Back in the mists of time (the early 90s) I managed to get my hands on some tickets for Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour in London.
Back in those days, if you wanted to get to the front of a gig, you queued up outside the venue all night and then legged it to the front as soon as the doors opened.
I thought of those halcyon days fondly this week, as I waited in an ‘online queue’ for the chance to buy some overpriced tickets. No running to the front or rewards for loyal fans here. You could only buy your way to the ‘golden circle’ at the front of the stage. You don’t find out the actual prices until you’ve made it to the front of the virtual queue. And there a ticking timer forces you to decide if you want to spend £250 to sit about 5 miles away from the artist you love. Then pay a ton of booking charges on top.
The whole ticketing industry needs to be tackled head on. Not least because the most loyal fans are being priced out of ever getting tickets to see their favourite acts. With some theatre ticket prices in London’s West End rocketing over £100 we risk ending up in a society when only the rich can enjoy live entertainment. Let your MP know (nicely) so we can get this system changed once and for all.
Of course, once you’ve got your tickets, there are still problems to face. Here’s my quick guide.
Be wary of insurance. Gig or event cancelation insurance is a huge earner for ticket companies, but in practice you are already entitled to a refund if a gig is cancelled. And if it’s rescheduled and you can’t attend you can get a refund too. It’s only if you can’t get to an event closer to the time, or are unable to attend then that the insurance could be useful – and most policies I’ve seen don’t seem to cover most options anyway.
Don’t use resale agencies. I hate ticket resale agencies with all my heart. Yes, they do give people an opportunity to get tickets for events they’ve missed, but at vastly inflated prices and with very real risk. I’ve been sent a string of complaints lately from both buyers and sellers who have found that when the event they bought/sold gets cancelled, they are often left in the lurch without either tickets or refunds. If you must take a punt, ask yourself; Where are the tickets? What happens if the gig is cancelled? What does the refund policy say?
Official resale sites are still rubbish. I fully approve of artists taking a stand against resale agencies and touts. But the official ticket companies need to get it together. Many of the sites I’ve been on don’t allow resales 48 hours before the event. So if you break your leg or you are stuck in Bulgaria, you are out of luck. Regifting – transferring the tickets to a friend – is a great idea but often this option is clunky and difficult to use. If you want to kill the touts, make resale options better!
Refund rights only cover cancelations or rescheduling. So watch out for train strikes, life events and other issues that might prevent you from attending a gig. Festival line-up changes don’t lead to refunds either, even if it’s the headliner (though some events have backed down in the past).
I’m genuinely concerned about the future of live events. The idea of ‘dynamic pricing’ – the awful American concept where demand dictates price – has led to insane ticket prices in the US for everyone from Beyonce to The Boss, and it’s creeping in over here. I’d like to see demandled pricing, ticket resales and poor booking systems banned in the UK. And I’d like artists to allow fans to the front at no extra cost.
After all, if the fans can’t afford it, where is the fun?
Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.