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Fans say no to legalised touts

This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and Supporters Direct merged to become the FSA in 2019 – so this page may contain hyperlinks that do not work and/or have missing files. Our archived pages are not maintained and will not be updated.

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Spurs have signed a deal with StubHub making them the club’s “Official Ticket Resale Marketplace partner”. They aren’t the only club to use secondary ticket agencies but the move has stirred complaints among fans. In an article which originally appeared on journalist Martin Cloake (AOL, New Statesman, The Blizzard) explains why he’s opposed to such deals…

There are a number of reasons to object to the club’s deal with StubHub. Some are ethical, some more practical. I’ll be honest at the outset – my main objection is on ethical grounds. I recognise that ethics are a very subjective area, and that it’s fashionable to sideline ethics to prove how hard-headed an approach is in business terms. But there are also a number of practical issues the Spurs deal raises. The bottom line is that this scheme incentivises fans to exploit other fans.

The principle that you don’t sell tickets to other fans for over face value is as basic as never changing your team and it’s a core part of the social solidarity that holds supporters together. The dictionary defines ticket touting as the practice of selling tickets at above face value. [FSF Chair Malcolm Clarke branded secondary ticket agencies “legalised touts”]

A House of Commons briefing document for the debate on MP Sharon Hodgson’s bill to restrict ticket touting said that ‘touting’ was a term “commonly understood to refer to someone who deliberately buys tickets to an event in order to sell them for profit”. Hodgson’s bill sought to give power to event organisers to prevent the sale of tickets to their events at a price greater than 10% over face value.

That bill was talked out by Tory MPs, but Hodgson is still seeking support for another attempt to legislate. So my ethical objections are not a peculiar individual stance. I know plenty of fans share my view, and the attempts to legislate suggest there is a wider feeling that selling event tickets at well over face value is not right.

Tottenham Hotspur once shared that view. Its Out The Tout campaign stated “the club remains totally committed to stamping out ticket touting”. For most fans, the only difference between the ‘secondary ticket agencies’ and the gents who mingle with the crowds outside the grounds offering to buy or sell tickets is that the former have offices and business cards, while the latter tend not to. The end result of what both do is to push up the price of tickets for fans.

About StubHub, Tottenham Hotspur has said “it is very rare indeed for the tickets to sell at more than their original price”. At a ground that is sold out for every home game, it takes some believing that the basic rules of supply and demand pricing will not apply. Just weeks after the details of the deal at Spurs were announced, tickets for Sir Alex Ferguson’s final game as Manchester United manager at West Brom’s The Hawthorns ground were selling for £600 and more.

One of the most distasteful aspects of the deal is that, while the club attempts to convince us that the normal laws of supply and demand will not apply, it simultaneously seeks to distance itself from them when they do. In answer to question 25 of the Q&A session arranged between the club and, er, itself on its website, the club says: “While we understand that some fans might be frustrated to find prices higher than they hoped, it is the Season Ticket Member’s prerogative to list their seats at whatever price they choose.” This is the National Rifle Association defence – ‘we just supply the guns, if people choose to shoot each other with them, it’s nothing to do with us’.

If you think that is harsh, look carefully at how the club is selling the scheme to Season Ticket holders. The club told the Trust in a Q&A that the StubHub deal was “an additional benefit” for Season Ticket holders, and in publicity for the scheme urging supporters to sign up it makes much of the fact that “you can set your price” and that “the Club will not dictate pricing”. The club is actively encouraging fans to sell high.

The case has been made that the StubHub scheme offers a better deal than the old Ticket Exchange scheme. The old scheme was, in my opinion, also flawed as supporters had to sell a ticket back for less than face value so that the club could sell it again for face value. But if the club thought its own scheme did not offer a good deal, it could quite easily improve it. It was, after all, a scheme run by the club.

But the fact is that this new scheme does not necessarily improve on the old one. As the Trust has pointed out, the 12% commission StubHub charges to the seller and the 15% per transaction to the buyer means that, to recoup face value, the seller of a £45 ticket would need to ask £51.15, and the buyer would therefore have to pay £58.82. Before, Season Ticket holders recouped between 75-85% of their ticket’s face value, plus could opt to use what they got back as a credit against the following season’s ST. Now, the credit option is gone, and the only way the buyer can get more than 75-85% back is if the market holds up and they charge buyers over the odds from the start.

This scheme incentivises and institutionalises the sale of tickets at above face value – the definition of the ticket touting the club was apparently opposed to. Was the club against touting, or just against touting that didn’t pay it a lump sum up front? I’ve little doubt the club will wax indignant about this assertion, but StubHub would not have paid it a substantial sum of money if it did not believe it could recoup its outlay via commission on priced-up tickets. The very thing the club wants us to believe it thinks will never happen, but which it openly encourages in its publicity.

You may take the opinion that, because of those very laws of supply and demand I refer to, it is naïve to believe that tickets will not sell for above face value. And that therefore the club should grab a slice of the action. Perhaps it would be better if the club was more honest, rather than perform the contortions it has to justify its about face on touting. But it would still be wrong.

The scheme also undermines the club’s own memberships. It’s less likely Season Ticket holders will give up tickets now that the ST can be used as a business opportunity. Vague notions that the number of sales per ticket will be “monitored” would not, in any case, hold much water without a cap on the number of sales that can be made. That cap could be implemented through the terms and conditions the club sets, but it has so far chosen not to do that. The StubHub deal will squeeze the number of tickets that eventually get made available to One Hotspur members. And the inability to accurately gauge who tickets are sold to on the exchanges also undermines many of the safety considerations we’ve been told the club are concerned about.

If the club wanted to provide a safe, guaranteed exchange system, it could have hooked up with one of a number of ethical ticket exchanges. Or it could have changed its own Ticket Exchange system to make it fairer – AFC Wimbledon, for example, claim back VAT on tickets sold back and resold, all at face value. THFCplc chose to take the money for a system that not only encourages its own fans to exploit each other, it also sets up the following ridiculous situation.

If you give a spare ticket to a member of your family or a friend for nothing, you can be banned from the ground. If you sell your ticket for face value outside the ground, you can be arrested and banned. But if you sell your ticket for five times face value on StubHub, you do so with the club’s blessing.

It’s unfortunate that the club has, once again, only met with supporters to discuss a deal once it was signed and sealed. Proper consultation consists of more than just telling people what you have done once you’ve done it.

I’d like to see the Trust do more than simply register concern at this scheme. I’d like to see it build on the campaigning initiatives it has undertaken recently, for instance around the FSF’s Twenty’s Plenty for Away Tickets campaign and the growing fans’ movement against the worst excesses of modern football, by calling clearly for fans to only sell tickets at face value. I’d also like it to press the club not to undermine its own membership schemes.

The realities are there for all to see. On top of rises of over 100% in Season Ticket prices over the last decade and the charging of some of the highest ticket prices in the country, the club has now chosen to openly encourage its fans to exploit each other. This seems to me to be just the sort of thing a Supporters’ Trust should be firmly standing against.

Thanks to giesenbauer for the image reproduced under CC license.

The FSF blog is the space to challenge perceived wisdom, entertain readers and inform our members. The views expressed on this blog are those of the author – they don’t necessarily represent FSF policy and (pay attention journalists) shouldn’t be attributed to the FSF. Have your say below and play nice…

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