Cosmic Slop #41: Prince vs. scalpers – how can we combat professional touting?
As Prince postponed the sale of his European tour because of touting on an “industrial scale”, Shaun Ponsonby supports him wholeheartedly.
Originally published on Getintothis
I am a massive Prince fan. In fact, I’m surprised it has taken 41 Slops for me to talk about him.
But life as an active Prince fan isn’t easy. I think I should make that abundantly clear. Half the time I refuse to believe things will happen even after they are announced. It’s just the best way to avoid disappointment when he inevitably changes his mind. He’s announced tours, albums, reissues, DVDs, movies and all kinds of work that have never seen the light of day. It’s not fair. I need these things to pass the time until I die in lieu of genuine human contact. The least he can do is give me a cavalcade of product to re-experience and pretend I’m watching with friends.
That, however, does not necessarily mean there is no method in his madness.
As I’m sure you read, his Spotlight – Piano and a Microphone tour was supposed to go on sale last week, without the proposed Liverpool show I hasten to add. I couldn’t afford to go, so I stayed away, being mildly grumpy about the fact that I was going to miss such a unique fan experience. However, a little before 10am a friend of mine who was planning on going text me to say the ticket sale had been postponed. Initial reaction: “Typical!” He was supposed to hold a press conference in Lianne LaHavas‘ living room last year, and held it a day later than he was supposed to. This is all part of the Prince experience. Luckily, he’s Prince so he mainly gets away with it.
However shortly after, he posted this to Twitter:
Incidentally, that shot of his tweet is a screenshot, not a link because he has a knack of deleting tweets very soon after he posts them. Because, you know, leaving information up wouldn’t contribute to his mystique.
This was followed by an article on a website other than this one (pfft…other websites, what do they know?) which said touts operated “on an industrial scale” on sites like Get Me In, Seatwave, Viagogo and StubHub. He linked this with the message; “Answer therein.”
Many of these sites offer tickets for sale and hugely inflated prices before the tickets are even on sale. The kicker? Get Me In and Seatwave are owned by Ticketmaster. Ever been directed to Get Me In when Ticketmaster are listing a gig as sold out? Yeah, me too. So…how are these tickets available on the Ticketmaster-owned Get Me In and Seatwave before the general sale? Hmmm…
Some of us probably recall Channel 4’s Dispatches going undercover at Viagogo a couple of years ago. Viagogo were unsuccessful in their attempt to block the programme from being aired, but you can’t blame them for trying. I have put this investigative documentary at the bottom of the page for your viewing displeasure and anger management practice (and because Prince material is notoriously difficult to find on YouTube).
In that programme, they found promoters allocating tickets directly to these companies so they can be sold at hundreds and even thousands over face value. For a Coldplay tour, Viagogo were given a thousand tickets a day to sell at ridiculously steep prices directly from promoters SJM, with SJM getting a 90-10 split with Viagogo for the profits. Which is disgusting. These poor people buying tickets are already Coldplay fans. Aren’t they suffering enough?
Throughout the programme (which, again I stress was filmed undercover), their own staff continually described their practices as “highly immoral” and “really fucking shady”, so it’s not like they’re not aware of what arseholes they are.
With companies like Ticketmaster owning some of these sites, we have basically got official touting. And it’s bollocks.
So, why is it allowed? Where is the consumer protection on this? Surely this is suspect at best?
People have been grumbling about it for a long time, but I can’t think of an artist making too much of a stand on it before. Glastonbury, Tom Waits, Kate Bush and even Prince himself have attempted to circumvent the touts by insisting ticketholders bring photographic ID. And yet the practice continues.
Judging by what Prince has posted on Twitter, someone has alerted him that tickets were already been made available on these sites, and this is what has made him postpone the sale. Perhaps he didn’t go about it in the best way. A clear, official statement would probably have done a lot to keep those who were understandably pissed off updated, rather than his usual round of cryptic messaging. Ever tried having a deep, intellectual conversation with a canoe? That’s basically the same thing as getting a clear statement from Prince.
However, he has done it entirely for the right reasons.
Perhaps someone who is willing to pay £2,500 for a single Coldplay ticket deserves to be fleeced. But that’s not the point. The point is there is clearly some kind of foul play going on. It’s been going on for far too long and nobody who is a big name in the public eye has been drawing attention to it in such a big way (why would they bother? The bands get paid either way).
So, as much as I feel sorry for the people who have been messed about…bravo, Prince. Fundamentally, you are right.
But the question is how can we combat it in a way that doesn’t make things even harder for the likes of us?
So far, every measure taken just makes life a little more inconveniant for the fans. We need a special registration processes for Glastonbury. Although bringing photographic ID might sound small, if your passport is out of date, you could reasonably be fucked. And then there’s the fact that someone along the way decided that hiking ticket prices would help stop touts. That immediately freezes me out of seeing a lot of people, and if the touting is happening via promoters (as Dispatches discovered), what good is that going to do?
Then there’s people being duped into buying fake tickets online and being turned away at the door.
Prince’s own guerrilla gigs last year were an attempt to beat the touts, but it meant that people had to queue up out in the cold in the middle of February all day, at the risk of not getting in. We don’t necessarily have the time to do that, or the money to go to a gig at the drop of a hat. We have lives and jobs and families and mortgages. You can really only go to those gigs if you live in that city, given all the travel/accommodation arrangements it can take to go elsewhere. So many people miss out.
This may not be a new problem, but it feels like it’s getting worse. You’ll never stop touting entirely, but you can stop it being a cottage industry.
Famously shouty promoter Harvey Goldsmith called it “a national disgrace” on Radio 4‘s Front Row this week, and he is right. He said they are calling for the government to pass a law that says you can’t re-sell a ticket for over 10% of the face value. This campaign has been going on for a while, and you can submit your views on the issue here until 11pm on Friday.
But what if nothing comes from it? Highly likely. Culture Secretary Sajid Javid rejected the Put Fans First campaign. In that case, what can we do other than stop going to the shows?
But kudos to Prince. No other artist seems to have made this kind of stand before. It’s one thing to have a little campaign. It’s another to flat out say “I will not do business with you“.
- For the record, Ticketmaster said they, along with their other sites Get Me In and Seatwave “offer fans full consumer protection, with guarantees of full refund or ticket replacement”.
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