Things are changing in the world of secondary ticketing. In early 2020, the world’s second-largest secondary ticketing platform, viagogo, acquired its larger rival, StubHub, in a $4bn+ transaction. Although the timing of the deal was less than judicious for viagogo – it happened just before the impact of the pandemic was becoming clear – the company has managed to withstand the pressures of lockdown and is preparing to take advantage of the pent-up demand for live entertainment after an extended barren period.
The secondary ticketing sector has had a chequered history, to say the least. Often seen as just an extension of ticket touting, much to the ire of those involved in live music and sports events, the operators have also attracted the attention of regulators such as the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority for some poor consumer practices and a lack of transparency in dealing with their customers.
But the popularity of the secondary ticketing services, despite all attempts by the primary market to have them closed down or to limit their opportunities, shows that they are meeting a demand that the primary market has failed to properly address.
As chair for over a decade of one of the largest event companies in the UK, Jockey Club Racecourses, running three of the top 10 most highly attended annual sports events in the country, we took a hardline on ticket touts, being the first to not only get an injunction on them operating on our land, but also in the whole surrounding area (in this case, the town of Cheltenham).
But at the same time, we could see that we were failing to offer our customers the level of service that many of them were asking for, particularly if they were unable to attend an event for which they had tickets. We always had a stream of complaints about our “no refunds” policy and insistence that once someone had bought tickets, it was not our responsibility if they were unable to use them.
We also looked on with envy at the ability of the secondary market to better value tickets over time, to increase yield through what is effectively a form of dynamic market pricing, or to allow tickets to be sold for less than face value in order to fill seats with lower risk to the premium brand value of an event (about a third of secondary ticket sales are for less than face value).
In the UK, the CMA partially blocked the viagogo acquisition of StubHub, as the combination would represent more than 90 per cent of the “uncapped” secondary ticketing market. The CMA sees this as a standalone market, separate from primary ticketing (which is significantly larger) or face value secondary ticketing (which is relatively small). They also make it clear that they see it as an important market – one that is legitimate and necessary, and where buyers and sellers should be protected in the same way as in any other market.
All of this creates an opportunity for those who can see what a fair and equitable secondary market could offer to event promoters and venues if properly run, not to mention buyers and sellers. A system operated with integrity by a management team and investors who can see the benefits to the whole ecosystem rather than just pure financial speculators, would have immense value. Perhaps this will be seen as the moment that secondary ticketing starts to come in from the cold.