Ticket Touts Aren’t The Problem – Greedy Artists Are

As an avid gig goer, I know all-too-well how frustrating it is not to get tickets to a band you really want to see. As someone who has been a Bruce Springsteen fan since I was a teenager it becomes particularly frustrating when an artist becomes “legendary”.

Whenever tickets to a hugely high-demand event go on sale it’s certain that within minutes of tickets being sold out huge numbers of them appear on aftermarket. This understandably leads to outrage among those fans who missed out that something they attempted to buy five minutes ago is now being sold at as much as ten times the price.

The focus of public vitriol are invariably ticket touts, companies like Ticketmaster, and aftermarket sellers like GetMeIn and SeatWave; while comparatively little ire is directed towards greedy artists who also profit from aftermarkets.

It’s astonishing how many avowed free-marketers suddenly have a problem with the free market when they don’t get U2 tickets. Fine Gael TD Noel Rock has proposed a bill to outlaw selling tickets at above face value. Many right-wingers have described the practice as “profiteering”, which so far as I can tell simply means making a profit in a way they disapprove of. Those who make these arguments usually do so largely in ignorance of how the music industry actually works.

A Glastonbury ticket with photo ID

There is, of course, no need to legislate to prevent ticket touting. It’s perfectly easy for artists and promoters to stop touting of their tickets, should they so wish. When you go to a Radiohead gig you have to present the credit card with which you bought the tickets, much like at a train station. Glastonbury passes include a photographic ID. With the advent of e-ticketing and tickets you print off yourself it’s perfectly possible to only release tickets on the day of the gig, which would eliminate all but the very last-minute touting at the venue gates. So given that it’s actually so easy for artists and promoters to stop touting – why don’t they? The answer is simple: it’s the artists and promoters who are the biggest racketeers of the lot.

It’s normal practice for artists and promoters to hold back a large proportion of tickets from the primary sale. In one reported instance Justin Bieber held back 92% of the tickets for a gig from the public – meaning a paltry 940 out of 12,000 seats were sold as normal, face-value tickets.

Almost as soon as ticket sales close there are hundreds of them on aftermarkets such as SeatWave at massively inflated prices. It’s implausible to the point of near-impossibility that so many tickets could be on sale so quickly by touts. It’s highly probable that the vast majority of those tickets (possibly even all of them) are tickets that were never on sale to the public in the first place.

The problem, of course, is that the tickets in the primary market are vastly under-priced given the demand. Consequently, whether or not you actually get tickets isn’t the product of a functioning marketplace – it’s a lottery. The demand for U2 tickets would have been significantly lower had they been priced at €200, rather than €70 – but this would have made U2 look greedy. Alternatively, a more transparent way of pricing tickets would be similar to the way that airlines price seats on planes: the first seat sold is £1; the last seat is £200 – because there are always people who will pay well over-the-odds to get that flight in an emergency. So too will there be fans who will pay ridiculous prices to see these bands – the aftermarket wouldn’t exist if there weren’t. But again, this would be quite transparent, and artists’ greed would be plain for all to see.

So the secretive aftermarket provides the perfect cover, and a patsy-to boot: the touts. Artists get to look like they’ve priced the tickets fairly, and greedy touts get the blame for profiteering. But the reality is that the real profiteers (look, I’m doing it now) are the artists and their promoters.

So if you’re looking for someone to blame because you didn’t get U2 tickets don’t blame touts – it almost certainly wasn’t them. Blame greedy U2 and their promoters LiveNation – who, by happy coincidence, also own Ticketmaster, SeatWave, and GetMeIn.

Cultural Identity, Sporting Achievement, and selling Scotland to the World

Reports have been swirling lately that the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport is for the chop following the Olympic Games. This, perhaps, is understandable given that the department has been the focus of much of the attention of the Leveson Inquiry. That there are problems in that department is undeniable, with Ministers and subordinates apparently working at cross-purposes. However, while there are undoubtable problems within this department, that does not mean that the various functions of the department are incompatible. I would argue that quite the contrary is true.

In fact, I’m mildly jealous of the DCMS. Not a sort of personal jealousy, but rather that England has a department which co-ordinates these inextricably-linked policy areas in a manner which simply doesn’t happen in Scotland. In 2003, Jack McConnell made Frank McAveety Scotland’s first cabinet minister for Culture, Tourism, and Sport – a role in which he was succeeded by Patricia Ferguson. During that period, the minister led the way in bringing the MTV Music Awards to Edinburgh, successfully bidding for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and the establishment of the Culture Commission which ultimately poposed the establishment of Creative Scotland. However following the 2007 election Alex Salmond scrapped the post and divvied up its responsibilities across a number of ministerial posts:

  • Linda Fabiani was created Minister for Europe, External Affairs, and Culture – outside of cabinet, working beneath the First Minister. Following the first re-shuffle Mike Russell succeeded her and became Minister for Culture, External Affairs, and the Constitution. Fiona Hyslop was demoted from the cabinet, swapping jobs with Russell, to become Minister for Culture and External Affairs. Following the 2011 election she retained her responsibilities but the post was elevated to Cabinet Secretary level.
  • Jim Mather was given responsibility for tourism as Minister for Enterprise, Energy, and Tourism – under the Finance Secretary. He was succeeded in this post by Fergus Ewing.
  • Shona Robison gained responsibility for Sport as Minister for Public Health – under the Health Secretary. Following the 2011 election she retained responsibility for sport as Minister for Commonwealth Games and Sport – again under the Cabinet Secretary for Health.

The logic in this division has always escaped me. Major Events strategy is the responsibility of the Culture Secretary, EventScotland is accountable to the Enterprise Minister. With the exception of the second Homecoming Scotland (largely a tourist focused venture, although why we’re hosting a second when the first was such an abject failure is beyond this writer), sporting events dominate the coming years. The Commonwealth Games are to be held in Glasgow in 2014 and, following that, the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. In addition to the ministerial dis-joinder, the the administrative organisation of responsibilities in the Scottish Government is even more erratic – the broader question about which requires greater consideration than I can give it on my meagre blog.

“Housing and Regeneration, Culture and Commonwealth Games” is within the Directorate for Governance & Community. Oddly enough despite being in the name, Culture isn’t actually within that division at all! Arts & Culture fall within the Directorate for Strategy & External Affairs. Tourism is within the Directorate for Enterprise, Environment & Digital – which at least vaguely ties in with the responsibilities of the Enterprise Minister.

Anecdotally, I recall an occasion in which the researcher to the MSP for Greenock, who wanted to submit a series of written questions relating to the Tall Ships Races in his constituency but didn’t know to whom the questions should be addressed. Sailing is a sport (therefore the responsibility for the Public Health Minister), I reckoned, but the event is supported by EventScotland (Enterprise Minister), but one of the questions relates to Major Events Strategy (Culture Minister). Stumped, I contacted the Cabinet Directorate who didn’t, initially, know who was responsible either! Eventually I was advised to separate the questions and submit them to the most appropriate minister for each. This certainly does little to instil confidence that government decision-making in such matters is coherent or co-ordinated.

Certainly, I find it astonishing that the minister for the Commonwealth Games and Sport works beneath the Health Secretary, rather than the Culture Secretary (who has no supporting ministers). It also affirms what many within the upper-echelons of Scottish Sport suspect, which is that the Scottish Government is more concerned with sport being a tool for tackling Scotland’s obesity problem than with the development of elite sport, which is inextricably linked to cultural identity and Major Events Strategy.

The job of the Tourism Minister is principally to sell Scotland to the world. For a small country like Scotland cultural identity is crucial to that job. I was lucky enough to attend the Olympics in Sydney in 2000, and since then I have never been in any doubt about the contribution that sport can play, too, in developing and promoting a nation’s cultural identity. London is proving that again. If one asks why we seek to promote culture and sport the connection between cultural identity, sporting achievement, and national identity becomes obvious – to help sell our nation to the world.

A single cabinet minister for Culture, Tourism, and Sport could better perform those three roles together than three ministers working to different ends.  When one considers that cultural identity is as crucial as sporting achievement to selling Scotland abroad,the merits of a single Minister for Culture, Tourism, and Sport become obvious.

By way of background to this post, I previously worked on culture policy in the Scottish Parliament. In addition, my father is a former Olympian and is presently the President of his sport’s governing body – I grew up in a house dominated by the politics of sport. The only thing that qualifies me to write about tourism is that I like going on holiday, I suppose.