System of a Down’ concert in Brussels is sold out. One phrase that gets me upset each time I read it somewhere. The tickets went on sale one beautiful morning at 11am and they were all gone in less than 10 minutes. I was among the unlucky potential buyers who couldn’t get one online. But among the lucky ones to be offered a ticket within ten minutes after the official sold out announcement. The only condition: to be highest bidder. My reply was the nicest thing I could come up with for “fuck off”, ‘cuz I’m a lady, but my frustration was skyrocketing. Plenty of tickets are still on the second hand market, with prices varying from 120 up to 400 euro, when the original price was around 40. Which doesn’t really mean that the concert is sold out until a fool would pay for the very last shamelessly overpriced ticket.
The black market for tickets has many faces. The bigger the band or the venue, the higher the second hand price.
You can find websites that made a business out of offering an online platform for those who would sell their tickets at higher prices than the original one. These have already been subject to journalism investigations and testimonials which cast a shadow at least on the safeness of such practices. They intermediate tickets mostly for big names’ shows which leaves another big slot to sellers offering tickets to smaller gigs outside the venues on the event date.
Funny enough, once I shared agony with these outside resellers. For different reasons, naturally. When a small gig, especially a metal show, is sold out by fans, none of them would miss it unless they are in hospital under intensive therapy. And if you forget to buy your ticket on time you must get very lucky afterwards. I have to admit I was determined to buy a ticket on the black market, for the same price or less, as I’m a lady with limits to her desperation, but the black market sellers didn’t have any. They never thought an obscure metal band called Animals as Leaders would sell out when a bigger name was concerting next door and for which they had plenty of tickets left. Which means that Les Claypool had less audience than tickets sold that evening.
On a smaller scale, you can find those who either bought intentionally or ended up accidentally having one or two extra tickets besides their own and who would try to sell them for a bigger price. Can anyone blame them when all they want it’s some extra money to buy a record, a t-shirt and a beer on your account…
While there is a lack or too soft legislation to protect the buyers from paying over the original price, one may think that there isn’t much to do in cases of audience surplus. In the end, everybody’s happy: the organizers sell all the tickets, the artists and venues get a full house and many people get the warm feeling of being special enough to attend a concert otherwise impossible for those not affording black market prices. A feeling which should be reserved to those buying VIP packages, but well…
Arguments to defend the speculative practices range from “consumers have the choice of deciding how much their tickets should be sold for and how much to pay for a ticket they want” to “if I can get a discounted ticket at the door for a smaller price now and then, when the black market seller couldn’t sell all of them, that’s pretty awesome”. It’s always good when customers have a choice. Provided that the choice is not between paying 3 times or paying 10 times the initial selling price.
The stake changes when gigs are not sold out. The choice switches to selling the ticket at a discounted price to recover some of the money spent. It happened to me with a Public Image Limited concert and while I was trying to sell the ticket at the original price, somebody tried to force my hand with the argument that the ticket is worth less money as the concert was not sold out. But I happen to think that an unsold show of Johnny Rotten is no way below than a sold out one. So instead I gave the extra tickets to friends for free. And I happen to believe this is a choice.
Of course, there is no perfect world out there where tickets will be always sold at a fair price. Marketing teaches us that it’s in human nature to want to make a profit. Still, there are plenty of actions to diminish these practices and they are coming from actors within the event business.
Some event organizers and promoters are more responsible with their selling than others. Among their weapons: personalized tickets sold under the assumption of the need to present at the entrance an ID that matches the name on the ticket. Which sometimes even happens. Some others even openly declare their disagreement to the black market practices, as the German agency MCT Agentur. Venues as the Belgian Ancienne Belgique created their own ticket swap platforms found in each concert page, where overpriced tickets are not accepted.
Artists do their bit also. In January, 80 representatives of the live event industry addressed the UK government an open letter requesting to take measures against the secondary market. Their request: to put the fans first and ensure that “the event-goers have the best experience possible at a fair price.” In June, Kate Bush demanded the concert promoters to ensure that her first gig in 35 years does not end to be sold on the black market and consequently extra measures were put in place which become good practices.
There may be that all these positive actions have nothing to do with money. They may be taken for building a certain prestige for the promoters, for redirecting the black money towards buying official merchandise or in the most idealistic case for defending the artistic work. But above all, when you don’t have a choice you’re not protected as client. And when the abuse is in plain sight and entities which have nothing to do with the event benefit from it and defend their position with disclaimers of 10 pages, something is not quite right and we should think twice whether to accepted them or not, no matter the needs.
The resale of event permits is regulated by Belgian law since October 1, 2013 (Act of 30 July 2013 on the resale of access titles to events). Occasionally resale at a price above the final price provided by the original vendor is prohibited.