We must fight ticket touts in the arts

Tickets for the Donmar Warehouse’s hugely popular Coriolanus, starring Hollywood A-lister Tom Hiddleston, are being re-sold online for more than GBP2,000. We must act to stop ticket touting in the arts, says Michael Nabarro 

Today’s BBC story (‘Theatres struggle with ticket resale at inflated prices’) highlights an ongoing and hugely distressing problem for the arts sector: what to do about ticket touting, whether it takes place online or in the shadows of a venue car park.

Fury erupts whenever tickets for popular performances turn up on a re-sale website at 100x the face value. The anger – understandable as it is – tends to unfairly tar everyone involved.

The truth is this: legal strictures, current industry practice and out-of-date technology make it very difficult for theatres to fight back. Three things need to happen if ticket touts are going to be banished from the arts sector.

In the near term, Westminster must legislate. Changes to the law have successfully undercut the profitability of football touting by making it illegal to sell-on a match ticket for anything but face value. In most cases returning the ticket to the club or venue for refund is the most sensible, and sometimes the only, option for buyers when plans change.

Next, theatres must make it easier for customers to return tickets for refund. The technology exists now to make instant credit to a customer’s debit card fast and seamless. There are commercial reasons why smaller theatres may find this difficult, but in the long term, warm customer relationships help drive return attendance and community engagement.

Longer-term, the sector should experiment with demand-led pricing. There are clearly people willing to pay a premium for certain performances. Why not allocate a few choice seats and dates for those willing to pay higher prices? Done with care and on a limited basis there is no reason why it should affect access or standard pricing. It also means that the additional revenue generated will stay with the theatre.

Michael Nabarro is co-founder of Spektrix.
Photo: Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus © Johan Persson