An ITV News investigation found that just three people are responsible for over two thirds of festivals and outdoor events tickets listed for sale online by the company Viagogo. Chloe Keedy reports.
Additional picture credits: YouTube/Elrow, YouTube/BBC Radio 6 Music, Youtube/Parklife Festival
For two summers - festivals felt like a distant dream. But this year the music, the dancing, and the DJs are back, and tickets are once again in demand.
If you’ve tried to buy one, the chances are you’ve come across the website Viagogo. It’s a resale site - somewhere you might go if you’ve got a spare ticket that you need to sell on, or if you want to buy a ticket for an event that is sold out.
But when we went through the thousands of listings for festivals and outdoor events - we found that fewer than 10% of them were being sold by ordinary consumers. The rest were being sold by ‘traders’, which are effectively ticket resale businesses.
Research carried out for ITV News by the campaign group FanFair Alliance looked at 174 festivals and outdoor events over a period of 3 months and counted more than 11,000 tickets.
Of those, just over two-thirds were being sold by just three so-called ‘traders’, with a combined face value of around £730,000. The total they were attempting to sell them for, though, was much higher - an estimated £1.7 million.
So how did these traders get hold of so many tickets? According to a number of festival organisers we spoke to, the answer is simple: they didn’t.
Ed Townend runs a small rock festival in Wales called Cardiff Psych and Noise. When we went to meet him in back in April, tickets had only just gone on sale.
We found 20 being advertised by two sellers on Viagogo, which Ed told me came as a bit of a surprise.
"It doesn't make any sense to me because when you look at the backend of our ticket sales, we've only sold 14 tickets to the event."
"Total," he added. "That doesn't make any sense to me. We haven't announced a lineup, we're not expected to sell many tickets already, but to sell 20 tickets, I would've seen 20 tickets sold to two individuals, ten tickets each, but that hasn't happened at all."
I decided to see what happened if I bought a ticket from one of these sellers.
For starters, I had to fork out more than four times the face value. I paid just over £165 to a ‘trader’ by the name of MAS E.L. That company is publicly listed as being owned by someone called Marc Stanley.
A few hours after I made my purchase, a Marc Stanley made his own purchase of one ticket from the organiser of Cardiff Psych and Noise.
Shortly afterwards, a ticket with his name on it landed in my inbox.
If the timings made us suspicious, the matching reference numbers on Marc Stanley’s order and the one that was sent to me left us in no doubt. He didn’t own the ticket he had sold me, until after I had bought it from him.
We contacted 10 festivals being listed by Marc Stanley and two other ‘traders’.
Two said the sellers had bought some tickets but nowhere near the number being advertised, and the rest said they had no record of those sellers buying any tickets at all.
When we visited Marc Stanley at his registered business address he didn’t want to speak to us but, within an hour of our call, all of his listings had mysteriously disappeared from Viagogo’s website.
The practice of ‘speculative selling’ is against the law.
"I think there’s a basic principle you can’t buy or sell something you don’t legally own," explained Mike Andrews from National Trading Standards.
In 2020, they successfully prosecuted two ticket touts for engaging, amongst other things, in speculative selling.
"What you've shown in terms of the scale of this issue is of real concern to us because we want to make sure the consumers get a fair deal. We want to ensure that if consumers go online, they look to buy a ticket to an event, first of all they're actually going to get that ticket for that event.
"Secondly, it distorts the market because it puts a large number of tickets in the hands of a very small number of people which can distort the prices that consumers ultimately pay."
And that’s something artists worry about too. Simone Butler is the bassist in the band Primal Scream, and it’s not just the touts she’s angry with - but the platform that allows them to trade.
Butler said: "When you're in the band and you're seeing someone else profiteering off of the back of your hard work, or the hard work of the whole team, it just makes you sick.
"I hate the thought of fans getting ripped off. It doesn't make me feel good. If I see that one of our shows is sold out and then I go online and I find that a company is selling the tickets for £300 or something, someone might buy that ticket and end up with nothing to show in return." But Viagogo insists it will always ensure customers get a valid ticket - or their money back.
Chloe Keedy explains what is being done to protect consumers
Responding to our investigation, a spokesperson for the company said: “We treat concerns about tickets with the utmost priority. In this instance, we acted swiftly to remove the relevant listings and have returned several to the site that have clearly demonstrated that they are legitimate and valid.
"We continue to review the remaining listings and these remain off site."
But that may leave music fans wondering why Viagogo can’t do its checks before it allows ‘traders’ to sell vast quantities of tickets on its site.
As things stand, Viagogo is not required by law to fact check the details of every ticket listed on its site.
It does have to carry out more checks than it used to.
A lengthy investigation and court order brought against Viagogo by the Competition and Markets Authority in 2018 forced it to overhaul its website to comply with consumer law.
It ordered Viagogo to stop publishing ‘misleading information’ to pressure customers into buying a ticket, and to make sellers provide at least some information about who they are.
But the watchdog says there are limits to its current powers. It’s calling on the government to change the law to make the websites fully responsible for incorrect information about tickets that are listed for sale on their websites.
One of the CMA’s key responsibilities, though, is to protect consumers. And after so many years, and so much money, spent supposedly cleaning up the site, one can’t help but wonder to what extent it is doing that.
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