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Ticket resale websites letting illegal scalpers operate with impunity

Ticketmaster Resale and Viagogo take a cut from sales that are breaking scalping laws.

ticket scalper
Last updated: 08 March 2017


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Online ticket resale marketplaces are giving scalpers free rein to flout the law, permitting listings that appear to breach anti-scalping rules.

CHOICE has identified several instances where tickets for resale are being offered at prices well above the original face value, despite state laws in place to restrict this sort of profiteering.

While on-selling tickets for profit is not illegal, legislation in Queensland places restrictions on mark-ups for tickets to events at Stadiums Queensland venues. It's illegal to sell or buy tickets for more than 10% above the original sale value, with fines of $2438 for sellers and $609.50 for buyers. The only exception is if the seller is fundraising for a registered nonprofit.

These laws have been in place since 2006. Despite this, ticket resale websites appear to be unconcerned about their sellers listing tickets priced above the 10% threshold.

A costly cure for Bieber fever

Go looking for tickets to Justin Bieber's upcoming show at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane and you might find VIP tickets going for $2555 apiece on Ticketmaster Resale, up from the $539.20 the premium tickets originally fetched. Seats in the grandstands have been spotted for $1150 each, a 514% increase on their original $187.15 price.

If the reigning king of pop isn't your thing, a Google search for "State of Origin tickets" will lead you to Viagogo, where tickets to the first and third games – both also at Suncorp – can be found going for hundreds of dollars above their original sale price. Tickets in the "platinum" seating section are selling for $451.15 (after a whopping $101.95 in undeclared fees is added at the checkout). At the time of writing, seats in this section were still for sale through official channels for $240 plus $6.50 handling fee.

On Ticketmaster Resale, two platinum tickets to the first match are selling for a total $1103.95, including fees. The listing gives the original ticket price as $241 each, meaning by the seller's own admission they may be in breach of the law.

Lying about the face value

Resale websites allow sellers to list the original face value of the ticket. However, there appears to be little verification of the information sellers provide. This lets sellers falsely declare tickets to have been bought for more than they were, making their mark-up seem less egregious than it is.

In a Ticketmaster Resale listing for the final Origin match – $536.66 for two seats in the top tier of the stadium – the seller has listed the original price as $105 each. According to the official seller's website, adult tickets in this section actually sold for $80 each, less than one third of the asking resale price. According to the seller of the $2555 Justin Bieber ticket, the original sale price was a mere $2000, a far cry from $539.20.

With no requirement to accurately list the face value of a ticket, buyers on these sites can't really know how badly they're being fleeced.

Resale websites have no incentive to prevent illegal scalping

When creating a listing for an event at a Queensland Stadiums venue, Ticketmaster Resale sellers are warned about anti-scalping laws and the possibility of a fine. Apart from this warning, users are free to set any price they want. Viagogo users are not informed about any restrictions on price mark-ups.

Resale websites appear to draw the line at actually forcing users to abide by the law, maintaining that sellers and buyers are responsible for adhering to the law. They are merely third-party service providers, connecting buyers with sellers, and they're not directly involved in the transaction. Despite this, they still take in between 21% to 28% of each sale in fees and charges, meaning that they still profit from any illegal sale.

Resale websites appear to draw the line at actually forcing users to abide by the law, maintaining that sellers and buyers are responsible for adhering to the law

A Ticketmaster spokesperson told CHOICE, "Ticketmaster Resale is a safe and secure marketplace where individuals are able to buy and resell tickets, with all purchases backed by our industry-leading fan guarantee."

"With popular artists, demand often far outstrips the supply of tickets. Our priority is to help artists get as many tickets as possible into the hands of real fans, and we never place tickets on secondary market sites." They did not provide comment on any policies in place to ensure their sellers adhere to anti-scalping laws.

Viagogo did not respond to requests for comment.

How to avoid dodgy tickets online

Viagogo pays search engines like Google to appear at the top of search results for major events. If you buy through Viagogo your ticket could be fake and you could be getting ripped off. Jonathan Brown shares advice on how to avoid dodgy ticket websites.

Do anti-scalping laws work?

The chief executive of Live Performance Australia, Evelyn Richardson, doesn't believe the laws are working the way they were supposed to. "We haven't seen any evidence that they work," she says. "Internationally we know they aren't very effective. They're very difficult to enforce, and it doesn't stop scalping."

In a submission to the 2014 Senate inquiry into ticket scalping, Stadiums Queensland said that instead of relying on law enforcement, promoters regularly scour the web for resale tickets and cancel them before they can be sold. Other sporting and live performance promotors also reportedly seek out and cancel on-sold tickets, where they breach the terms of the original sale. Some resellers appear to get around this by omitting the seat number in a listing, or listing it incorrectly so that promoters cancel legitimately bought tickets.

...instead of relying on law enforcement, promoters regularly scour the web for resale tickets and cancel them before they can be sold

Ticketmaster was also critical of anti-scalping legislation. In a submission to the Senate inquiry, it said the laws were seen as "unjust and unnecessary by the majority of event attendees".

Stop the bots

Richardson says there needs to be laws preventing scalpers from using bots – programs which can run through an online ticket purchasing process faster than any human. The United States passed the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act at the end of 2016, and in parliament last month Senator Nick Xenophon called on the Australian government to follow suit.

"This year we will be lobbying for legislation criminalising bots. It's not always 100% bulletproof; there's always going to be someone who can break the system. But there's got to be a way to mitigate that," says Richardson. "Ticketing agencies are investing in this, but there needs to be legal levers and remedies."

Anti-scalping laws around Australia

There is no national anti-scalping legislation, although consumers are always protected by the Australian Consumer Law, which prohibits misleading and deceptive conduct.

Currently two other states have laws to prevent scalper profiteering: Victoria and South Australia. Unlike Queensland's which are linked to specific venues, these apply to certain major events, and must be invoked by the government before coming into effect.

In Victoria, the sports minister may declare a specific event a "sports ticketing event", which means the government must give its approval to how tickets are distributed. If the terms and conditions of the ticket prohibit on-selling, that ban has the force of law, and it is illegal to sell or advertise tickets above the face value.

Similarly, in South Australia, the government can declare "major events". Ticket hawking is prohibited around the area of the event. Outside this area, tickets may not be sold above 10% of the face value.

NSW has rules preventing scalping in the vicinity of the Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney Football Stadium and Sydney Olympic Park.

Update: After this story was published, Ticketmaster contacted CHOICE and told us they were "100% committed' to transparency and that the company was "continually reviewing its practices and platforms to ensure it is fully compliant with applicable regulations." A spokesperson said:

"Sellers are responsible for setting the prices they want for the tickets they sell and the restrictions that apply in Queensland are made very clear in the listing process. If instances of non-compliance by sellers are highlighted to us we take appropriate action to ensure the sellers address those issues. We see ourselves as the leading example of good practice in the ticketing market and will continue to work to provide customers with fair and transparent pricing structures."
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