The country's most prestigious sport and concert venues, including Lord's, Wimbledon and the Albert Hall, have declared war on a new generation of internet ticket touts, fearing they will make a killing at the summer's big events.
An investigation by The Independent on Sunday reveals how ordinary fans are increasingly priced out of concerts and festivals because of an explosion in unauthorised ticket sales fuelled by eBay, the internet second-hand market.
Now, venues are calling on the Government to make touting illegal, and are backed by the rock band U2. In the meantime they are taking matters into their own hands, scouring the internet and buying back thousands of tickets so they can trace and take action against the owners. Lord's cricket ground has even set up a fighting fund for the operation.
Wimbledon tickets with a face value of £32, for example, were on sale on eBay this week for as much as £400. Tickets for the Ashes, which would cost £50, are on sale for up to £400. A ticket to see U2 at Twickenham, which would cost £50, has a similar mark up. Last month tickets for Bruce Springsteen at the Royal Albert Hall were on sale on the internet for £1,000.
Promoters complain that ordinary fans have been priced out of many events. They want the same legal protection given to football fixtures, where resale is illegal to prevent hooligans obtaining tickets. If the law were changed, eBay would be obliged to stop the sales taking place.
John Giddings, U2's European tour promoter and the organiser of the Isle of Wight Festival, said: "I think there should be a law preventing people selling our tickets at inflated prices. The internet has made it 10 times easier to do it. U2 want to charge a certain price for the their concerts. They could charge more, the market proves that, but they want to keep the price down and give value for money. Our whole process gets defeated by the touts."
Promoters are fighting back and hope to persuade the Government to make touting illegal, to persuade eBay not to allow tickets to be resold, and to buy up tickets.
Lord's and the Rugby Football Union said they were monitoring sales of tickets on the internet, including eBay, with the aim of tracing and taking action against ticket touts, while a spokesman for Wimbledon said organisers would take out injunctions against touts. Last month the Royal Albert Hall cancelled 100 tickets advertised on eBay.
Revellers attending this year's Glastonbury Festivalwill have to show photo ID, making the transfer of tickets to a third party impossible. But Melvyn Benn, the managing director of the Mean Fiddler Organisation, which is in charge of Glastonbury's security, said:" I have no ability to take action against touts.
"It [touting] is rank profiteering and hugely disappointing that it is not against the law."
Last week officials representing football, cricket, tennis and rugby in England met Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, to persuade her to make the resale of tickets illegal. A spokesman for the England and Wales Cricket Board, said he was optimistic legislation would be passed.
The DCMS said Ms Jowell would talk to the Department of Trade and Industry to devise a solution. The Government has already made provision to ban Olympic ticket touting if the event comes to London.
But the Lib Dem culture spokesman, Don Foster, who has been campaigning for legislation against touts, was sceptical. "The DCMS says they are taking the issue seriously, and we spluttered into our imaginary beers," he said. "They are doing nothing."
Group 4, which deals with event security, revealed said last month that the black market in concert and sports tickets is worth £54m a year with 2.23 million tickets changing hands. Concert tickets sold over the internet cost an average 63 per cent more than their face value. It also found that earlier this year U2 tickets were sold online at a 445 per cent mark up.
EBay says it is not obliged to remove tickets from sale. It does, however, remove football tickets for sale because it is illegal. A spokeswoman said: "The resale of concert tickets is not illegal and is therefore permitted on eBay. EBay believes it is a fair and reasonable consumer right for the purchaser of a ticket to resell that ticket unless to do so would be unlawful, as in the case of certain football tickets."