Music

The Childish Gambino Ticket Fiasco Is Proof We Need Nationwide Scalping Laws

NSW is on the verge of striking a killer blow against organised scalping. Now it's up to the rest of Australia to catch up.

At midday last Friday, thousands of fans logged on to Ticketmaster to buy tickets to Childish Gambino’s upcoming Australian tour. And, as expected, they sold out almost instantly.

Predictably, fans who missed out quickly began to vent their rage on social media — but instead of the usual complaints about broken sites/long queues/stuck-in-online-green-room issues, this time they were angry about what happened after the tickets had sold out.

People quickly noticed that hundreds of tickets for Gambino’s Melbourne and Perth shows had appeared almost instantly on Ticketmaster’s buy-and-sell site, Ticketmaster Resale. Moreover, they were being listed for hundreds of dollars above the original purchase price of $111 — some of them were asking nearly $300 more:

Tickets for Childish Gambino’s Melbourne (left) and Perth (right) shows on sale on Ticketmaster Resale.

The backlash was swift, with many fans accusing Ticketmaster of effectively “legalising scalping” by having the inflated ticket prices crop up on their own resale website.

The company were quick to defend themselves: “Ticketmaster Resale is a safe and secure marketplace where fans can buy and resell tickets, with all purchases backed by our industry-leading fan guarantee,” they wrote in a statement to Music Junkee.

“Unfortunately there are always going to be some fans who can’t get hold of the most highly sought-after tickets when they first go on sale, and Ticketmaster Resale provides them with a chance to get hold of those most in-demand tickets.

“Ticketmaster does all it can to help artists get tickets into the hands of fans and we never place tickets on secondary market sites.”

According to consumer rights organisation Choice, Ticketmaster takes about 21 percent of each ticket sold through the Resale site.

So… What Is Ticketmaster Doing To Stop This?

Their “industry-leading fan guarantee” is something the Ticketmaster consistently highlight, and it essentially means that if any problem arises with any tickets sold, punters will receive valid tickets in time for the event they’ve purchased for, or they’ll get their money back.

They’re also widely spruiking something else known as Verified Fan technology, and — credit where credit is due — it has worked to kneecap scalpers in some markets. The system allows people to sign up using identification in order to access pre-sale tickets — at the time fans sign up, they need to specify what show they want to go see, the idea being that scalpers and bots buy up multiple tickets to multiple shows, whereas genuine fans generally don’t.

There are some problems with this model — super fans will often go to more than one show on a tour, and there have been cases of some people being denied the Verified Fan tick because they’ve signed up for numerous shows — but for the most part the system is showing signs of success.

Ticketmaster’s Executive Vice President, David Marcus, told Popsugar last year that whenever a tour goes on sale, around “30 percent” of tickets end up being resold. But on Harry Styles’ recent world tour, only 5 percent ended up on resale sites.

The technology is available to any tour using Ticketmaster, but not all promoters and artists will choose to use it. Crucially, it wasn’t used for Childish Gambino’s Australian tour.

Ticketmaster Resale Is Far From The Chief Offender Here

Ticketmaster were responsible for the sales for Gambino’s Melbourne and Perth shows, but in NSW they were handled by the Sydney Opera House. After the tickets rapidly sold out, they began appearing on controversial secondary market website Viagogo — at prices that were way above those of the Melbourne and Perth re-sales.

Like… seriously way over:

Childish Gambino SOH tickets on Viagogo.

Yep, that’s right — someone is trying to sell a $130 ticket for $889. Which is ambitious, to say the fucking least.

Putting it lightly, Viagogo isn’t liked by the music industry. Over the last year, the Swiss-based ticket reseller has been condemned by everyone from bands, promoters and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission — who is trying to take them to court over their claim that Viagogo is engaging in misleading conduct and making false representations.

“We REALLY hate Viagogo,” dance duo Peking Duk wrote on Facebook earlier this year, after they discovered that fans were buying tickets to their shows at almost four times the price they were original listed at. “They exist to rip you off, take your hard earned cash, and let scalpers take advantage of all aspects of a show they have nothing to do with.”

There’s a key difference between Ticketmaster Resale and Viagogo: when tickets are listen on Resale, they are given a new barcode and verified by the site. With Viagogo, there’s no guarantee that the ticket you are buying is valid.

Jess Krishnaswamy, co-founder of touring company BBE and FOMO Festival, told Music Junkee earlier this year that they continuously deal with issues arising from punters who had purchased resold tickets through Viagogo.

“You don’t need to have a valid ticket [to advertise them],” Krishnaswamy said. “One of the biggest issues with these resale sites is that people are making copies, or screenshots of PDFs and actually tricking people into buying them.”

“We had so many issues at FOMO Brisbane, for example, with kids who had bought tickets via Viagogo that weren’t valid. Or, it was originally a valid ticket — and the scalper is selling that same ticket to 20 different kids to make money. So the first person goes in and that’s fine, and then 19 other kids are stuck outside and they can’t get in. We had probably 500 to 800 kids turn up on the day who had paid in excess of $400 for fake FOMO tickets, or for a FOMO ticket that someone had already used.”

Krishnaswamy says that BBE and FOMO dealt with around 2,000 inquiries about fake tickets during the 2018 tour — around 5 to 10 percent of the total number of available tickets.

Didn’t NSW Just Bring In Laws Against Scalping Last Month?

As Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Captain Holt so succinctly says: BINGPOT.

Last month, NSW brought in tough new laws that make it illegal for sites like Viagogo and Ticketmaster Resale to host tickets being sold at more than 10 percent above what they originally cost. Transactions costs — which previously on Viagogo could skyrocket up to nearly 30 percent of the ticket price — are now capped at 10 percent of the original cost.

Additionally, resale sites must advertise the original cost of the ticket alongside the new price — as well as specifying the bay, row or seat number that applies to the ticket.

As you can see above, Viagogo hasn’t complied with either of those directions: tickets for Gambino’s Sydney shows are being advertised at nearly eight times their original price, which isn’t being listed. NSW Fair Trading has now told Music Junkee they are currently considering “appropriate action” to take.

“NSW Fair Trading is aware of a recent issue regarding ticket reselling for performances by American artist Childish Gambino,” they wrote in a statement. “Appropriate action is being considered.”

Maximum penalties for the offence are $110,000 for a corporation or $22,000 for an individual.

Head of campaigns and policy at consumer rights organisation CHOICE, Sarah Agar, told triple j’s Hack yesterday that she is “sceptical” the laws would be enforced against Viagogo.

“Viagogo are based overseas and they have consistently engaged in conduct that looks like it already breaks Australian law – not just NSW ticketing laws but general consumer law – and no-one has managed to get them to come to court yet,” she told Hack

NSW Fair Trading also noted they were “pleased to see a number of platforms are complying with this new legislation”, possibly referring to Ticketmaster Resale — who are not selling tickets to Gambino’s NSW shows. At all.

So while Viagogo remains a slippery opponent (for now) the effect of the NSW laws on Ticketmaster Resale show — tentatively — that they work. More importantly, it shows other states and territories that they work.

For the most part, scalping as a practice still isn’t illegal in most states across Australia — and when it is, often the laws only cover major sporting events and stadium tours (such as those of Ed Sheeran or Adele.) If the NSW laws continue to be effective, it would be madness for other states not to implement them.

“Scalping laws must passed nationwide in order to properly protect consumers,” Krishnaswamy told Music Junkee today. “But more importantly, every promoter can easily implement practices like reducing the standard 10 ticket buy to two tickets per transaction or person — ensuring that tickets actually get into the hands of actual fans.”

And if NSW Fair Trading can successfully pin down Viagogo over the Gambino debacle, it could be a potentially killer blow on the resale industry.

For now, we live in hope.

Jules LeFevre is Junkee’s Music Writer. Follow her on Twitter