Opinion: Paul McGuinness's insight into bots, touting and band fan clubs was fascinating
by Jim Carroll, Irish Times
Sometimes the answers you're after come from the most unlikely sources. Former U2 manager Paul McGuinness spoke with former Dire Straits manager Ed Bicknell at the International Live Music Conference in London earlier this month. Here were two former high-profile managers chewing the fat over their years in the music business with choice anecdotes for everyone in the audience.
Both McGuinness and Bicknell are astute, experienced players who operated for many years at the very top of the business. They also know that their comments will be circulated beyond the attendance of live music agents and promoters.
Certainly, many ears would have pricked up when the conversation moved to the issue of ticket sales and touting, as McGuinness' former charges U2 have seen sizeable quantities of tickets for their upcoming Joshua Tree tour end up on sites used by touts.
The question has always been exactly how these tickets end up there in the first place. One area of interest is the number of tickets allocated for a pre-release sale to the band's fan club. After all, if a huge number of tickets are allocated to the fan club (on top of tickets to sponsors and venue holds), this leaves less tickets on sale to the general public. It might also explain where the touts and their bots are getting the tickets.
But getting an answer from U2 about this has proven difficult. I've asked their PR rep on three separate occasions since January about the number of tickets sold in the fan club presale process for their Croke Park show, and have yet to receive an answer.
But McGuinness had no such reticence and had lots to say about fan clubs and bots. He said that certain promoters, managers and acts - the reference was not to U2 - are involved in touting.
"I know there's a sense of unfairness in the air," he told Bicknell. "People go online to buy a ticket and think they have an equal chance of getting that ticket. If two minutes later, they see the same tickets being scalped, it's a miserable feeling.
"It has to be acknowledged that certain promoters, certain managers and certain acts connive at this. You could say it's unfair that members of the U2 fan club get a two-day jump on the rest of the public." Some members of u2.com are bot operators, he said.
That McGuinness is publicly acknowledging the ease with which touts can run riot with fan club allocations is fascinating. After wading through the obfuscation from the live industry about how tickets get to the touts in the first place, hearing McGuiness pin the blame on certain fan clubs, promoters, managers and acts is refreshing.
It remains to be seen what happens next. McGuinness admitted that he didn't have the answer and there are several investigations and inquiries under way on the subject.
"I don't really know what to do about it. There's good scalping and bad scalping. If you sell four tickets at face value to a college student at $100 each and when the gig takes place six months later the market value for that ticket is $300. Who is going to say to that college student, 'You're not entitled to sell that ticket and make a profit?'
"It's very hard to address fairly. It's a market that defies regulation. I have never seen a comprehensive proposal to deal with this fairly and where do you stop? Will it then extend to Wimbledon and football matches? Are you going to clean up the whole of the ticket economy?"
The inquiries include the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) here, which commenced an investigation earlier this year into "suspected breaches of competition law in relation to the provision of tickets and the operation of ticketing services for live events".
In the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority has launched an inquiry into secondary ticketing, while the House of Commons' Culture, Media and Sport Committee has been looking into ticket abuse, including digital ticket harvesting and reselling. The latter includes calls to criminalise the misuse of bots to bulk-buy tickets and forcing touting sites like Get Me In and Seatwave to identify ticket touts and differentiate those sellers from ordinary fans.
One thing that should also be examined is the effect of conflicts of interest on the market. In the case of U2, the same corporate entity Live Nation is promoting the tour, managing the band, flogging the tickets (via Ticketmaster) and operating two of the biggest secondary ticket markets (Seatwave and Get Me In). Does all of this have an effect on the market? It's time to find out.
© 2017 The Irish Times