Liam Andrews is a former Conservative Parliamentary staffer, and is a Party member in Milton Keynes.
So the FA Cup Final is over. And after two amazing comeback stories, we have an all-England Champions League final – the first in more than a decade, with one of last year’s finalists, Liverpool, taking on first-time finalists, Tottenham Hotspur. But the debate in recent days hasn’t been about whether Mohamed Salah will be fit, or if Tottenham can step up on the world’s biggest stage: perhaps bizarrely, it has been all about the free market.
There was justified outrage when it was announced that only 20 per cent of the 67,000 capacity Estadio Metropolitano stadium would be made available to the two sets of fans. Before the final two teams had even been confirmed, 8,000 seats had been put aside for hospitality (around 12 per cent of the stadium), 20 per cent were set aside for UEFA, and the vast majority of the remainder allocated to sponsors and partners.
The consequence is that if you are a Liverpool or Tottenham fan it is close to impossible to experience one of the most amazing nights in the footballing calendar. Cue the predictable headlines during the run-up to June 1st: “Champions League Final tickets go for £10,000+”; “resale rip off”; “fans pay over the odds” = with the blame firmly at the door of such resale platforms as Viagogo and Stub Hub. But is the problem really the secondary ticketing market?
Venues and event managers love to blame the free market for the resale of their tickets. The images of Ed Sheeran’s manager cancelling tickets that had been bought through Viagogo at one of his concerts last year is exhibit number one. They argue it allows for inflated prices and is unfair for fans. Wrong.
First, because it is the primary market that fails fans at big events. The idea that just 20 per cent of tickets for the Champions League Final would be made available to fans is outrageous. Sadly, it is by no means unique. During this summer’s ICC Cricket World Cup, for example, only a small amount of tickets were made available through the ICC’s ballot. The hogging of tickets by venues, organisers and sponsors destroys the hope of fans who dream of attending the once-in-a-lifetime experience events – the fans who are the foundation of the sport and music industries. Furthermore, a big chunk of those sponsors’ tickets will find their way onto the world wide web. A day after the release of tickets, a hospitality ticket for the Champions League Final was going for a whopping £26,000. It is the primary market that drives the demand for resale tickets.
Second, there is principled free market issue here. When a commodity is scarce, the price goes up. Simple supply and demand. The tickets for the world’s biggest music and sporting events are often well under-priced at general sale. If you were to ask a Liverpool fan what they would be willing to pay for a ticket at the back of the main stand at Estadio Metropolitano, the answer would be a lot more than the face value of £60. Value is subjective, and the secondary ticketing market plays a valuable role in allowing those fans frozen out of the primary market to get access to events: they have the freedom of choice to decide if they pay the price.
Let’s not forget that the primary market plays the game, too. Of the 20 per cent of tickets which have been made available to the clubs, there is a big range in pricing, from £60 up to £530 – so even in the allocation there is a market-making component which filters down to the secondary pricing structure. There will, of course, be those who will try to make money from buying and selling individual tickets ,and I think we would all agree it is unfair on fans. But, when supply is so limited at the source, that is inevitable.
There is also a very interesting parallel to be drawn. As soon as it became clear that the whole of Liverpool would be emptying to watch the game in the pubs and clubs of Madrid, airlines wasted no time in hiking their prices. EasyJet is charging £751 to fly from Liverpool John Lennon Airport – a flight which would have cost £260 before Divock Origi’s 79th minute goal against Barcelona. If we accept a live pricing system for flights that allows for fluctuation in price depending on demand, why do we not for secondary ticketing?
So over the coming weeks, when you are reading the stories about tickets going for a fortune on Viagogo, or someone getting buyer’s regret after a late-night purchase of a £20,000 ticket, remember that the secondary ticketing market is a free market like any other. The inevitable criticism of resale platforms is both frustrating and just wrong. Critical attention needs to be directed far more to the dealings of the primary market. Let’s not forget the days before these secondary ticketing platforms – the dodgy bloke outside a stadium offering a ticket with zero guarantee it was real, or with the possibility that he would try to rob it back as soon as he sold it to you.
To Liverpool and Tottenham fans alike, if you are one the lucky ones to have a ticket, have an amazing time!