Secondary ticket markets have been criticised for artificially inflating the cost of tickets to music, sports, theatre and other sought after events, taking opportunities away from genuine (often younger) fans to attend. That said, the majority of us have probably taken advantage of secondary markets, to either get rid of unwanted tickets or grab a seat at an event we’re desperate to be at, even if that means paying above the face value of the ticket.
Fans can however encounter problems buying tickets on the secondary market which go beyond just the price. For example being refused entry to the event venue because they’ve not been informed about restrictions around the use of the ticket, such as age restrictions, or because their ID does not match the name of the original buyer printed on the ticket.
The UK Competition and Markets Authority investigated the secondary ticketing market due to concerns about information provision and compliance with consumer protection laws across the sector. It has also taken enforcement action against various ticketing websites. Flowing from this, in August 2021 the CMA made various recommendations to the UK government about the secondary ticketing market. The government has however, now rejected those recommendations.
What had the CMA proposed?
The CMA’s recommendations from 2021 included:
- amending legislations to prohibit platforms from allowing sellers to list more tickets for a sporting or other event than the seller is able to legally procure from the primary market;
- making platforms strictly liable for incorrect information about tickets listed on their websites; and
- recommending that a new regulatory function, with lead responsibility for regulating the uncapped secondary tickets sector, should be set up within an existing regulator such as Trading Standards, the CMA or other regulatory body.
In rejecting the proposals, the government said in an open letter to the CMA that it is too hard to make a detailed assessment of the impact of enforcement work, due to the disruption to the event industry caused by covid. This has significantly affected the volume of tickets coming to either the primary or secondary ticket markets. The type of tickets and what to do if you cannot use them has been changing and the primary market is still developing new approaches. This has yet to be properly understood. It has also cited technology advancements as helping combat some of the issues the secondary market can generate.
The letter also refers to recent action taken by authorities, the impact of which remains to be seen. For example the CMA required viagogo to sell the StubHub ticketing platform which they acquired through a merger in 2019, and trading standards authorities took action resulting in the conviction of two illegal ticket resellers in early 2020 (with the Court of Appeal upholding their convictions). The government hopes that this will act as a deterrent to illegal ticket traders.
The government rejected the idea of a regulatory function, saying that it was not convinced that the additional costs that would fall on ticket buyers (as regulatory costs would be passed on) are justified by the degree of harm.
However, the government didn’t dismiss all recommendations outright. It has said that it intends to keep the position on the maximum numbers of ticket that resellers can list under review as part of its ongoing review of the ticketing market in the light of technological, enforcement and other market developments.
Overall, the government’s conclusion is that other areas of consumer detriment are a higher priority and it is too soon to make any legislative changes and therefore it has chosen not to do so as part of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill.
However, once the Bill takes effect, the CMA will have powers to award compensation and issue financial penalties if a trader breaches consumer law which may provide an additional tool against negative practices in the secondary ticketing market. However, it is not yet clear when the Bill will complete its passage through the UK parliament and take effect.
The government believes in the power of competitive markets to give consumers choice and flexibility. This applies to both the primary and secondary markets in event tickets