Flat White

No ticket, no start

16 October 2017

4:57 PM

16 October 2017

4:57 PM

What is the point of a Liberal government?

Tomorrow the New South Wales parliament will debate the Fair Trading Amendment (Ticket Scalping and Gift Cards) Bill. If the government is really unlucky, the Bill will pass; if they’re really lucky, no-one will look at the actual legislation or ask why its been drafted at all. You might think a government with nightclub lock-out laws and a greyhound abolition attempt on its record would take a bit more care with its legislative attempts, but not this lot — their persistence in the face of all the evidence is a triumph of incompetence over education.

If history repeats once as tragedy and twice as farce, then surely we’re now into the farcical stage for the NSW Liberal government.

You can’t knock the Minister, Matt Kean, for seeing a good media opportunity when it arises. “Ticket scalping”, after all, always gets a good dose of outrage ginned up among the 2GB-listening, Daily Telegraph-imbibing crowd. The tiny flaw in the Minister’s plan is that his legislation is only going to make things worse — seem familiar? — and the resultant impacts will drag the government down even further into the laughing-stock territory.

You see, the problem is that “scalping” isn’t actually the problem. The few tickets that end up being re-sold on Ebay or the like are a miniscule fraction of the tickets on sale at any major event. The problem is major ticket agencies like Ticketek, sporting codes like the NRL and concert promoters like Frontier Touring engaging in anti-competitive, anti-consumer behaviour and getting away with it again, and again, and again, and again.

Don’t take this column’s word for it. Consumer advocates CHOICE magazine, in their report into major event ticketing, said,

Overall, CHOICE does not consider there is currently a strong case for interventionist regulation of ticket resale. Rather, CHOICE [recommends a] focus on the following issues:

i. the market power of primary market ticket sellers and the actual or potential extension of this power into vertically related markets such as event promotion and any new secondary ticket sale markets.

Or if you like, take the word of the NSW Parliament – yes, that’s right – who less than three years ago looked at such legislation and concluded it was unworkable and unnecessary. Rather, the upper house report found that the major problem was… primary ticketing agencies, event promoters and major sporting codes, who manipulated prices, sequestered thousands of tickets at every event for corporate partners, refused to disclose the number of shows on sale or tickets available, re-sold their own tickets at higher prices and so on and so forth.

Here’s an example of how it works. Do a search for Bruno Mars tickets on Ticketek (if you’re lucky enough to get through to the website). Tickets were selling well, so halfway through the sale, up went the ‘Sold Out’ sign — with all the remaining tickets now rolled into vastly inflated ‘packages’. What a shame; now there are only packages available at $590 each. And what do you get in your package? A lanyard and early entry to the gig.  But here’s the kicker: there are plenty of cheaper unpackaged seats available through secondary resale sites for significantly cheaper, which, under the proposed Bill, will all be illegal — the market has been substituted for an institutional oligopoly and the punter pays the bill.

The upper house Report two years ago said it very plainly;

The  committee  questioned  the  sporting  codes  on  their  ticket  distribution  practices.  It  was acknowledged  by  Mr  David  Sykes,  Senior  Manager,  Strategy  and  Business  Development,  Australian Rugby  Union  that  a  significant  amount  of  tickets  were  provided  to  corporate  sponsors.  When  the committee requested specific information in relation to the release of tickets for sporting events, the committee was informed by the National Rugby League, Australian Rugby Union and Cricket Australia that information relating to ticket release, distribution and sales for their events was considered to be commercial-in-confidence).

Who’s the scalper now?

Despite all this, the Bill has no requirements placed on ticketing agencies, promoters or sporting codes for any kind of disclosure, and indeed specifically contains exemptions for corporate partnerships, ticket re-packaging and pricing practices.

So why has the Minister landed this Bill, at this time, with no committee scrutiny and no warning?

Well, the NSW parliament’s Register of Interests and disclosure reports, out today, might give a bit of a clue. That lesser media outlet the Telegraph covered it in some detail this week, reporting that,

VIP tickets to sold-out pop concerts, season passes to the opera, seats at sporting finals and even a bottle of Grange — it seems the perks of being a NSW pollie are better than ever.

While the rest of us are forced to battle for tickets online, the latest pecuniary interest register tabled in state parliament this week shows free seats to big events are just some of the perks worth thousands of dollars given to MPs.

The NRL topped the list of ­donors.

Oh. I see.

The report goes on, unfortunately for the government,

[Minister] Stuart Ayres, who also holds the WestConnex and Western Sydney portfolios, received 84 freebies, from double passes to major sports events such as the Bledisloe Cup, NRL grand final and State of Origin, to the opening nights of Disney’s Aladdin, My Fair Lady and The Bobby Darin Musical… In between musicals, Mr Ayres also made time for Crowded House and Adele in concert…

Premier Gladys Berejiklian outed herself as an Adele fan, while also attending the Ed Shee­ran concert, Bodyguard The ­Musical, and the opera Carmen.

She received tickets to the ballet, Aladdin and Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza, while also accepting passes to the Australia-Pakistan cricket matches and the State of Origin.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance disclosed Adele and Crowded House tickets, while Finance Minister Victor Dominello received 16 tickets to the opera, six ticket to the ballet, six to the symphony, six Sydney Festival tickets and two tickets to the cricket…

Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward indulged her love of opera with tickets to Cosi Fan Tutte, Simon Boccanegra, Carmen, La Boheme, Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci and Tosca.

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet received tickets to the Australian Open Tennis and Attorney-General Mark Speakman was given passes to the cricket and opening nights of La Boheme and Carmen.

A cross-referencing of those events with their respective promoters and ticketing agencies makes for a fun game of bingo. You can print out the below list and play along in the office, if you like:

  • Bledisloe Cup: NRL / Ticketek
  • NRL Grand Final: NRL / Ticketek (Parent company TEG being the corporate hospitality provider)
  • State of Origin: NRL / Ticketek
  • Adele: Live Nation / Ticketmaster
  • Ed Sheeran: Frontier Touring / Ticketek
  • Australian v Pakistan cricket: Cricket Australia / Ticketek
  • Coldplay: Live Nation / Ticketek
  • Australian Open: Tennis Australia / Ticketek.

I’m shocked, shocked I say, to find lobbying going on in this fine establishment. As no doubt is everyone else used to the miserable state of NSW politics.

Liberal governments are at their best when they promote free-market economics with warily conservative social values. At their worst, however, they become social reactionaries whose economic policies do nothing but entrench the interests of established oligopolies and near-monopolies. There’s no evidence whatsoever to support this latest disaster from the NSW Liberals — just a string of free tickets and fancy corporate boxes leading inexorably to a bad piece of legislation, destined to fail.

Even the Victorian Labor government has resisted the lure of free tickets and limousine rides, preferring instead to ‘declare’ several major events to be legislatively prevented from ticket resale — and every declared event must disclose the number of tickets available, the number of corporate packages, the method of sale and so on and so forth. That the NSW Liberals can’t even manage this basic level of consumer protection shows yet again the lack of seriousness at the heart of the Berejiklian administration.

What, after all, is the point of a Liberal government?

Luke Walladge is a government relations consultant with the Ticket Brokers Association industry body based in Victoria.

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