By: Katy Roxburgh | UK Fans Trust
The UK Fans Trust was originally born out of a frustration with how difficult it was to get tickets to big gigs and sports events, and a feeling that with the right credit card or connections the whole process would be a lot easier. Since January, a lot has happened in the ticketing industry and our understanding of its inner workings has grown substantially. It would seem the system has purposefully been designed to be difficult.
As fans have found securing first release tickets increasingly hard and craved more flexibility when it comes to attending big events, the primacy of primary ticket sellers has waned. It’s no coincidence that at the same time consumers have been bombarded with the same lines over and over again by the likes of Ticketmaster and Live Nation: “Secondary sellers are the bad guys,” “They’re corporate ticket touts after your money,” “We are the genuine champion of the fan.”
But, over the past several weeks it has become abundantly clear to us that the primary ticket market’s agenda is entirely disingenuous. Now, UKFT are not arguing any of the players in the ticketing world are squeaky clean, but let’s call a spade a spade – the anti-resale agenda is being driven solely to safeguard and increase profits for primary sellers, and the fans have become collateral damage.
Here in the UK, Ticketmaster and its partner Live Nation have been slowly closing in on consumers, most recently using last minute changes to T&Cs and rotating barcodes to make tickets non-transferable. Under the banner of “making the system fair,” fans who turned up to Liam Gallagher’s concert on September 23rd in Manchester were divided up depending on whether they purchased through ticket-master, or a third-party site. The latter were penned like cattle and left waiting for over two hours before being told their tickets were ‘fake.’
They weren’t fake, they were second hand, and using their own free will fans had paid good money for these tickets a price they personally had decided was worth it to be able to see their idol play.
This scene was repeated just days earlier in the US, hundreds of fans who purchased tickets for The Black Keys ‘fan club only’ concert from a third party were barred from entering; apparently unless you’re purchasing from Ticketmaster, you’re not a true fan. It transpired Ticketmaster had in fact turned off ticket transfer-ability 40 minutes before the gig, but fans were not warned beforehand that their tickets would not be accepted, so were left in the cold.
Ticketmaster and The Black Keys argued it was because the gig was specifically organised for “fans” and that only $25 tickets were valid in order to protect fans and keep costs down. But the band was also selling extremely high-priced premium tickets with prices exceeding $500, so riddle me that.
Oh, and Citi credit card holders were given access too, so not so much about the “true” fans was it?
It seems to us, that primary sellers like Ticketmaster and its partner Live Nation are penalizing genuine fans who have freely chosen to spend money on tickets, in order to de-value its competitors in the secondary space. We the consumers are being used as pawns in a fight for profit and control of the market.
This all makes more sense when you realize just how entrenched Ticketmaster and Live Nation are across the music industry. Back in 201,0 the two industry behemoths joined forces in a £550 million all share deal, creating a monolith that owns venues, ticketing software, promotion and advertising materials and merchandise. In the US alone, they handle more than 200 artists and 140 venues.
As Scotia Wealth’s Stan Wong said, “There are other players out there but I like this near-oligopoly or monopoly that they have.” Their crusade to “protect fans” from secondary sellers and ticket touts is part of a strategy to ensure they retain a monopoly on the industry. Which makes sense when they’re recording a doubling of share prices over two years.
Both UK and EU competition law prohibit agreements, arrangements and concerted business practices which appreciably prevent, restrict or distort competition (or where this is the intended result) and which affect or may affect trade within the UK or the EU respectively. If Ticketmaster and Live Nation’s increasing hold over the ticketing market isn’t treading perilously close to the line of breaching competition law, what is? By designing a product that is entirely non-transferable, whilst increasing its control over all aspects of the industry they are on a path to prevent, restrict and distort competition.
As we’ve said before, UK Fans Trust is not anti-business and we are not anti-profit. We live in a free market and that’s something we’re incredibly supportive of. However, a free market is supposed to create an environment that offers consumers freedom, choice and flexibility. We would hedge our bets that music fans are feeling none of these things at the moment.