Thursday, 14 February 2019
Prohibition of Above-cost Ticket Touting Bill 2017: Second Stage (Resumed)
On the previous occasion we debated the Bill, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan expressed concern over the threat to jobs, particularly in her area. As I believe there will always be a need for resale, I do not see how there could be a threat to jobs there. Part of me liked the old system whereby one queued up for tickets and got them there and then. The abuses have come with online sales in particular. I know it is easy for me to go to a venue to buy a ticket because I live in Dublin. As the same is not true for those who do not live in Dublin, I know the value of them there.
The tickets for certain sports events, music shows and acts in Ireland can be at extortionate prices in many instances. We can see the inflated prices people have to pay here when we compare prices for venues in other European cities. In some instances it was more than double the price to attend a particular gig in Ireland than it was in other European cities. I have met people from Ireland who will go to other cities for those events because it is cheaper, even allowing for buying a plane ticket and accommodation. That can also apply to football matches.
Even though the GAA have not applied a price increase in a number of years, prices of €45 to stand on Hill 16 and €90 to sit in the stands for an All-Ireland final are a bit over the top. That is before we come to the subject we are discussing, which is touting which exacerbates the problem in Ireland. The underlying issue is the actual cost of tickets in Ireland at the inflated prices. The sporting bodies, artists and promoters all have a responsibility to address this. We hear about certain so-called stars and acts making really outlandish demands which lead to prices being increased. While it is not covered by the Bill, it is worth mentioning. It is part of the reason for paying more in Ireland than in other European cities. While the price can be high enough, it becomes way above and that is even before the tout gets his or her hands on the tickets.
It is infuriating when we learn that a match or a concert is sold out. I live between the 3 Arena and Croke Park and I see touts out on the streets in the vicinity of an event selling tickets at extortionate prices. We have many examples of that. If the Bill can do something about that, it is to be welcomed. The Bill seems practical, with the sensible aim of tackling touting of tickets above face value, particularly those being sold at vastly above face value. We know the extent when even reputable ticket sales companies have websites such as the much-publicised Seatwave to resell tickets at ridiculous prices. I hope the Bill will give a layer of protection for the purchaser.
I know the Bill is based on a Belgian model. As Belgium is in the EU, this is compatible with EU law. I understand it has had a positive effect in Belgium. It is not the first attempt to introduce this type of legislation. It was proposed previously, but hopefully it has a better chance now. It will be illegal for anyone engaging in an organised way to block-book tickets and resell them for profit, which is positive.
Up to now touting was a relatively small venture albeit that particular events had significant mark-ups. However, we are now seeing extortionate touting. It is no longer a small venture: it is a massive profit-making enterprise whereby the mainstream websites will sell out in seconds and the bulk of the tickets are then transferred to secondary websites, ironically in a notable case one owned by the mainstream seller. It is not small-scale resale: it is an industry that seeks to profit at the expense of those who wish to attend events. Those involved in this industry contribute nothing to the team or artist involved in or the promotion or organisation of the event.
Seatwave, which was acquired by Ticketmaster in November 2014, allows fans who missed out on sold-out gigs to purchase official tickets. That is what it claims and that sounds good. It allows fans to sell their tickets even within minutes of purchase and charges a 10% success fee on sales. Whatever about selling a ticket a few days later, a week later or a month later when one realises that an event clashes with something else, selling it minutes later would certainly raise alarm bells. An amount of 10% may sound okay, but the reality is that in some instances it has been more than 100%.
We know this is about the online sales of tickets, but we can go further with online selling which is totally unregulated. I refer to my own particular interest in animal welfare. Puppies are being sold online with false advertising in many cases. Some of the advertisements are fronts for the dog-breeding establishments, in other words the puppy farms. That is another example of online selling with exploitation of the buyer, which is what this Bill is about. I know that has not come into it, but I just wanted to mention it.
Paying over the odds for a particular event is reprehensible. We know the pressure people can be under to source a ticket for a particular event, match or act they want to see. That is very sad when they do their best to buy a ticket in a reputable way online and then because they are all already gone, the pressure is on to pay above the odds. The Bill seeks to ensure that ticket sales will be conducted in a fair and transparent way, away from the shady industry that has grown up in respect of online sales and also the tout on the street. I hope the Bill will make it better for the genuine fan. I know in the grand scale of things other very important legislation needs to go through. However, this issue has been let slide and left to fester for far too long. Of course, the question is whether it will be effective. There are concerns that it will not be effective and that amendments will be introduced to ensure it will not make much difference. However, it is worth considering. We need to get this right to bring fairness for people who want to attend events, whether they are music gigs or sporting events.
Sure, you never know.
I find this a strange Bill. Members have a responsibility to introduce good legislation and we should avoid introducing legislation with little substance. I do not believe this legislation will be workable and, on that basis, I am not very fond of it.
Deputy Clare Daly and I are members of the Committee on Justice and Equality. We have witnessed a few Bills coming through the place that really should not be coming through it. They do not amount to good legislation. One of them is obviously the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. We had five different sessions on it and I think it will make things worse rather than better. Recently, we also had a Bill on sexual offences which does not really stack up and there is not much rationale behind it. It provided judges with an out in the context that they ignore it if they feel like it, which renders the legislation useless. I do not see the point of introducing legislation like that.
I followed the debate when the Bill was introduced and I noticed that amendments are due to be introduced. It would have been good to see what they are. We are talking about a Bill where the amendments could change it pretty dramatically, or maybe they will not, but we do not know. I would like to see them. Concern was raised about people ending up out of work because of the Bill. I do not want to put anyone out of work either. While I may be reading it wrong, some of the very large organisations that engage in ticket selling are obviously the ones that employ most people.
Are we going to jig this around in such a way as to leave them alone? Will we just hit the smaller entities? We are either going to control the price of tickets or we are not. To be honest, I am not actually in favour of this Bill and in that context, I am not threatening anyone's job. I do not think this Bill is workable, for a number of reasons.
I seriously do not like paying over the odds for a ticket. I really do not like it. I could write a book about buying tickets. I have been to nine World Cups and I usually go from start to finish, and the same with European Championships. I have attended nine European Championships and been at nearly 30 Champion's League finals. Most of the time I have gone without tickets and have bought them outside the stadia but I do not like getting charged over the odds. I remember going to a Champion's League final in 1992. The game, between Sampdoria and Barcelona, was in Wembley Stadium. Barcelona won one-nil. The goal was scored in the 87th minute by Ronald Koeman from a direct free kick. I was shouting for the Italians. It was Sampdoria's first excursion to the final. The team is from Genoa-----
Very good. Liam Brady played there for a while. Anyway, myself and four other fellas went to the match but we had no tickets. Obviously, we had to buy tickets outside the grounds but in England it is illegal to sell tickets outside, even at cost price and not to mention over the odds. We thought that it would be difficult but the selling goes on in the same way as it does here, even though it is illegal. The cops were around, watching to see if people were buying tickets. There were five of us and I was the one who was going to do the bartering. I was probably the shyest of the five but I was good at buying tickets. Deputies should have seen the other four. The tickets cost £20 each. I got five tickets for £30 each, meaning that we paid 50% more or £10 above the odds for each ticket. No sooner did I get the tickets into my possession than a policeman came over and took them off me. I was not impressed because there was no way I was going to be able to get more tickets. First, we did not have any more money. We were in a Hiace van and were sleeping in it for the night. We parked it up about a kilometre from the stadium on a piece of grass where there was no legal parking. There is a great story about that. We were sleeping in the van. It was May and it was a really warm night. Asics runners had just come into fashion and one of the lads, Eugene White, had spent a fortune on a pair of Asics. We said-----
We insisted that all of the runners would go under the van. Otherwise, there would be a smell in the van. Eugene said that he was not throwing his runners under the van because he had just bought them. We said that we would not have them in the van but he said that nobody would throw his runners out and that he was sleeping in his runners, in the van. We had to put up with the smell of them. He went to sleep and someone grabbed his runners and threw them out the back door of the van. We had to leave the back door of the Hiace van open because it was so warm. In the morning, four of us-----
In the morning, the four pairs of shoes that were under the van were safe but Eugene's were gone. He lost his Asics and had to come home in his bare feet. It was a harsh lesson. He should have done what he was told in the first instance. There is a debate still going on as to who actually threw the runners out. If I told Deputies, I would have to kill them so I will not tell.
Sorry, to get back to the policeman. When he took the tickets from me I pleaded with him. I told him that we had just come over from Ireland for the match and asked him to give them back to me. He said no because it was illegal. In the end, I had to cry to get the tickets back. I cried my eyes out but at least he gave them back to me. It worked and he gave them back and I was actually glad that it was possible to buy tickets, even if they were £10 too much. If it had been impossible to buy tickets there, I would not have been to the game. If it was totally impossible to sell the tickets for more than £20, I would not have gotten in to the match.
On the issue of inflation, I was at the World Cup in Mexico in 1986. I went to 16 matches out there and I bought tickets outside the grounds for most of them. We were staying in a hotel in the middle of Mexico City for $1 per night. It was actually a nice place. The prices were pretty low at the time and the tickets for the games were priced at around £4. We got tickets outside every ground right up to the quarter final. The stadiums were pretty full. The Azteca is the one in Mexico City and it holds 114,580, all sitting down. It is the finest stadium on the planet; it is amazing. There is an English language newspaper printed in Mexico and it was advertising tickets for the quarter finals, the semi-final and final. The advertisement said "reasonable" prices so we decided to check it out because we thought it might be harder to get tickets outside the grounds. We were getting cold feet, even though we had been successful up until then. We decided to go along and see what it was like. We went to the address on the advertisement, which was a hotel with about 30 floors. It was the finest hotel in Mexico City. When we went in we saw lots of big FIFA banners and realised that it was actually the FIFA hotel. The touts were American. We asked where the tickets were for sale and were told it was in room 372. We got into the lift and went up to room 372 and could not believe the tickets that were in there. Now, FIFA is rotten to the core but hat is hardly news to anyone here. The tickets were literally being sold by members of FIFA to these touts at a profit and they were obviously making money on them too. The stacks-----
The tickets were piled high for every section of every ground for the quarter finals, semi-finals and the final. It is not that I did not suspect that FIFA was corrupt before then but that was the last straw. My God. Obviously, plenty of them lost their jobs in later years when they were exposed for being crooks. As I was saying, the tickets were about £4 and we ended up paying around £6 or £7 for them. Obviously, it was a big profit for them at the time.
I do not like paying too much for tickets but having said that, I find this legislation a bit ridiculous. If Dublin plays Mayo in an all-Ireland final, which it usually does, there will be tickets going for €500 or even €1,000. That is ridiculous but there are hotel rooms in the town that are normally around €80 or €100 but on the weekend of the all-Ireland final, those rooms cost €500. If we are going to control the price of the ticket, which is not such a bad idea if we could make it happen, are we going to control the price of hotel rooms too?
Maybe Deputies think that is okay because that is the market at work but the guy selling the tickets also thinks that is the market at work.
As I said before, I hate paying above the odds for a ticket and I generally do not do it.
If I cannot get it for a fair price, I do not go in. There is something seriously wrong that we have no control in this area, in the same way as we have little control over the insurance industry. It is not properly regulated. Motor insurance in Ireland is three times more than it is in Italy for a similar car.
As mentioned by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan if Bruce Springsteen comes to town the price of a ticket is more than double what it is when he plays in the San Siro, the football stadium in Milan where he plays on his European tour. The tickets are over double the price in Dublin. Maybe the Government thinks that is fine as well. As pointed out by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, there is serious extortion on the face value of tickets. Maybe we should do something about that.
This legislation will not achieve what it says on the tin because the guy who is selling rugby tickets for €500 each for Irish games will sell the tickets at face value and give a lunch voucher with them and charge through the nose for the lunch. Also, where a person applies to a company for two tickets for a rugby match and the company selling them wants to charge €1,000 for the pair even though the original price per ticket was €120 the seller will put a pen in with the tickets and charge a crazy price for the pen and face value for the tickets. How will the Government handle that? Is there a way around it?
As I said earlier, I think we should be wary of introducing legislation that we cannot make stand up. I do not see how this is going to work. I am curious to see the Government amendments and what impact they might have. I do not know whether some people will be able to make money by selling on tickets or if everybody will be stopped from making money from selling on tickets. Perhaps someone will fill me in on that. This is a difficult area.
It is illegal to sell drugs in this town. Does the Government believe that if we make it illegal to charge over the face value for a ticket it will stop it happening? I do not. They never sold as much whiskey in America as they did when they made it illegal. Sales went through the roof. It was illegal but sales were magnificent. I believe in legalising the drugs trade. I think it is nuts that it is illegal to sell drugs in this town and yet every Tom, Dick and Harry can get them. It is the easiest thing in the world to get them even though it is illegal. I know a young fella who was sick as a dog last weekend. He bought hash and it was badly contaminated by some other substance and it almost poisoned him. We should regulate the drugs industry. We should legalise and tax the sale and import of drugs and bring it under the umbrella of Government. We sell alcohol. There is hardly a day goes by that I do not have a drink so I have no problem with alcohol. I have not heard a good argument as to why we continue to make the sale of drugs illegal. By regulating the industry, we could control the quality of the drugs and stop people selling inferior or contaminated products and we could impose high taxes on them, in the same way as we do on cigarettes.