Ricky Gervais opens new fight with ticket scalpers

Few issues have frustrated concertgoers over the past few decades as much as the massive rise in scalping and the second-hand ticketing market. We’ve reached a state where actually getting tickets when they go on sale is nothing short of a miracle, and there is no question that the system itself has been massively rigged to benefit the scores of “ticketing agencies” all across the globe. However, one of the most obvious solutions to this problem has been made clear by a rather unexpected performer: comedian Ricky Gervais.

Earlier this week, tickets went on sale for his much-hyped musical tour, where he will be performing as his brilliant character David Brent from the original version of The Office, and understandably, they sold out in minutes. With a face value of just over $23 USD, within seconds of the show selling out, tickets appeared on second-hand ticket sites for nearly $1,500.

Fans quickly took to social media to express their frustration at the situation, and Gervais responded just as fast via Twitter, stating that these shocking prices were: “fucking disgusting. Please no one buy them.” This is where nearly all other performers stop their quest to be fair to fans, as those same fans are more than happy to let them off the hook for simply acknowledging the evils of ticket scalpers. However, Gervais went further, and in the process proved where the real power in the fight against the second-hand market lies: the artists themselves.

The same afternoon that the outrageously priced tickets appeared, Gervais and his team were all over the owners of the sites in question, demanding that the highest priced tickets be removed from the site, if not ALL of the tickets being offered. Strangely enough, it worked. One site cut any sales asking more than ten times the face value, and Seatwave removed every sale of tickets for the event. A spokesmen for the latter company stated that it was done in response to a demand from the artist.

The power of the artist has never been clearer, and while we’ve seen bands like Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen fight the first-hand ticketing market, in the past decade they’ve become the lesser of two evils in the battle to see live performances. In that time, the presence of scalpers outside events, and true fans having almost no chance of the best seats in the house has become the rule, not the exception; and only the completely naive argue that these “ticketing agencies” are on a level playing field with the general public.

There is only one reason that this massive shift has occurred, and that is simply the huge amount of money involved in the entire ticketing process. A few years back, when TicketMaster bought a handful of secondary-ticketing companies and launched their “TicketsNow” service, this became obvious; and with their brand new TM+ service, they are no longer even trying to hide their greed.

With the new service, ticket buyers can see the resale market at the same time as the “real” on sale tickets, but there is one catch to the system that may severely alter the impression fans have of their favorite performers. In the case of TM+, the artists themselves have to approve the service being turned on for their shows, and they have the power to turn the service off at any point in the ticketing process. This almost absolves TicketMaster of any responsibility for appallingly priced tickets, as they can now say “the artist chose for the market to exist.” On the artist-side of things, they will be getting a cut of each of these secondary sales, so there is a great financial gain on their part.

The reality is that in the past decade, a wide range of artists, with Van Halen and Neil Diamond being two of the most notorious, have purposefully set aside a block of tickets ONLY for the secondary market, again because the profits they make from these sales are so large. Many artists do this, but keep things as quiet as possible so as not to upset their fans, but the end-game of making piles of money is exactly the same.

Even in the past few months, the governments of some countries have begun to take action against the secondary ticketing market, with Australia taking the lead. In the coming months, ticketing websites in that country will face fines for any tickets being sold above a certain percentage over the original ticket price. The current cap is said to be 10% over face value, and similar legislation is being created in Japan, England and Germany among others.

Insofar as what the actual musicians can do now, while artists like Tom Waits have switched their shows to paperless systems, where the ID of the ticket-holder must be presented for entrance, the fact that this has not been widely adopted only adds fuel to the fire of where most bands stand on the issue of secondary ticketing. Ricky Gervais’ direct and very public approach to the problem is perhaps an even better one, but without the buy-in of the largest touring acts around, the presence of the secondary ticketing market will only continue to grow, with prices becoming more and out of reach for those who want nothing more than to enjoy an evening of music by their favorite bands.

Joel Freimark hosts a daily music-related webseries HERE and you can follow his daily music musings and suggestions HERE as well.

Image: Showbiz 411