Several decades ago, the popular image of the English ticket scalper, or “tout”, described a shady character in a long raincoat and trilby, snaking his way through the hordes of soccer fans outside major stadiums, whispering to people in slang about spare tickets. Touts were believed to be loosely connected to the London underworld, and their contacts ranged from the ground staff, stewards, and players of major soccer clubs, to the guys manning the hot-dog stands, to shady gangster figures with long tentacles somewhere in the private clubs of the city. It was a complex and mysterious world, one which the average customer, or “punter”, didn’t particularly wish to visit.
By the early 1980s, ticket touting had tightly dovetailed to other illicit activities around England, particularly in the northwestern cities of Liverpool and Manchester. The northwest was, and still is, a hotbed of organized crime, and a manufacturing hub not only for event tickets, but also for counterfeit perfume, watches and clothing. Much of the merchandise was imported from abroad, and fake goods came to be known as “Jekyll”, which comes from the term “Jekyll and Hyde”, which rhymes with “snide”, the actual slang word for counterfeit goods.
When the soccer thugs of Liverpool and Manchester United revolutionized high street fashions by suddenly deciding to sport the most expensive designer wear on their assaults across the country, they were enlisted as a secret well-dressed army to knock out the tickets and other materials by the older criminals responsible for this Jekyll onslaught. These tough young characters were known as “grafters”, and they travelled all over Europe, selling real tickets, counterfeit tickets, T-shirts, programs, flags, and banners, at sporting events and concerts in major stadiums from Dublin to Athens. The contraband itself was known as “swag”.
What had begun as a handful of cockney “wide-boys” in trilbies was now a veritable mob of hundreds of young grafters from London, Manchester and Liverpool. It was common to see vanloads of lads in cashmere Lacoste and Fila heading off across the Channel to “do the tickets” in Europe, usually pillaging designer shops and jewellers along the way and hiding their booty in train station lockers, to be collected on less conspicuous visits later. The irony is that the urchins who’d invented the hooligan look via expensive sportswear were the same ones who were now selling counterfeits of it back to the French and Italians who’d invented the sportswear itself. And through it all, the ticketing game was growing.
In the late 80s and early 90s, as the older grafters came of age, many of them took control of ticketing operations themselves, and they made a fortune, as English stadiums received an all-seater facelift and the price of a soccer ticket rose precipitously. For the rest of the 90s and almost till today, the ticketing game in England has been controlled by the self-same group of touts, who still enjoy close relationships with the hooligan mobs (indeed are one and the same in some cases).
The Internet, however, is bringing change to the British ticket touting industry. Some of the biggest soccer teams in Britain, like Manchester United, Chelsea, and Everton, now have an “official” secondary ticketer, Viagogo.com, selling their tickets online, at face value, having charged a commission to the season-ticket holders and others who wish to sell them. Viagogo, has a website similar to StubHub’s, where fans can buy and sell tickets, and in fact, Viagogo was founded by StubHub! founder Eric Baker.
Viagogo receives 25 percent of the overall cost of any ticket sold, an expense which is split 10 percent from the buyer, with an additional 15 percent commission coming from the seller at purchase. After securing rights for Manchester United and Chelsea, Viagogo had also added German giants Bayern Munich and the English club Everton to their growing list of official partners by January 2007, and their stake in a European marketplace reputedly worth 7 billion Euros goes from strength to strength.