Who’s been sitting in my seat?

The Trans eventually got in but despite smiles were not so happy. Photo by Lisa Tran
New state legislation targets the global online ticket fraud. Julius Dennis reports on the big challenge to ensure a fair go.

It costs to witness sporting moments. The bigger the moment, the more justified the price seems.

In 1972 crowds wandered down to the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club to watch Ken Rosewall win the men’s final the first year The Open would be in Melbourne. In the mind’s eye, the sun is shining off picturesque grass as happy ticket-buyer’s queue at the box office to pay for their tickets, Rosewall warming up his famous backhand. A simple transaction for simpler times.

These days, things are more confusing: prices are higher and are subject to change, everything is online, if the event is big enough the tickets can be swept up in mere minutes by the global masses.

Luckily, there is the secondary market with plenty of back-up options: Ticketmaster Resale, Stubhub, Viagogo… sure you might pay a little extra, but you’re not going to miss out, right?

That holds true of most secondary market purchases, 46 per cent of resales in the US are sold by people reselling tickets to events they can no longer attend. Here in Australia, 92 per cent of people taking part in a CHOICE survey who had purchased tickets from a “scalper” had no problems with their ticketing experience.

However, it does not always go to plan.

On New Year’s Eve 2017, Lisa Tran and her family were looking to do something big in 2018, something none of them had ever done before. They decided to go to The Australian Open. The next morning, they bought tickets for the day of the men’s semifinal.

“I hopped online, went to the first website that displayed they were selling tickets, and just assumed they were the official ticket seller,” says Lisa Tran.

However, the site she clicked on was not an official reseller but the burgeoningly sketchy Swiss ticket reseller Viagogo, a company which has been called in front of the ACCC on claims of false scarcity tactics, hidden booking fees, and misleading and deceptive conduct. Not to mention a multitude of consumer complaints in regards to the company not ensuring the authenticity of tickets sold by individual sellers.

Tickets for the tennis were initially $220 but Lisa and her family paid over $500 each for the day that would eventually see the underdog – Hyeon Chung play the ageless maestro Roger Federer in what was set to be a David vs Goliath for the ages. You pay to see these moments. While expensive, this price is nothing compared to the up to 17,000 fans paid to see Federer and Nadal, Goliath vs Goliath, duke it out in the 2017 final.

When Lisa purchased the tickets The Open wasn’t for weeks and while she didn’t receive them initially, she wasn’t worried.

“I didn’t really look at the ticket until the night before The Open [when] I got a call… They left a message saying ‘your ticket’s invalid, we’re gonna issue you a new one, please hold tight’, and that’s when I started to freak out.”

And for good reason. A quick google search will reveal the global issues including selling tickets for shows that don’t exist, ticketing fraud, and selling tickets to events such as the 2018 FIFA World Cup prior to tickets being available.

Consumer NZ puts their advice the bluntly: Don’t buy from Viagogo. A CHOICE Australia survey found that 76 per cent of people who buy from secondary sites such as Viagogo believe they are buying from an official ticket retailer.

“When I tried calling them back, their phone number doesn’t work, their email is s**t; it just forces you to send them an email rather than live chats or anything like that,” says Lisa.

Luckily for Lisa, the site pulled through, but that wasn’t the case for countless other tennis going hopefuls earlier that week, with News Corp reporting that a quarter of Australian Open tickets sold on Viagogo to be fake.

“They eventually sent me a new ticket. They were different seats but I was so stressed out that the next day I was like: ‘we have to get there first’… I saw that they had different names.”

To top it off, Hyeon Chung, playing the role of David, forfeited the match after the second set.

When asked whether she would dabble in the secondary market again, Lisa was sure of her answer.

“For two thousand bucks and an hour’s worth [of tennis], it was not worth it.”

The Victorian Government is attempting to combat these issues at a local level. New ‘Major Events’ legislation would stop resellers from selling tickets for greater than 10% of the original value of the ticket for events that are deemed worthy by the Events and Tourism Minister.

The legislation is likely to primarily affect large stadium tours, theatre productions, and many hope, sporting events. Events can apply for ‘major’ status.

The AFL Grand Final already has similar laws applied to it that include a level of transparency by primary market ticket sellers, Greens MP Sam Hibbins thinks these standards should also apply to the new legislation.

“The overall principal needs to be about fair access to tickets. Making sure the fans aren’t ripped off by ticket scalpers or ticket reselling, or making sure they are not getting ripped off by the event holders themselves,” says Hibbins.

Who's been sitting in my seat?
Sam Hibbins wants a fairer go for consumers. Photo by Julius Dennis

The new laws will also bring about a new type of ticket authority to enforce the laws, something Hibbins thinks warrants a higher level of fairness to be applied by promoters and event organisers.

“I think given they are being given that much support. I think in turn they should be transparent about their own ticket allocations and ensure that fans get fair access.”

The Ticket Brokers Association of Australia (TBA) agrees, believing there are a range of major flaws, including the ambiguity of the what exactly a “major event” is; the 10 per cent prohibiting resellers or individuals from reselling tickets at all due to 25 per cent fees on many resale sites; and the lack of a “crucial transparency requirement” on the part of event organisers to name a few.

However, the TBA’s biggest problem with the law changes is that they don’t believe that the Victorian Government can tackle a problem that does not have geographical constraints.

“The legislation will not prevent a re-seller based in London from purchasing tickets to a declared event in Victoria and listing them for sale on Viagogo, which is based in Switzerland,” says TBA president Jay Felix.

The opaque nature of the industry, both on the part of event organisers and secondary market ticketing sites seems to be the biggest issue. Lisa Tran, who after her experience conducted a survey to submit to the ACCC, agrees, and says “there’s not a lot of transparency.”

While the new legislation is still working its way through parliament, Sam Hibbins believes that a balance that gives fairness to consumers by event organisers desperately needs to be included.

“Essentially what you need for any sold-out event, or any event really, surely their needs to be a mechanism for people who have bought tickets and then legitimately can’t go so they need to transfer their tickets, that needs to be enabled. You then need to clamp down on profiteering from sold out events.”

Viagogogo describes itself as “a global online marketplace for live sport, music and entertainment tickets”. It says on its website it “provides a platform for third party sellers to sell tickets to event goers” and that sellers set their own prices, “which may be above or below the original face value”. “Where demand is high and tickets are limited, prices increase,” it says.

It says the tickets sold on its platform are “genuine tickets that have been sold on by the original ticket purchaser in good faith. Event organisers sometimes make claims that they will deny entry to people who have purchased resold tickets. These types of entry restrictions are highly unfair and in our view, unenforceable and illegal.”

“If an event is cancelled, all ticket buyers will receive a full refund, including shipping costs,” it says. “In some cases, we may ask customers to return their tickets to the original ticket seller. If an event is postponed, we follow the policy set out by the event organiser. Tickets are usually valid for the new date.”