Concert ticket scalping: Even buyer-tagged tickets offered for resale

Ed Sheeran performing at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California, in February. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Never mind the moral outrage and outpouring of anger on social media over previous incidents of concert ticket scalping - there was never any doubt the scalpers would be back in action when tickets to British singer Ed Sheeran's concert dates here in November were released for sale on Thursday (May 11) and promptly sold out all 20,000 tickets.

The only question might have been: How high would the resale prices go?

Right now, Cat 1 tickets are going for up to $13,516.17 each on online ticket marketplace Viagogo, a whopping 54 times more than the original $248 price.

AEG Presents, the organiser of Sheeran's shows here, has warned that "unlawful resale (or attempted unlawful resale) of a ticket would lead to seizure or cancellation of that ticket without refund or other compensation".

But otherwise it has not issued a statement on whether it intends to take action against the scalpers or if it would void illegally resold tickets.

Of course, concert organisers and promoters seldom take action. 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 at least two instances where concert organisers have voided tickets put up for resale on various platforms.

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

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

Even worse, it was reported in March that the police had arrested two men for suspected involvement in a ticket scam for Coldplay's concerts through online marketplace on Carousell.

Sheeran is playing at a smaller venue than Coldplay so there are fewer tickets available, which probably explains why they are going for so much more. While Coldplay pulled in 100,000 at the National Stadium, it is believed that there were only 20,000 tickets available for Sheeran's two nights at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, on Nov 11 and 12.

While scalpers who take advantage of dedicated fans are morally reprehensible in the eyes of music lovers like myself, previous reports on the issue have quoted legal experts saying that re-selling tickets is not against the law here.

In fact, 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 Andrew Cuomo signed a law late last year criminalising the use of such bots to buy up tickets in bulk.

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.

The good news is that this is already happening here with the upcoming concert by One Direction member Harry Styles at The Star Theatre on Nov 23.

The tickets will have the name of the person who made the purchase printed on them and they are non-transferable.

As organisers Live Nation Lushington SG remind fans on their social media, "any ticket holder with invalid identification documents will be denied entry".

Yet even this move might not be entirely effective. The tickets, which cost from $68 to $168, were sold out after they went on sale last week, but some are currently available for up to $6,199 on Viagogo.

If the resale of tickets occurs, it means scalpers and their victims - if they can be called that - have to attend the concert together.

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