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West End’s Hamilton employs revolutionary box office to foil touts

PUBLISHED: 08:29 27 January 2018 | UPDATED: 08:47 27 January 2018

Lin-Manuel Miranda and the company of Hamilton,  Picture: JOAN MARCUS

Lin-Manuel Miranda and the company of Hamilton, Picture: JOAN MARCUS

Ticket touts have long been a thorn in the side of the theatre and concert industry but recent advances in technology and outrageous prices being charged has brought action from the theatremakers themselves. Arts editor Andrew Clarke investigates.

Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, and Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton. Picture: JOAN MARCUSDaveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, and Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton. Picture: JOAN MARCUS

There’s nothing more annoying than spending hours on the phone (on hold) or on the computer (pressing refresh) being held in a queue for theatre or concert tickets only to discover that they are sold out.

The real frustration then sets in a couple of days later when you discover tickets to these so-called sold out events are being advertised for as much as ten times the face value ticket price on ticket re-sale websites.

The situation got really bad last year when tickets went on sale for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the hottest show in London. When it opened tickets were changing hands on resale sites for thousands of pounds.

Daveed Diggs (center), Anthony Ramos, Carleigh Bettiol, and Thayne Jasperson in Hamilton. Picture: JOAN MARCUSDaveed Diggs (center), Anthony Ramos, Carleigh Bettiol, and Thayne Jasperson in Hamilton. Picture: JOAN MARCUS

When Hamilton, theatre’s latest hot property, a hip-hop-rap musical about the War of Independence, opened on Broadway, the Harry Potter ticketing experience happened again. The official box-office was sold out and yet hundreds, if not thousands of tickets, were being offered on re-sale web-sites at vastly inflated prices.

A Parliamentary inquiry into the whole issue of ticket reselling was told that legitimate Harry Potter tickets with a face value of £99.50 were up for sale on a resale site within minutes at the price of £577.50 per ticket, Added to this was a processing fee of £104.59, per ticket taking the total to

£682.09.

Lin-Manuel Miranda (center) and the company of Hamilton. Picture: JOAN MARCUSLin-Manuel Miranda (center) and the company of Hamilton. Picture: JOAN MARCUS

This is nothing new in the world of rock and pop music, where ticket touts have been part of the landscape at concerts since the dawn of time, but it is the advent of the internet and ticket harvesting software that has taken the phenomenon of – what is now referred to as – secondary ticketing to a whole new level.

The re-sale of desirable tickets is big business and while, in the past, venues and promoters have been accused of doing too little to combat the problem of ticket re-sales, things are now changing.

The sight of whole banks of empty seats at sold-out concerts are being noticed by the bands and promoters. This was, apparently, particularly evident at Beyonce’s Wembley gig in the summer of 2016. The ticket touts aren’t worried about selling their entire stock because the mark-up is so great they only need to sell a small proportion of their ticket haul to make a healthy profit on the deal.

Tickets for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child were quickly on sale on resale sites within minutes of being sold. Photo: PATickets for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child were quickly on sale on resale sites within minutes of being sold. Photo: PA

Adele’s last O2 gigs were being offered to deep pocketed fans at an eye-watering £22,000 while £65 tickets to see Radiohead at London’s Roundhouse were being resold at £3,934. This is the result of ticket harvesting where sophisticated software is employed by professional touts to scoop up hundreds of tickets in a matter of minutes.

But, the empty seats and the move from concert venues into West End theatres has prompted theatrical promoters to take action.

Hamilton is the hottest ticket in London at the moment and theatrical entrepreneur Cameron Mackintosh didn’t want a situation like the one that plagued Harry Potter where real fans were unable to purchase tickets because the touts had got there first.

Ticket touts were offering tickets at vastly inflated prices for singer Adele's last tour. Photo: Joel Ryan/Invision/AP/PATicket touts were offering tickets at vastly inflated prices for singer Adele's last tour. Photo: Joel Ryan/Invision/AP/PA

His answer is a unique paperless ticketing system where a virtual electronic ticket is sent to the theatregoer’s phone providing the number and email matches the card being used to purchase the tickets.

Those wanting to collect tickets at the theatre are required to bring their bank card and photo ID to gain admission. The system has been developed by official booking agents Ticketmaster who claim this new system has all but eliminated touts.

Ticketmaster UK’s vice-president for theatre and comedy, Gary Roden, said: ”We’re really pleased that the credit-card entry system has all but eliminated ticket resale.”

Despite being sold out Beyonce's 2016 Wembley gig had vast areas of empty seats as ticket touts were unable to sell all their stock of over-priced tickets. Genuine fans were unable to afford the seats. Photo: Mark Humphrey/PA Photos.Despite being sold out Beyonce's 2016 Wembley gig had vast areas of empty seats as ticket touts were unable to sell all their stock of over-priced tickets. Genuine fans were unable to afford the seats. Photo: Mark Humphrey/PA Photos.

He added: “This is the first time this technology has been used in the West End and the first week has been exceptional, with patrons entering the venue very smoothly.”

Meanwhile the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is starting to flex its muscles and has warned that it will take action against secondary ticketing websites suspected of breaking consumer protection law.

They will also taking action against sites which engage in speculative selling – where businesses advertise tickets for sale that they do not yet own and therefore may not be able to supply.

Andrea Coscelli, CMA Chief Executive, said: “Secondary ticketing websites can offer an important service – by allowing people the chance to buy tickets at the last minute or giving them a chance to re-sell tickets they can no longer use. But our investigation has identified concerns that the law protecting consumers is being broken.

“Thousands of people use these sites and they have a right to know if there is a risk that they will be turned away at the door, who they’ve bought their ticket from or exactly what seat at the venue they’re getting for their money.”

Production firm Delfont Mackintosh has placed a strict ban on resale for Hamilton and fans are being warned they could face being sent away when they turn up for the show if their tickets came from a resale site.

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