anthony & the Imperials in New York. I have a list and I’m ticking them off while they, or I, still have feet on this earth.

For artists to deny me of my property rights – because that’s what it is – by saying I cannot buy a ticket from someone who can no longer go to a concert – or quite legitimately has taken a risk in buying some tickets to resell for punters like me who are willing to pay above the face value – or because I have used a particular website that facilitates reselling tickets is more than a tad upsetting. I can’t imagine how I would have felt if on getting to the Toyota Stadium in Texas, or St George’s Theatre in Staten Island – all the way from Europe – I had been turned away, and on the say-so of the artist I was intending to see.

When I buy a car second hand, hand over the dosh and get the documents, it is mine. I can drive it into the ground, scrap it or sell it on. It might lose or gain value but if I choose to sell it on at a profit or loss that’s surely my business? Why are tickets for concerts and other events any different? If a dealer takes on ten, twenty or fifty cars and punts them on to buyers nobody blinks. Sure, we want the cars to be roadworthy and be what they say they are, but we don’t insist that only Mercedes-Benz or Kia can sell-on used cars of their marque that have been returned to them. Yet this is what some artists and promoters are arguing for in the events business.

They insist that they, and only they, should be able to decide a ticket price and that if you can’t go it should be returned to and re-sold by them. They essentially want to ban dealers in the second-hand car market like they want to ban or restrict Viagogo in the secondary ticket market.

Sadly this attitude is all too typical of how our property rights are repeatedly under threat, partly because of ignorance about where the boundaries of individual freedom should lie and because of vested interests cheering on the assailants.

Needless to say, like some black cab companies and hotel groups, there are competitors of Viagogo – other ticket agencies – that see an opportunity to beat down a competitor that has shaken up their comfortable producer-dominated trade.

We see it with attempted bans on Uber and AirBnB and other internet traders that are changing the existing way of meeting customer demand or opening up new markets altogether. The reason these new companies exist and have become popular is because the historical suppliers have become too complacent to be innovative and too powerful to let mere customers get what they want. These disruptors in the market have been successful because, unlike the old guard, they have met customer demand.

Tickets can often sell for many times over their face value because the price of a ticket does not reflect what they are worth to potential customers. This can be for many reasons, but includes the practices of some promoters who ration the release of tickets to inflate prices, creating a shortage that leads to panic-buying as an event approaches. Blaming website platforms like Viagogo misses the target when it comes to who is responsibility for price setting.

By all means let laws evolve in new markets that ensure a trade can take place that secures a bona-fide ticket can be handed over, printed out or downloaded – but banning the customer because the ticket has a different name on it from your driving licence or passport? What next, Identity cards-on-demand and barcodes across our foreheads? That’s the Bully State and I suggest we have no part of it – and can’t believe any of artists would either. 


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