Theatres struggle with ticket resale at inflated prices
- 23 January 2014
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
Theatres say there is little they can do to stop the practice of tickets being sold at vastly inflated rates on the secondary market.
The problem affects most of the UK's biggest venues, including theatres that are subsidised by the state.
At the time of writing, one website was offering two tickets to see Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse for £2,015. The face value was originally £20-£35 each.
The venue said the "industry-wide" issue was a "difficult one to address".
Artistic director Josie Rourke told the BBC: "We work very hard to get people into the Donmar with cheap, accessible seats, so inflated reselling is a great sadness to me."
Secondary ticketing websites act as marketplaces, allowing sellers to charge what they like for popular gigs, with the site earning a commission on top.
Coriolanus, which stars Thor's Tom Hiddleston, is currently one of the most in-demand theatre productions in London, pushing prices up.
The tickets seen by the BBC were being sold on the Viagogo site for £850 each, plus a £255 booking fee, a £9.95 shipping charge, and £51 VAT - making a total of £2,015.95.
Cheaper tickets were available - starting at £350 (£422.95 including fees). Rival sites, including Stubhub and eBay, offered tickets at similar prices.
Oliver Wheeler from Viagogo told the BBC that tickets with such exceptionally high prices "very, very rarely sell".
Technically, the resale of tickets is against the terms and conditions provided by the theatres like the Donmar and its owner, the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG).
Its policy states: "No tickets may be re-sold for profit or commercial gain by any outlet other than the Ambassador Theatre Group Box Office or one of their authorised ticket agents (unauthorised outlets include websites such as auction sites). Failure to comply will make this ticket void."
The Donmar told the BBC it had contacted people attempting to resell Coriolanus tickets approximately 25 times during the show's run.
"In the vast majority of instances, when contacted by the Donmar, the patron apologises and removes the ticket(s) from re-sale."
"It's an industry-wide problem," added Ms Rourke, "and a very difficult one to address given the number of reselling websites and platforms.
"We act where we can together with ATG but it is a challenge."
The National Theatre has also seen several tickets for its much-anticipated production of King Lear - directed by Sam Mendes and starring Simon Russell-Beale - appearing on the secondary market.
"It's frustrating to see tickets being sold on at several times their face value, sometimes when there are face value tickets still available via our Box Office," the organisation said in a statement to the BBC.
"It undermines our efforts to price tickets fairly and accessibly."
The venue said it actively monitored the secondary market and, when it was possible to identify specific tickets, "we contact the person re-selling them, refund their purchase and cancel the tickets".
"We also monitor sales patterns for any suspicious multiple bookings," it added.
The experience of theatres is in contrast to that of the Rugby Football Union, which successfully took Viagogo to court to force it to hand over the names and addresses of people who sold on tickets to England rugby matches via its website.
Similarly, the resale of football tickets is illegal in the UK under section 166 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, unless the resale is authorised by the organiser of the match.
One MP, Sharon Hodgson, is calling on the government to introduce legislation to clamp down on ticket resale around pop concerts, exhibitions and theatre performances.
The Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West led a Westminster Hall debate on the matter earlier this week and told the BBC the government "needed to intervene".
Ms Hodgson claimed the "vast majority" of sellers in the secondary market were "professional touts".
"These tickets go on sale at the price that the art gallery, or the theatre, or the artist decides, for a whole host of reasons," she said.
"Then they're hoovered up in industrial quantities and sold at many, many times face value, pricing out the very fans, tourists and theatregoers they are intended for."
She said the problem was particularly galling for state-funded theatres.
"The National Theatre and the Donmar are funded from taxpayers money to encourage people to attend the theatre. For those tickets to end up on the secondary market, being sold at many times face value, is totally wrong.
"None of that money is being ploughed back into the arts, to support other productions. It's morally wrong."
Mr Wheeler, from Viagogo said: "We follow the laws of the land, and they say that ticket resale, other than football, which has a different element to it, is perfectly legal.
"Previous to our existence as a business, it was virtually the wild, wild west outside stadiums and pubs and clubs, when you were buying and selling tickets. Our mission is to make sure that transaction now comes with a guarantee [that] you get a valid ticket in time for your event."