Perhaps the promoters of today's Big Day Out at Mt Smart Stadium should take it as the ultimate compliment. So successful has the rock festival become that it is now attracting scalpers, one of whom advertised a single ticket on internet auction site Trade Me for $550, five times its face value. This reflects the degree of interest in an event that has sold out on three previous occasions, but this year achieved that status in record time. The 40,000 tickets that went on sale on October 31 were all sold in the first week of January, and a further 2000 made available this week also sold out.
Promoter Campbell Smith, while doubtless savouring those figures, is much less enamoured by the ticket scalpers' presence. Like New Zealand rugby administrators during the 2005 British and Irish Lions tour and many other event organisers before him, he has waved his arms about, making vague threats about tackling those holding scalped tickets. But he knows he is essentially powerless. Going down the retaliation track risks a verdict like that by an Australian federal court, which ruled last year that the promoter of the New South Wales Big Day Out could not counter scalping by cancelling tickets resold on a website.
Nonetheless, Mr Smith has valid concerns. Scalpers threaten promoters who want to keep ticket prices affordable for the long-standing fans of their event.
Their activity is not, as they would have it, a victimless meeting of a demand that exists after supply has been exhausted. Nor can it be excused by saying that no one is forcing a buyer to pay five times the face value of a ticket. Scalpers who buy tickets in bulk, or through intermediaries, inhibit promoters' ability to sell tickets to true fans of an entertainment or sport, and at the price they want them to pay. The sophisticated use of internet sites has increased the chances of this happening. Scalping is no longer a matter of shady characters hovering outside an event with a few tickets to sell.
Governments worldwide are trying to address the issue. In Queensland, the resale of tickets for more than 10 per cent above face value has been banned. Here, legislation is pending. The Major Events Management Bill, which was introduced last month, outlaws the sale of tickets to a major event for more than the original sale price, as well as imposing ambush-marketing protections. Scalpers face a fine of up to $5000.
The bill has been driven largely by New Zealand's hosting of the Rugby World Cup in 2011 and its co-hosting of the 2015 Cricket World Cup. But the outbreak of scalping for the Big Day Out, and its occurrence at other entertainment events such as Mission Estate concerts, suggest the definition of a "major event" should not be linked purely to sport. Queensland's anti-scalping law extends to rock concerts and the like. The same should apply here. Clear definition will be required in this and other aspects of the legislation. If so, there is a good prospect of curbing scalping on internet sites, even if stopping it altogether is far more problematic.
Promoters could, of course, achieve this themselves by hiking the price of their tickets. That would drive down demand and ramp up their profits - provided they judged the market correctly. In one respect, this would represent a logical short-term marketing response. But it would also deny affordable tickets to genuine fans. That is not a path any promoter with an eye on the long term would contemplate. Next year's Big Day Out will need those fans if it does not have such strong acts as The Killers and My Chemical Romance. Looking after them, with the help of an anti-scalping law, is only sensible.