Heading off the problem of ticket scalping

Most music fans have probably never read the extremely fine print on the reverse side of their concert tickets, where a line says the tickets are "not transferable" and cannot be "resold" or "redistributed".

This could mean many concertgoers, strictly speaking, often fall on the wrong side of this regulation, because they usually buy tickets for friends or family.

Or they sell their tickets because they can no longer attend the events.

Of course, concert organisers and promoters seldom take action against these harmless practices. It is only when they sniff profiteering in the air that they might clamp down on the perpetrators, which is not all that often, either.

In Singapore in recent years, there have been two instances where concert organisers have voided tickets put up for resale on various platforms.

Most recently, fans of British rock band Coldplay railed against the people who tried to sell tickets to the group's concerts here next year on March 31 and April 1 at astronomical prices, just a few hours after the tickets were officially available for sale.


When fans of British rock band Coldplay cried foul over scalping of tickets for the concerts here next year, the organiser voided some tickets. Ticket scalping is a grey area worldwide, but it gets sinister when what seems like syndicates and/or the use of bots are involved. PHOTO: SAM NEILL

This forced the concert organiser to void some tickets. But on international ticket marketplace Ticketbis, the tickets are still available, currently going for as much as $8,888, almost 30 times the price of the most expensive tickets, originally sold at $298.

While ticket scalpers are nothing new here, and previous reports on the issue have quoted legal experts saying that re-selling tickets is not against the law here, greedy scalpers who take advantage of dedicated fans are morally reprehensible in the eyes of music lovers like myself.

Taking the passion and emotion out of the issue, however, ticket scalping is a grey area internationally. In the biggest music market in the world, the United States, it is not a federal offence but it is illegal in some states.

Sometimes, the laws change. In Ontario, Canada, for example, re-selling tickets online above their value was illegal until last year, when re-selling was allowed as long as the tickets were genuine and the sale came with a money-back guarantee.

Entrepreneurial people who re-sell tickets at marked-up prices justify the higher cost as payment for their effort in being first in the queue to buy the tickets when they went on sale.

 

If coercion is absent and no criminal tactics are employed, the resale of tickets involves willing sellers and willing buyers. Any protest against greedy scalpers and profiteering is merely moral outrage, and not cause for legal action. After all, if fans stop buying from the scalpers, no matter how desperate they are to see a show, then perhaps the practice could be curbed.

Ticket scalping gets sinister only when what seems like syndicates and/or the use of bots are involved.

There is no data available on how pervasive ticket scalpers are in the concert scene here, but industry sources say that the practice is not prevalent and is the work of a few individuals out to make a quick buck. (Besides, for popular concerts, organisers often limit the number of tickets that can be purchased during each transaction.) In places such as New York, scalping has become a bigger problem. High-tech scalpers use automated bots to gobble up tickets the moment they go on sale online, faster than any human can, and circumventing limits on ticket sales.

This has become such an issue that the city's governor, Mr Andrew Cuomo, recently signed a law criminalising the use of such bots to buy up tickets in bulk.

But it is probably pointless to tell diehard music fans about willing buyers and sellers when they are enraged over missing out on tickets.

Being passionate about a band, whether it is Coldplay, Metallica or Mayday, is a special thing. True fans spend time, effort and money to enjoy their favourite artists' music, collect their merchandise and search for every piece of news about them.

This is why, when their idols come to town, they feel entitled to a seat in the house.

To have a scalper take away what they feel is rightfully theirs, and to try to sell it to them at an exorbitant price is to make a mockery of their dedication.

One solution might be to take a leaf out of the book of the organiser of Glastonbury, one of the world's largest and most established music festivals. To eradicate the scalping problem, the event's highly sought-after tickets are non-transferable and come with photo identification.

If one has already paid for the tickets and cannot make it to the festival, you cannot sell or give it to someone else, but you can get a refund. These tickets are then resold.

Having gig organisers implement a system like that might add to final ticket costs, but it is one excellent way to ensure that it is the dedicated fans, and not money-minded scalpers, who get their hands on coveted tickets.

However, like any popular show, Glastonbury attracts more interested parties than there are tickets available, so fans still have to be quick on the draw.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2016, with the headline 'Heading off the problem of ticket scalping'. Print Edition | Subscribe