Wilf Stevenson outlines our plans to tackle the scourge of secondary ticketing at sporting events
Last night, in the Grand Committee room of the Lords, a powerful cross bench group of peers debated whether it was time to legislate against ticket touts. Former Sports Minister Colin Moynihan and test cricketer Rachel Heyhoe Flint (both Conservatives) joined with Labour in pressing the government to strengthen regulations along the lines of the cross-party agreement that preceded the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The main focus of the discussion was the upcoming Rugby World Cup.
The promoters have said that emerging problems include: tickets being advertised and sold on line before they’ve even been released (meaning the seller cannot guarantee they will ever be able to honour the transaction), tickets being sold at prices well above their face value, and fans buying tickets which do not guarantee them entry to the ground as they are not allowed to be transferred (under the terms and conditions of sale). They feel that consumers are being priced out, mis-sold or defrauded when tickets are re-sold on the secondary market, and wish to protect their ability to make tickets available at affordable prices.
The secondary ticket companies meanwhile, feel that people should have the right to buy surplus or unwanted tickets, and say that by providing a platform for buyers and sellers they offer an excellent and increasingly secure service.
The issue has a long history, with both the Coalition and the previous Labour government trying to respond to public pressure, as it pulls in different directions. People want access to tickets when they go on sale, but they are against thousands being bought up by those seeking to make money out of a scarce commodity. Equally however, people feel that they ought to be able to buy tickets at a premium if they want to, should they decide last minute to attend a game.
Recent technological changes are having an effect as well. If computerized ‘botnets’ are hoovering up tickets on line, what chance has the ordinary punter of acquiring them in the first place? And if, as has been alleged by the recent Metropolitan Police report on the Olympics and Paralympics, this is an area where money laundering and criminal gangs are active, where should the public interest in this issue lie?
Labour has been working on this issue with the Rugby Football Union (RFU), which sets tickets prices at a level that is affordable for fans from all backgrounds. The RFU has ambitions to grow the sport further as part of the World Cup legacy and it is therefore important that rugby is, and is seen to be, a game for all. That means watching England must remain affordable, but the RU believes ticket touts price many people out of rugby.
The RFU sees many cases of mis-selling and fraud each season. As a not for profit organisation, every penny it makes or saves is reinvested into rugby. No wonder it considers it unfair when highly organised touts buy up large numbers of tickets to resell at huge profits whilst contributing nothing back into the game.
Amendments we have tabled to the Consumer Rights Bill would ensure that all transactions involving the resale of a ticket should include detailed information about the seller and the terms and conditions relating to resale. Such transparency would place no extra burden or costs on the industry, as there are already regulatory requirements to list ticket information details.
The government continues to resist our proposals but they will have a hard job in carrying the day against such powerful cross-party support when the Bill goes to the floor of the Lords for its Report stage. That should be a good match. Anyone care for a ticket?
Lord Wilf Stevenson of Balmacara is Shadow BIS Minister in the House of Lords. He tweets @Missenden50
Published 16th October 2014