Outraged at the rates scalpers are charging for Garth Brook’s tickets, Jamie Goldrick rifles through the back pockets of ticket tout culture.
The support act has just finished, a fan has been trying to sell a spare ticket to anyone who is looking. A tout approaches, “I’ll give ya 25 quid”. The punter replies, “no thanks”, “who ya going to sell it to then, the support has just finished?” the tout snaps back. “Not you anyways” says the punter, who turns walking into the venue, shoving the spare ticket into their arse pocket…
What makes a person indulge in this apparently irrational economical behaviour, seemingly throwing away €25? Is the commodity of the concert ticket so special? Almost every other item is privy to the laws of supply and demand, including life’s necessities: food, shelter and clothing. Yet we appear to have it in for ticket touts.
I arrive at the Blur concert just as the gates open, the concert hasn’t sold out. Face value of the tickets is €68.50, the touts are selling tickets for €50, €18.50 below cost. As I stand outside the gig, I hear punters muttering about touts as they pass them by, “ticket wanker”, “fuck-off”… I hear the roar as Blur evidently come on stage and hear the all too familiar opening bars of “Girls and Boys”.
I get talking to one of the touts:
“What we do is supply a service, if you buy a ticket from ticketmaster, that’s it, you can’t get a refund. We give people a refund that they otherwise can’t get. Yeah, we buy the ticket for €30, but that’s €30 more than you’ll get off Ticketmaster, robbing bastards.”
This argument has the touts supplying a service, acting as brokers, matching up people in need of a ticket with those you don’t (for a nice cut of course). But let’s face it, who wants to stand outside a gig, looking to flog a spare ticket, when all your mates are inside drinking naggins? Are the touts not showing the sort of entrepreneurial flair that this little island (apparently) so desperately needs? Brokering deals on excess tickets and converting spare tickets into cash.
To the touts, the gig is a market place. Everybody from the stage set-up, to the bartenders pulling pints, to the performers are getting paid. Surplus value is created in almost every aspect of the production of a gig, why shouldn’t the touts get a piece of the pie? Maybe all we have is a simple misunderstanding on our hands? The touts see this space as a market, the punters don’t.
Touting has now progressed beyond simply selling on the street. According to the Daily Telegraph it has been given an apparent “respectable face” by Viagogo. The multinational Swiss based ticket-reselling firm who have raised €65 million in venture capital from investors. As of 2009 Viagogo had operations in 50 countries and have secured “exclusive secondary ticket partnerships” with football clubs such as Chelsea, Fulham and Manchester City.
A quick search on Viagogo.co.uk shows that they charge up to 30% “handling charges” per transaction. Does this “respectable face” now come from the fact that the working stiff is now no longer being screwed by the tout on the street, but by those in control of capital? A normalisation of the proper social order, if you will?
I interviewed “Alan” from toutless.com on the topic and asked him what exactly was the problem.
“Gig goers identify themselves as a community, they sell to others like them at face value when they can, because they know they would love to be in that same position of getting a hard to get ticket without being gouged”.
For the crowd, sharing the same space, having the same experience, at the same time, is an integral part of the experience. At a Glen Hansard concert in the Iveagh Gardens, Glen remarked “thanks for coming, for without you, its just five lads playing instruments looking at each other”. Hansard may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but the point is that it does not matter where you are – you can be necking yokes at dawn at The Field, doing keys of K at Fuck Buttons or watching Iarla O’Liaonard down at the Unitarian church – there is a sanctity that exists in the experience itself.
So while market forces come into play to produce a gig, any further capitalising on this commodity is taboo.Whether that capitalisation comes from the tout on the street or multinational company it is irrelevant. The price of the ticket is set, the ticket is not for profiteering, it is above that.
There is a value inherent in the experience which cannot be quantified, to try and capitalise on experience would be to degrade it. Margaret Thatcher once infamously said that “there is no society, just individuals and their families”. Yet if we return back to the punter in the introduction who refused to sell his ticket to a tout, our attitude towards the touts debunks the myth of the maximising individual who will engage in rational economic behaviour to anybody outside their social group.
Or maybe our problem with the tout is just down to base economics. A limited amount of tickets go on sale and they sell out. When Leonard Cohen comes to town, there are just four thousand tickets and that’s it. Maybe the real problem people have is not with the touts themselves. It is a frustration at capitalism, of not being able to create a limitless amount of commodities, and this frustration is then manifested towards the tout.
For example, how many people do you know with a smart phone? It seems like there is an infinite amount of them. In today’s age of flexible accumulation, capitalism has the ability to make sure that supply meets demand, thus giving the illusion of apparent infinity.
In this light, can we look at the tout as a prophet of sorts, warning us of the fallacy of infinite growth and the limits of capitalism many of us choose not to see? The tout is the fall guy inadvertently shining a light on an issue. It is the tout who falls on their sword time and time again, inadvertently warning us that we are killing our planet through conspicuous consumption. Or not.