Last week the Home Secretary Theresa May announced that new laws being introduced for the Olympics would quadruple the fine for touting tickets for the 2012 London Games. Previous laws passed in the lead-up to the Olympics put the fine at the same level as that for the similar offence of touting tickets for football matches. The laws mean these two sporting events are exceptions to the general rule that touting tickets is not illegal in the UK. Wouldn’t it be beneficial to spread the ban to ticketed events of all kinds?
There are specific reasons why football and the Olympics are treated in this way. It was a condition of London being awarded the 2012 Games that certain legislation was passed, mainly safeguarding the intellectual property of the IOC and protecting sponsors’ rights but also outlawing “ticket touting in connection with Olympic events”. Football is a more complex case. The rules stem from public order issues, and in particular the need to segregate fans of opposing teams inside stadia. Ticket touting obviously puts this requirement at risk, there being no guarantee that a tout will sell a spare ticket to a fan of the correct flavour. Indeed, it is even an offence in this case to pass on a ticket without money changing hands, as this would still possibly violate segregation requirements. In neither case has morality of an economic kind influenced the making of these laws.
Whether it should in other cases is a moot point. Not only is touting legal for all other events, it is in no way a backstreet activity. Prominent ticketing websites have associate marketplace sites where tickets can be bought and sold by members of the public. Ticketmaster’s “GET ME IN” site states that a government investigation called for the industry to police the issue itself, and that an honest resale market has “clear benefits for consumers”. The issue being policed here is that of fraud however, not of ticket touting. Buyers on the site know that when they send their money they are guaranteed to receive a ticket in exchange. They may also pay many times face value for that ticket. The morality of this is not even considered.
Many would say that touting is merely the law of supply and demand in operation, and outlawing it would be no different to banning supermarkets from marking up the price of their spuds. But that ignores the fact that it is very difficult for a supermarket to completely corner supplies for potatoes and crank the price up to their chosen level, as it is easy for touts to do with sold-out event tickets which unfortunately cannot be grown on an allotment. Fans are prevented from seeing events they wish to through touts buying up tickets and pricing them out of the opportunity. Should we be preserving the right of parasites to make a living from something they contribute nothing to, or the right of enthusiasts to have a fair chance of buying a ticket at the box office price? A ban could risk fans being stuck with an expensive ticket should they be unable to attend, but it would be easy to frame legislation to allow exchange of tickets at face value or less, which would remove the economic attraction for touts but enable people to recoup their costs should they need to.
Though this may be an attractive idea to someone who has just felt the need to pay double or treble to see their heroes, it is a fact that seconds after tickets go on sale for any in-demand event, those tickets begin to be offered on ebay, or one of the ticket exchange sites mentioned earlier. This isn’t criminal gangs in operation but the general public attempting to make a few quid, in a way they wouldn’t have a few years ago if it had meant them standing on a street corner for a few hours trying to sell the ticket on. The internet has made us into a nation of ticket touts, and perhaps that more than anything else explains the lack of appetite in government to change the situation.