23rd April 2018
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Point Blank: The box office

Tickets. It’s an ebullient word in Shetland at the moment. If you got yours for Mumford and Sons, Bill Bailey, The Levellers, Bjorn Again or Kevin Bridges, congratulations; if you didn’t, blaming the Shetland Box Office or the promoters seems to be a common default retort.

Personally, I’m delighted when an event sells out in Shetland. It shows a real demand for live entertainment in the isles and bolsters an economy that will sustain yet more world class events. But the reality of the situation is that if there’s a limited number of tickets for an event with a high demand, some folk will be disappointed. It may seem glib to state the obvious, but the obvious seems to have been overlooked recently and many have looked to criticise event organisers.

It‘s also understandable that when folk aren’t willing or able to queue overnight, or when demand simply outstrips supply, the intrinsic value of a ticket for a sold out event goes up. And some tickets will then inevitably be offered for resale at a price above the original face value.

Many ticketless Shetland music and comedy fans have recently cried foul when tickets for sold out events were later offered at inflated prices, claiming such practices are immoral. But people who sell on tickets at a profit are in fact doing nothing illegal – the UK ticket resale market is completely unregulated.

For those of us who regularly attend events and festivals outside Shetland, missing out on tickets due to busy phonelines or websites is par for the course. If you don’t get a ticket first time around, standard practice is to have a quick grumble and wait until ticket begin to appear on eBay or ticket resale websites. Paying an extra premium doesn’t seem unreasonable when the costs of travel to the mainland and accommodation are factored in.

There is an established and completely legal ticket resale industry, mainly through websites such as Viagogo, Get Me In! and Seatwave, who describe their services variously as “ticket exchanges”, “open marketplaces” and “secondary ticketing”. The straightforward line they take is that tickets, like any other commodity, have a value based on supply and demand – people who hold tickets should be allowed to sell them to the people who are willing to pay for them. These service providers also claim to legitimise the resale of tickets by removing the “touts” and unscrupulous rip-off merchants from the supply chain.

Interestingly, some of these services are owned by leading online ticketing services such as Ticketmaster. So it’s possible for companies to make money from the initial sale of tickets, then another round of profit by charging individuals to sell the same tickets on. A very lucrative business model indeed.

Opinions in the entertainment industry are split, with many promoters and artists claiming it isn’t fair that individuals are allowed make a profit at the expense of fans and event organisers, but other insiders believe it is fair to allow folk to pay whatever the market will stand and that folk should be able to sell on tickets they, for whatever reason, can’t use.

But Labour MP Sharon Hodgson is proposing new legislation to “regulate the selling of tickets for certain sporting and cultural events” under a bill entitled “Sale of Tickets (Sporting and Cultural Events)”.

The thrust of the charter is to make it “an offence for an unauthorised person to be concerned in the sale of a ticket for a designated event at a price greater than 10 per cent above the face value of the ticket.”

Hodgson’s motion to cap resale profit margins has been criticised as being unworkable by many, including, unsurprisingly, the ticket resale industry. But a host of organisations and individuals have thrown their weight behind the bill, including the Association of Independent Festivals and high profile artists such as Elbow, My Chemical Romance and Adele (although Elbow’s Guy Garvey thinks a 50 per cent mark-up is “tolerable”).

The previous Labour government’s Department of Culture Media and Sport heavily criticised the ticket resale industry in a report in 2008 with then Culture Secretary Andy Burnham claiming “the re-selling of tickets at inflated prices doesn’t add anything to the cultural life of the country, but instead leaches off it and denies access to those who are least able to afford tickets.”

It remains to be seen what the current Tory incumbents will make of an attempt to restrain the established free market, but we’ll find out when Hodgson’s bill is discussed in parliament in May.

Bryan Peterson