In praise of the secondary ticket website

When The Independent was founded it championed the free market, sometimes controversially

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Yesterday (scroll down), I recalled an editorial in The Independent in 1987 headlined, “In praise of the ticket tout”. 

If I had not already got a ticket to see The Decemberists (above), the Oregon folk-rock band who are my current obsession, when they play Brixton next month, I should be grateful to a tout who could sell me one. Or, these days, to a secondary ticket website.

These are websites that re-sell tickets, often snapped up as soon as they are put up for sale by the original promoter, and which have attracted the hostile attentions of MPs seeking to protect “fans” from being “ripped off”.

The reason I quoted that Independent editorial from 28 years ago was that Labour MPs (and a few Conservatives) were trying to amend the Consumer Rights Bill this week to require what they call greater transparency – which would make it easier for promoters to prevent the re-sale of tickets.

My colleague David Lister remembers the editorial meeting at which that leading article was discussed, and says it “split the room”. Andreas Whittam Smith, the founding editor of The Independent, says that he suggested the idea and Matthew Symonds wrote it. The newspaper championed the free market, but this was controversial.

I still think Whittam Smith and Symonds were right. The MPs who want to interfere in the market for tickets are well intentioned but mistaken. Touts and secondary ticket websites are unpopular because people feel that “genuine fans” should not have to pay prices that may seem high but which simply reflect the popularity of events.

Public opinion is more complicated than this, however. An  Opinium poll carried out last month for Fan Freedom, a US-based consumer rights campaign now active here, found that 64 per cent of people thought that they should be allowed to resell tickets. By a margin of three to one, people think tickets are their property, rather than being controlled by the ticket issuer. Only 14 per cent agree that the original ticket seller should determine if or how the owner resell his or her tickets.

Anything designed to stop touts (or secondary ticket websites) re-selling tickets would also apply to individuals who had bought tickets but couldn’t go, so the MPs who want to protect “genuine fans” should think again.

If bands or sports teams want to reward long-standing fans, they should think of better ways to do so than imposing bureaucratic and anti-competitive restrictions on the market for all tickets. I don’t know how you prove you are a “genuine fan” – perhaps by answering quiz questions – but if you could then you could be entitled to a discount, but it would still be wrong to prevent those “genuine fans” from reselling tickets if they wanted to.

The free market is the best and most efficient way of allocating scarce resources. It is not for bands or sports teams to compensate for some people having more money than others, but if they can find a way of identifying and rewarding “fans” let them do so without making life more difficult for the rest of us.