Midnight Oil always brandished green credentials. So it needn’t have surprised when it bucketed down just as their ‘Great Circle’ reunion tour reached Brisbane. The recent droughts were quenched by the downpours, which hit the October 15 show and threatened Tuesday’s date.
Fans knew they’d get something out of this world when the Oils appeared on stage to Vangelis’ ‘Blade Runner End Titles’. Rocker-turned-politician-turned-rocker Peter Garrett, looking fit and menacing and comfortable in the role he was born to do, took aim at Donald Trump (the “Dumpster”) and the proposed Adani coal mine.
The hits came out, the rain stayed away. Nothing could keep the Oils’ loyal fans from this triumphant trek. Expect, perhaps, if tickets were swept up by bots and sold-on at ridiculous prices, a reality for hot shows in 2017. So the Oils fought back.
Bots and scalpers are the scourge. Universally unloved, unwanted. When the general onsale kicked off for the Oils dates in February, the touts predictably swarmed. So the band, its manager John Watson, and the promoter Frontier Touring hatched a plan.
People turned up with tickets they’d bought from these websites that turned out to be forgeries… and they tend to blame the artist
“We’d had serious issues with ViaGoGo in particular last year during the tour Jimmy Barnes did for his book ‘Working Class Boy’ and during Missy Higgins’ orchestra tour,” recounts John Watson, who guides the career of the Oils and others. “In both cases we had numerous complaints from fans who had been ripped off by deceptive advertising on reseller sites. Other people turned up at shows with tickets they’d bought from these websites that turned out to be forgeries and of course unless you engage with each of those consumers they tend to blame the artist, so it’s a huge extra workload for no upside whatsoever.”
For the Oils’ run, a slew of measures were deployed which included putting names of the buyer on every ticket, refusing to allow e-tickets, washing all the databases to find and strike out multiple purchases, and delaying mailouts to significantly reduce the resale window.
Ticket releases were staggered across several months, some stock was sold through record stores and the team embraced newly-launched resale site Twickets as a legitimate means for people to offload unwanted tickets without profiteering at the expense of other fans. And “critical” to the campaign, explains Watson, was a wave of public messaging. “We felt that many of the people who got ripped off by these online resellers were simply unaware of what was happening.”
The results were positive but they clearly didn’t “solve” the problem, notes Watson, “and we never expected them to do so. All the efforts by the band and Frontier helped mitigate things, but without better enforcement of existing Fair Trading legislation and some new laws to help block repeat online offenders and counter bot activity, there’s only so much anyone could do.”
People who got ripped off by these online resellers were simply unaware of what was happening
Scalping, ‘bots’ and the secondary market are matters of national interest in Australia right now. The fight is being fought with a mainstream audience looking on. And some blows have landed.
On heels of legal action launched by the ACCC, ViaGoGo – the vilified secondary-ticketing platform where tickets for shows by Adele, Ed Sheeran and others appeared at vastly inflated prices – was slapped with a Shonky Award. It’s dubious recognition, explains Choice, for “ripping you off with dodgy practices,” from employing illegal drip pricing, using tactics to create confusion and failing to respond to consumer complaints. Shows typically targeted are the sell outs and concerts with sectional prices.
Electronic dance music events promoter Richie McNeill has had enough. “Bots on the internet in general should be banned. Ban it,” says the Hardware Group chief. “I am sick of people taking advantage, of people selling tickets at inflated prices. It should be outlawed, simply. Re-selling and scalping should be illegal except to sell tickets at face value plus ten per cent maximum fee.”
’10’ just might be the perfect number. Twickets launched this year with a capped booking fee of ten percent of the ticket price, which is charged to the buyer. A legislative breakthrough came this month when the NSW Government banned the use of bots in the state. The Fair Trading Amendment (Ticket Scalping and Gift Cards) Bill 2017 prohibits the use of software to bypass security measures in order to purchase ticket, and put a cap on resale prices, up to 10% more than the original purchase price.
I am sick of people taking advantage, of people selling tickets at inflated prices. It should be outlawed
It’s a step in the right direction, notes Evelyn Richardson, CEO of Live Performance Australia, but it’ll prove ineffective if reform isn’t uniform. “If we are going to have legislation regarding ticket resale, it needs to be consistent nationally,” Richardson warns. “It is unworkable to have different legislation in each market,” she tells TIO.
LPA takes a hard-line on illegal ticketing practices. Earlier this year, the trade body blasted the Turnbull Government for dragging its feet and called for national legislation to criminalise bots. In the meantime, the trade body has published its Safe Tix Guide to help consumers navigate their way through the ticketing minefield. The association, however, admits the live industry and consumers need more help from Canberra.
“We are very hopeful that the federal government will respond to our call for legislation to criminalise ‘bots’ consistent with recent legislation in the U.K. and U.S.,” says Richardson. “Bots are a problem for all e-commerce businesses not just our industry. This is a global problem and Australia should be part of the global response.”
Buckle up for a long fight.
“I don’t see Australia taking any action at a legislative level any time soon, Harley Evans, owner and managing director of Moshtix and The Ticket Group, told this reporter in July. “The solution is to educate the punters that the venue and promoter decides who is an authorised seller, and if you turn up with a ticket bought through an unauthorised one, you can be denied entry.”
Bots are a problem for all e-commerce businesses not just our industry. This is a global problem and Australia should be part of the global response
Australasia’s live entertainment sector generates more than $1 billion, a tick up from the previous year, according to the LPA’s recently published ticketing report, though well down on those boom years when the Big Day Out, Stereosonic, Future and Soundwave were punching a combined one million tickets. The ticketing industry is dominated by the “big two,” Ticketek and Ticketmaster, with both companies having changed hands in recent years. The former, now aligned with Paul Dainty’s company Dainty Group, could have a new owner in the future if reports on an auction of TEG turn out to be accurate.
“The ticketing market is presently saturated,” notes Phil Silverstone, managing director of event technology platform Eventbrite ANZ. “The rapid shift to being a largely online market has reduced barriers to entry into ticketing, meaning event organisers have lots of choice.”
The business of ticketing isn’t a glamorous one. And it’s “difficult to do well”, explains Silverstone, “so one of the biggest industry challenges will be the sustainability of those smaller players. Many are leading on low cost, but their offering is too niche, or their technology is too basic in its capabilities for the majority of event organisers, and we know that relying heavily on being the cheapest can significantly impact long-term sustainability.”
Silverstone predicts changes ahead. “A technology-led industry like online ticketing that has experienced rapid scaling means there aren’t many of the controls in place to protect customers. A large proportion of providers won’t succeed and there is a clear opportunity for aggregation in the market.”
That Governments can largely stamp out scalping for big sporting events tells you there’s much more that can be done
McNeill, Silverstone and others will continue the debate at next month’s Electronic Music Conference (EMC) on a panel entitled Hold onto your stubs; challenges and opportunities facing the ticketing industry. Expect the issues of promoter access to funds, lockouts, and drug and alcohol strategy to be put under the microscope. There’s one thing everyone agrees on: scalping is a dirty business. But it’ll take a storm to wash it away.
“The fact that Governments can largely stamp out scalping for big sporting events tells you that there’s much more that can be done for entertainment tickets so keeping the issue in the public eye is critically important,” notes Watson.
“I’m not saying that Midnight Oil alone brought this about but their tour was one of three of four in the first half of the year that gave rise to big stories which helped explain the situation to consumers. The education piece was critical.”
The 2017 Electronic Music Conference visits Sydney’s Redfern for a two-day program next month, with international music leaders and industry experts appearing across an array of panels, talks, workshops, parties and masterclasses on November 29-30. Tickets are on sale now, with Hold Onto Your Stubs tickets available here.
Ticketing will be a big topic on the agenda at this year’s 2017 Electronic Music Conference