CNA – When Kaethe Fok learnt that the K-pop girl group Mamamoo was coming to town, she decided to buy concert tickets for the first time in her life last November.
She made a rookie mistake and did not sign up on the ticketing website ahead of time.
This delayed her purchase attempt by six minutes, during which the tickets sold out.
Emptyhanded, Fok turned to online marketplace Carousell to advertise that she was looking to buy a ticket to the then one-night-only concert. The 20-year-old university student was willing to pay up to SGD40 above the face value of the most expensive ticket, originally priced at SGD288.
But she found herself consistently fielding offers above her budget, one going as high as SGD800. This angered her, she told CNA.
“(They’re) not genuine fans that are buying the tickets, but rather buying to sell them, and then at such a high price,” said Fok.
Ticket scalpers – who snap up tickets, often in bulk, then resell them for profit on the secondary market – are back in business since large events and international acts resumed after the pandemic.
K-pop is not the only fandom affected. Last year, tickets to the annual flagship tournament of Dota 2, The International, reportedly went for as much as SGD9,999 a pair, or almost 10 times the original price.
While scalping instinctively feels unfair, there are significant downsides to legislating against it, experts told CNA. But information disclosures and new sales methods are areas for Singapore to look into, they suggested.
RESALE ECONOMICS 101
Checks with major ticketing agents and event promoters in Singapore found that all have some form of measures against scalping.
Both SISTIC and Ticketmaster do not allow tickets to be resold without permission, and may bar holders of such tickets from entering.
“Buying from the secondary market has backfired on genuine Grand Prix fans, who have been turned away because their tickets have been voided,” said a spokesperson for Singapore GP.
But the continued appearance of resale tickets on platforms like Carousell and Viagogo suggests that these rules are not being heeded.
Why is there demand for tickets at prices much higher than the original face value in the first place?
Event organisers consistently under-price tickets because this makes sense for the branding of the performer or event, said economist Walter Theseira, an associate professor at the Singapore University of Social Sciences.
“Many event organisers wish to protect the reputation of the performer, so they charge prices that both will not alienate the fan base, and which also guarantee a ‘sell-out’ of the venue so the performer’s reputation is boosted,” he said. Scalping is therefore a secondary market activity that gets the “right price” by reselling tickets at a higher price than the primary market.
Resale serves an “important economic purpose of getting the price right and distributing the good or service to the party that values it the most”, he pointed out.
RESTRICTING RESALE PROFITS
Ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Japan prohibited the unauthorised resale of event tickets above their sale price. The punishment was up to one year’s imprisonment, a fine of up to JPY1 million (SGD10,200), or both.
In Australia’s New South Wales, it is an offence to resell a ticket at more than 10 per cent above its original face value. A similar rule is in place in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia.
Could the answer lie in restricting the profit margin for ticket resales, as these governments have done?
Singapore has resisted such moves. In 2019, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said that the profit margin resellers can command is freely determined between willing buyers and sellers. “Government should not prescribe profit margins for ticket resales,” the ministry said in a parliamentary reply on scalping.
“The government’s approach on consumer protection is based on promoting fair trading by businesses and helping consumers make informed purchasing decisions,” MTI said in another reply later that year.
One lawyer told CNA that prescribing profit margins for ticket resales may constitute regulatory overreach. “In particular, it is difficult to say whether the government should limit profit margins for ticket resales in particular, as opposed to other goods and services,” said Khelvin Xu, a partner at Rajah & Tann.
He pointed out that the Government does not prescribe profit margins for essential goods like food and medicines, nor for tuition lessons or Housing Board flats.
“Are event tickets so special as to warrant such governmental intervention?” he asked.
There is also the question of whether any legislation should be limited to tickets or extended to other goods like limited edition watches, bags and sneakers, said Elsa Chen, a partner at Allen and Gledhill.
Associate Professor Theseira said that it was unclear whether resale restrictions would actually benefit customers, as they could allow the original seller to abuse its dominant position in the market. “Event organisers could take advantage of the market power created by resale restrictions to simply raise ticket prices or to practise some type of demand-based pricing,” he said.
“I tend to disagree that there should be legislation against ticket scalping for the reasons above,” he added.
With government intervention unlikely for now, ticketing agents and event promoters in Singapore have developed new sales methods to keep scalpers at bay.
Fok, the Mamamoo fan, was disappointed that ticket sales were not restricted to fan club members first before opening to the general public, as has been done for other performers like Blackpink.
“I wanted that privilege in the sense that more genuine fans are able to buy the tickets first.”
Ticketmaster, the ticketing agent for Blackpink’s shows in Singapore, allowed members of the band’s official fan club to access ticket pre-sales three days before general sales opened.
SISTIC said that it also enables event promoters to send verified fan club members password-protected private purchase links during pre-sales. A more fundamental change could see event organisers look to the airline ticketing model for inspiration.
Associate Profroessor Theseira suggested that organisers could require tickets to be issued to a specific individual at the point of sale, “no different from how airline tickets are sold”.
Official transfer of the ticket could then be implemented for a fee by a ticketing services provider, he said. But ultimately, except in cases of misleading information, whether or not to pay through the nose to see a performer is a decision up to the individual fan.
“Although many fans are not happy about paying high prices for resale tickets, it has to be remembered that those who do pay those prices, do so willingly,” he said.
That holds true even when buyer’s regret sets in.
A teenage Blackpink fan, who did not wish to be named, made a costly impulse purchase for the band’s concert in May after tickets sold out.
She paid SGD3,683 for two standing pen tickets sold on Viagogo. That was more than four times the original face value of SGD402 per ticket.
“I didn’t think twice before buying since this is my first time buying a concert ticket and I was desperate to see Blackpink,” she said.
She eventually decided to sell the tickets as “I’m around 140cm and I know the view isn’t going to be worth it as everyone’s probably going to be taller than me”.
In hopes of recouping the money she spent, she listed the pair for SGD3,680 on Carousell, where they remain up for sale.