As live music returns, let’s build back fairer – by wiping out unscrupulous touts

Sites reselling tickets at vastly inflated prices are undermining COVID efforts, and rinsing fans at their time of most live-music need. It's time for a reset

If there are steroids designed specifically to maximise your refresh finger, time to get jacked up: gigs are the new PS5.

Ever since it launched last November, the new Playstation has been the Scarlet Pimpernel of next-gen gaming consoles, popping up unexpectedly on random retail platforms and selling out in minutes, leaving most gamers, six months later, still forlornly chasing shadows. No sooner would they sell out than pictures of truckloads of consoles would appear on scalpers’ Twitter accounts, mocking ordinary punters with tales of their finely tuned bots snapping up all the stock in seconds and cackling out £2,000 ‘resale’ prices like the most invincible final bosses.

As gigs and festivals return, the same self-serving, manipulative mentality is prevailing in music, with potentially dangerous consequences. With the demand for live music reaching fever pitch after 14 months of completing Netflix, The Guardian revealed in April that “parasitic” ticket touts were not only snapping up tickets to sell at up to eight times the price on resale sites such as Viagogo and StubHub, but that such flagrant profiteering was undermining the events’ attempts to stay COVID-safe by tracing its attendees. Last week Viagogo’s Cris Miller claimed that secondary ticketing sites are “an essential component of the live events industry and will play a part in its resurgence”, and that “all COVID-related safety protocol information is being passed on to ticket buyers”. But this may not help the events themselves to keep a tally of who’s attending at a time when tracking and tracing outbreaks is so vital in inching us all towards a safe and confident return to normality. Plus, his promise is tantamount to saying: ‘When the zoo reopens, it’s absolutely essential that the tigers are still loose in the gift shop.”

Advertisement

Now, with the prospect of real life returning, we’re all planning our own individual New Normals. More working from home, no more smack on a school night, spend less time with whatever fetid sack of flatulence you’ve been locked down with for a year. But can we all agree that the New Gigging Normal should see the complete eradication of touts.

Let’s blow one piece of Miller’s argument out of the water right here – the secondary ticket market is in no way “essential”. It enables people who missed out on tickets for something to pay way over the odds to ensure entry like some wedge-flinging Bullingdon brayer. It’s there to capitalise on misery, fan dedication and FOMO. And its very existence, by giving touts an easy platform to offload their stash and thereby encouraging them to snap up the maximum tickets possible for profit, merely puts more and more genuine fans in the sorry situation of being reliant on them and their pumped-up prices. In the age of digital ticketing, where individual tickets are more code than paper and can easily be cancelled and re-allocated at source, they offer a “solution” to a problem of their own making. Neat scam; with that sort of public-rinsing cunning at work, I’m amazed that Boris Johnson didn’t chuck them a couple of billion for fake PPE.

If we lived in a world less enslaved by ‘the market’ (which is the reason you can only afford to share a converted slaughter basement 12 miles from the nearest Costa, by the way), this would be an easy problem to solve. Make all ticketing digital, and all digital tickets (or groups of tickets) non-transferable from the original buyer, Glastonbury-style. If you’ve bought an e-ticket you can’t use, you simply click a button for a full refund (what, after all, are the ‘processing costs’ of sending an automated email?) and the venue, promoter, festival or ticketing agency puts it back on sale for someone else at face value.

If you missed out on the initial ticket sales, you just sign up for alerts for any returns. And if you want to swap your ticket for sexual favours or give it to your new besht mate in the pub instead, sorry – for the good of all gig-goers, computer says ‘no’. There’s also probably a way of making it even more secure using ticket NFTs, if I had the slightest clue how in the name of fuck that would work.

Am I a crazy communist, a digital ID fascist, an anti-capitalist dreamer? Or would this eliminate touting and make secondary rip-off sites redundant in a stroke? If we must be forced to suckle ravenously on the stinking appendages of commerce, at least put a (low) cap on the percentage a re-seller can whack on the face value of a ticket, and watch the touts dwindle away into the more lucrative world of cold-call insurance scams. In this new technological dawn, there isn’t even reason for the children of touts to go hungry as a result either – to help support them, secondary ticketing sites could start funding robot dog fights, or make bad dentistry a high-paying competitive sport.

Advertisement

A lot of this wouldn’t even require government legislation; just a desire from primary ticket sites, at a time when they’re flooded with revitalised business, to put fans first. We have a chance, and the technology, for a great reset to live music. Let’s build back fairer.

Advertisement
Advertisement