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Extortionate prices for concert tickets:: The tricks of the ticket black-marketeers

Extortionate prices for concert tickets: : The tricks of the ticket black-marketeers

Organisers warn against dubious black marketeers on ticket sales platforms. Prices of more than 800 euros are already being charged for admission to the Robbie Williams concert in Bonn in May.

The advance sale lasted only a few minutes, in which 25,000 tickets for the Robbie Williams concert on the Hofgartenwiese were sold out, much to the disappointment of many fans who would have been only too happy to pay 64 euros to see the British superstar live. Then came the offers for remaining tickets on platforms such as Viagogo or Ticketbande. The last tickets, the very last, at astronomical prices, of course. But is that better than nothing? “I can only warn explicitly against such offers,” says organiser Ernst-Ludwig Hartz. “Because they are never serious. It cannot even be guaranteed that the tickets are genuine – that can only be determined when they are scanned on site.”

Exhorbitant prices, fakes, misleading: the list of accusations against Viagogo and other secondary market platforms is long. The Junge Theater in Beuel was also recently affected and yet the system as such, is not illegal. Officially, the mentioned websites serve as a kind of market place for private individuals who cannot or do not want to use their tickets for concerts, theatre, cabaret or sports events. “Millions of customers use Viagogo every year and return to buy and sell tickets,” the market leader advertises. But according to ZDF research, things behind the scenes of the ticket exchanges look very different. According to the report, certain traders are buying up the market of regular tickets on a large scale to create a shortage of supply. This enables them to drive up prices.

Currently, tickets for the sold-out Robbie Williams concert on 18 May cost between 222 and 831 euros, plus a booking fee of 15 per cent (plus taxes) and additional processing costs. “Strangely enough, there are always people willing to pay these prices,” says KunstRasen operator Hartz. “Of course, everyone has to decide for themselves.” The problem arises when a concert is cancelled – because a customer is only entitled to a refund of the official price, which is also shown on the ticket. “When we had to cancel Sting's concert last summer, for example, a couple approached me who had paid over 1,000 euros. But the tickets were only worth 160 euros.” This was a financial disaster for the two fans of the British singer, especially since Viagogo never acts as seller and there is no right of withdrawal for tickets anyway. “It always makes me angry,” Hartz says. “Once you've experienced something like this, you may never go to another concert again.”

There are ways to make business more difficult for black market traders. Artists such as Ed Sheeran or Rammstein have long relied on personalised tickets that cannot be easily transferred to third parties, which could cause problems for secondary sales platforms. According to a ruling by the Regional Court of Hanover, even supplying sales offers of such tickets at a price more than 25 per cent above the normal price is anti-competitive – a ruling that Viagogo criticises when asked by the General Anzeige. “It is only for reasons of preventing competition that event organisers try to limit the resale of tickets by setting price caps,” explains a company spokesperson. “We consider this practice to be highly anti-competitive and unenforceable.”

In any case, the judgment only applies to tickets that can be clearly assigned to a buyer – and this has its own problems. “Personalised tickets are relatively costly to manage and control,” says Hartz. “That's why we decided against them at our concerts.” Other organisers are having success with them, however. “We started using it eleven or twelve years ago,” explains Pantheon spokesman Harald Kirsch, “and our regular customers have become accustomed to it; about 80 per cent of our tickets are personalised, but we don’t have to check thousands of them.” Only rarely do guests come who have ordered tickets through Viagogo and not received any – according to the company itself, sellers only receive their money anyway “when the buyers have successfully gained access to the event”. “What I find much worse is that these sellers write that an event is practically sold out, when this is not true at all”, says Kirsch, “This artificial scarcity is especially hard on small artists who are dependent on each guest”. Annoyingly, these ticket sales sites always appear at the top of Google’s search results, so many people get the impression that they can’t get hold of regular tickets and Google charges extra for the prominent placement.

In the opinion of consumer advice centres, visiting established advance booking offices such as Bonnticket or Eventim is therefore still the best, safest and usually also the cheapest way to obtain concert tickets.

(Original text; Thomas Kölsch, translation John Chandler)