Theatre is probably the last industry you would expect to be effected by scalpers. When we think of scalpers we usually think of sporting events and music. Think again. The National Theatre’s much-anticipated production of King Lear – directed by Sam Mendes and starring Simon Russell-Beale – is sold out for performances in March. £12 Day Tickets are still available but that hasn’t stopped ticket resale venues like Stub Hub advertising tickets above face value. Tickets at National Theatre start at £12 and the top-price tickets are £50, but tickets on Stub Hub are starting at £138 a pair and up to £229.
The growth of internet sites such as eBay has made ticket on-selling an epidemic. In the United States the ticket resale laws vary from state to state. But ticket on-selling in not illegal in the United Kingdom – with the exception of football games- or in Australia. So scalpers purchase tickets in bulk hoping that the event will sell out and create a demand for tickets, driving up the prices. While the Australian government has been promising to clamp down on ticket resale, so far it has been left up to promoters to battle scalpers on their own.
In a recent article, the BBC looked at how scalping was affecting the UK’s publicly-funded theatres. They reported one website was offering two tickets to see Coriolanus starring Tom Hiddleston at the 250-seat Donmar Warehouse for £2,015. Tickets were originally selling for £20-£35 each.
Artistic director Josie Rourke told the BBC: “We work very hard to get people into the Donmar with cheap, accessible seats, so inflated reselling is a great sadness to me.”
Coriolanus is currently one of the most in-demand theatre productions in London. The tickets seen by the BBC were being sold on the Viagogo site for £850 each, plus a £255 booking fee, a £9.95 shipping charge, and £51 VAT – making a total of £2,015.95. Viagogo is still offering tickets from £500.
In Australia we have seen promoters put restrictions on the number of tickets that can be purchased in one transaction and even labeling tickets with the name or a photograph of the buyer. The Donmar, like Australia’s Ticketek, prohibits the resale of tickets for a profit. The Donmar told the BBC they had gone so far as to contact people attempting to resell Coriolanus tickets approximately 25 times during the show’s run.
“In the vast majority of instances, when contacted by the Donmar, the patron apologises and removes the ticket(s) from re-sale.” said Josie Rourke. “It’s an industry-wide problem and a very difficult one to address given the number of reselling websites and platforms.”
The National Theatre is also fighting back. “It’s frustrating to see tickets being sold on at several times their face value, sometimes when there are face value tickets still available via our Box Office,” they told the BBC. “It undermines our efforts to price tickets fairly and accessibly.”
The venue said it actively monitored the secondary market and, when it was possible to identify specific tickets, “we contact the person re-selling them, refund their purchase and cancel the tickets. We also monitor sales patterns for any suspicious multiple bookings.”
It’s pathetic that the theatres have to go to these measures to try and protect theatre-goers from unfair ticket pricing. Labour MP Sharon Hodgson is calling on the British government to introduce legislation to clamp down on ticket resale.
“The National Theatre and the Donmar are funded from taxpayers money to encourage people to attend the theatre. For those tickets to end up on the secondary market, being sold at many times face value, is totally wrong,” she told the BBC. “None of that money is being ploughed back into the arts, to support other productions. It’s morally wrong.”
The other issue that needs to be addressed is the demand for tickets. Should we be purchasing tickets from scalpers? You missed out on seeing Coriolanus live? Well I suspect several hundred thousand people like myself did as well. International fans are not all able to nip onto a flight to the UK to see their favourite productions. Since the National Theatre, The Donmar, Stratford upon Avon, The Globe and others all stream performances live to cinemas the UK and distribute “encore” performances to cinemas around the world there is no reason for anyone to miss out. Digital Theatre has even brought theatre to your own home, straight from your iPad. You can see productions filmed live from twenty different theatres in the UK. It might not be the same as seeing it in the cinema itself but it doesn’t lessen your enjoyment of a performance.
Put that extra £100 you might have given to a scalper back in the theatre’s pocket. In fact for £100 you can buy ten high-definition performances from Digital Theatre to keep and watch as many times as you like.