ABOUT TICKET AGENCIES
A ticket agent operates on behalf of its clients to provide tickets for a wide range of events. Agents serve many types of client, including individuals, businesses wanting tickets for their own clients or staff, and group organisers putting together large parties for theatre or other entertainment events.
Providing the facilities and staff to deliver a high standard of service is too difficult can be too costly for many entertainment producers, venues and promoters on their own, so using a range of ticket agents ensures distribution of tickets and helps consumers to buy them as easily as possible. It would be uneconomical and consequently more expensive for the customer if each venue tried to provide the required level of service on its own.
Just as there are many types of customer, there are also many types of agent to meet their needs, with agents specialising in group sales, hotel and inbound tourist sales, corporate business, discounts and special offers, 24-hour call centres and internet sales. Some agents also specialise in specific sectors of the entertainment industry, such as sport, theatre or music.
Retailers are those who have some direct responsibility for the event for which tickets are being sold. This may be as a venue, a producer or a promoter. Most retailers will be venue box offices.
Tickets for entertainment events are often sold in a variety of ways: for example, from a venue’s box office – by phone, online and to personal customers – and through ticket agencies, mainly online and by phone and to personal customers. In London, tickets are also often available through the concierges of major hotels, who act as sub-agents for some of the bigger agencies.
You may come across the terms “primary” and “secondary” ticket agencies, especially in press comments or articles, though these terms are not generally used by agents as a means of identifying themselves.
A primary ticket agency obtains its allocation of tickets for an event directly from the venue, promoter or producer, with whom it has a direct contractual arrangement to sell tickets to the public. As well as advertising events on their own websites or promotional material, in many cases – especially for music festivals and tours of major artists – the primary agency (or agencies) selling tickets will also be advertised by the event organiser. Sometimes one or more agencies will be the only outlets for ticket sale authorised by the venue or promoter apart from the venue’s own box office (or in place of it, if the venue has no box office of its own, as is often the case with festivals).
When you buy from a primary agency you are buying from an outlet which has a direct line of accountability to the even organiser or the venue. In many cases, your ticket(s) will be printed on the ticket agent’s ticket paper, but for some music events and festivals you will probably receive the venue’s own tickets – although often not until very close to the date of the event, as a security precaution (see Advice on buying tickets online). You may also receive your tickets electronically, to print at home or display on your phone, or entry may be by wristband.
A primary agency will do its very best to look after its customers; STAR members sign up to the STAR Code of Practice which promises fairness and transparency in all sales. It always remains a customer’s responsibility to make sure that an event hasn’t been cancelled or re-scheduled, although agencies will do their best to let customers know if there is a change and they have time to contact people beforehand. But this also means that, if an event is cancelled or postponed, a primary agent will do their best to deal with refunds or re-bookings, if that is what the promoter or venue authorises.
You can identify a STAR member by their use of the STAR logo on their website and often on their own printed publicity material or on their office, shop or window display. You can also check the list of STAR members on this website or by contacting the STAR helpline on 01904 234737 (+ 44 1904 234737) from outside the UK).
Online Resale Marketplaces
These marketplaces, which are part of the Secondary Market, offer the opportunity for people who wish to resell tickets they have already purchased to find potential buyers and offer a secure environment for resale transactions. They are subject to specific legislation in the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
Some venues, sports clubs and others work closely with these companies as official resale partners. Reputable online marketplaces offer guarantees to customers to ensure that they are supplied with the tickets they originally purchased or, if there is a problem with that supply, comparable tickets for the event or, in extreme cases, a full refund.
There are other companies and online sellers that claim to be able to obtain tickets for events which are otherwise sold out or for which ticket availability is scarce. The prices charged will almost always reflect this by being many times higher than a ticket’s face value (the original selling price at the venue). It is usually not possible to be sure where the agency obtained the tickets it sells.
With the exception of the unauthorised resale of tickets for designated football matches, the re-sale of tickets is not illegal in the UK. However, apart from the danger of fraudulent transactions (see Advice on buying tickets in person and Advice on buying tickets online), if you buy from a secondary agent it may be harder to obtain compensation or get problems sorted out if something goes wrong than when dealing with a primary agent. For instance, customers buying from secondary sellers that do not offer reliable guarantees should understand that, if an event is cancelled or re-scheduled, they may not have the same chance of obtaining a refund or re-booking as the original buyer of a ticket – often promoters are only prepared to respond to people who bought either directly from the venue or from one of its authorised agents.
Always remember that if you buy from a STAR member the Code of Practice requires them to refund at least the event price of each ticket should an event be cancelled and the organiser authorises refunds.
The face value is the price printed on a ticket. Some people continue to refer, wrongly, to the face value as being the price originally set for the ticket by the event organiser or venue before the addition of any booking fees, service charges or other extra costs. However, for clarity, we refer to that as being the ‘event price’.
‘Face Value’ is defined in the Consumer Rights Act 2015 as ‘the amount stated on the tickets as its price’.
The STAR Code of Practice sets out the way information, including prices, are provided to customers. This reflects the various ways that tickets are sold and that prices may be inclusive of all charges. Advertising regulations require that it is this inclusive price – which we refer to as the ‘ticket price’ – that is given clearly to customers at the beginning of a transaction. Some event organisers may require ticket sellers to also show the event price so that the amount of booking fees can be identified.
STAR members are obliged to refund at least the event price of a ticket if an event is cancelled and the promoter has authorised refunds.
Running a ticket agency costs money – the costs of premises, IT, staff, communication, credit card commission, etc, have to be covered – and, in addition, agents provide a service to their customers which has value. Ticket agents are also commercial enterprises, which often have the interests of shareholders to consider. A fee, often calculated as a percentage of the price of each ticket, is therefore added by agents on top of a ticket’s face value to cover both their costs of sale and as a charge for the service provided. So, the cost of the ticket is not earned by ticket agents, they only receive the booking fees.
Booking fees are therefore not just unnecessary added extras, they are an important factor in the distribution mechanism for tickets and usually an unavoidable part of the cost of a ticket.
Very often these are the same thing but they may be termed differently from agent to agent. The phrase ‘booking fee’ is normally used to describe charges which relate to each ticket sold whereas a ‘service charge’ might describe charges which are made for specific services provided for an entire booking, such as mailing.
When a venue or promoter makes tickets available through ticket agents, they consider whether or not they wish the costs of the service provided by the agent to be absorbed in the price of the ticket (an inside commission) or whether the charge should be met directly by the customer (an outside commission). The actual deal struck between the agent and the venue or promoter may depend on the volume of tickets distributed through that agent and this means that the costs of buying a ticket with the same face value through different agents can vary.
If all distribution costs were absorbed in the ticket price then the price of tickets would have to increase. However, by keeping booking fees on the outside of the ticket price it is possible for customers to pay more or less depending on the method by which they are buying their ticket and the service they receive. Customers going in person to the box office at a venue may find that they can buy tickets at the event price and with no additional charges.
Regulations do not place any limit on the amounts that can be charged over and above the event price.
The Competition Act 1998, prohibits “agreements between undertakings, decisions by associations of undertakings (such as trade associations), and concerted practices which prevent, restrict or distort competition, or are intended to do so, and which may affect trade within the UK.”
The level of booking fees is therefore a matter of individual contractual agreement between the original suppliers of the tickets (venues, promoters, producers, etc) and ticket agents.
Booking fees vary depending on these arrangements but are generally in the range of between 5% and 25% of the event price.
The STAR Code of Practice requires that you are refunded at least the event price of the ticket you purchased if an event is cancelled. Some ticket sellers will also refund any per ticket booking fees you were charged but others will not. If booking fees will not be refunded for cancelled events, this fact must be included in the seller’s terms and conditions of sale so that you are able to be aware of this before completing your purchase from them.
If a ticket has already been delivered to you then charges relating to delivery may not be refunded. This can include charges for printing tickets at home.