Ashley Smith-Hammond

Fighting Back Against the Ticket Touts

The law is stepping up to tackle ticket touts. But the arts and culture sector has already started to take action.

An amendment to the Digital Economy Bill has been welcomed by theatres and venues across the UK as a big step forward in tackling the growing problem of ticket resale.

The amendment is designed to specifically tackle the issue of bots by making the ‘misuse of harvesting software’ – aka bots – illegal. Culture Minister Matt Hancock has described using bots in this way as,

simply not fair.

“It’s unacceptable that touts are misusing technology to bypass security measures and buy up vast numbers of tickets before real fans get the chance, only to sell them on at rip-off prices,” he added. “It’s a growing problem that affects too many people.”

The amendment to the Bill comes in response to the Waterson report into secondary ticketing, which was published in 2016. The report urged the ticketing industry to step up its action against online touts so it is a positive step to see the issue being tackled by politicians.

Challenges Ahead

Now that things are moving forward, ticketing companies and cultural organisations are looking at potential solutions. Jonathan Brown, chief executive of the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers, told the Financial Times, the biggest challenge will be learning and creating new technology to beat the bots.

“We are pleased that the government will be dealing with this issue through the Digital Economy Bill,” he said. “However, we also know we need far greater understanding and technical defences against bots across the primary market to prevent against such attacks.”

Much is already being done within the culture sector to take down the bots and improve access to tickets at their original price point for the intended audiences.

But it’s a tough job in a world where tickets are resold on secondary sites such as Viagogo and Get Me In, for up as much as 10 times their face value.

In London, tickets for sold-out West End show Harry Potter and the Cursed Child have been listed for resale on Viagogo at over £1,000. Closer to home, tickets to see Ed Sheeran at Glasgow’s SSE Hydro are listed on the site for £175 and above – a sharp climb from their original starting price of around £44.

The Hamilton Method

Among those pioneering new approaches to ticketing are the team behind Hamilton.

In anticipation of the hugely successful new hip hop musical Hamilton transferring to the UK from Broadway, producer Cameron Mackintosh introduced a new ticketless system that requires visitors to swipe the credit card they used to purchase their tickets in order to gain entry to the theatre on the night. The early booking also placed strict limit on the number of tickets (maximum of six) an individual patron could buy.

Feedback on the changes has been notably positive. The ticket launch itself was well organised and the site was able to cope with demand. Those who have bought tickets have described the process as smooth and simple. Full disclosure, this includes me.

The idea behind the new system, which is run by Ticketmaster, is to make resold tickets essentially worthless as ticketholders simply won’t be able to enter the venue.

This approach may not be solution for all ticketing problems but the Hamilton example is definitely one of the strongest fights back we have seen yet. It is well worth a look for those who are concerned about ticketing technology.

*The Digital Economy Bill is still under debate (April 2017), so further changes are possible.


Main image credit: IMG_4835 by Hillary (CC BY-SA 2.0)