By Claire Heald
BBC News website
Ebay's decision to ban the re-sale of Live 8 tickets following a huge outcry is a blow for touts. As a summer of sport and live events looms, there are calls to extend the ban, although touts say they perform an important service.
"Any spare tickets? Anyone want tickets?" The tout's cry is as much a part of a big staged event as a plastic pint of warm lager.
But as another spectacular summer of sport and entertainment approaches, pressure is building to silence that call, or at least tackle the growing internet trade in "second hand" tickets.
EBay's decision to ban the re-sale of Live 8 tickets was a dramatic turn-around after it initially refused to remove the online touts.
Organiser Bob Geldof had branded those reselling the free tickets "disgusting prostitutes" while Live 8 supporters blitzed the online auction house with smears. "You are a vile piece of scum for trying to make money out of dying children. Rot in hell," said one.
In sport, four major bodies have lobbied the government to make ticket resale a crime for all - not just in football, where it was introduced to combat hooliganism.
Figures from security firm Group 4 suggest a UK black market for tickets of £54m a year, with 2.23m tickets changing hands. For U2's current tour, they have been touted at a 445% mark up. In its internet review, the Office of Fair Trading found increases up to 600%.
ANY SPARE TICKETS?
4 Ashes tickets £1,500
2 Wimbledon men's final £780
4 U2 at Twickenham £400
1 Glastonbury plus ID £151
Source: On eBay
Since there were tickets, there have been touts.
For some they are the essence of the free market, taking a financial risk, in a country where everything is oversubscribed.
"It's helping the real fans get in, the ones who are a bit disorganised," says one part-time tout, who resells tickets for "the big stuff" - cricket, golf and rugby, and asked not to be named.
"If you want to go to a sporting event and you don't realise when tickets go on sale, you just have to log on and pay.
"With a lot of events, you have to buy tickets a year in advance. If everyone's sewn up then, how will you get new people coming in to the sport?"
He, and his contacts, apply for tickets through official channels, then resell.
On eBay he has 100 tickets for this summer's Ashes tour, at £400-£600 a pair, from a face value of about £100 for two.
Live 8 tickets on sale, before eBay pulled the plug
Customers, he says, are not just satisfied but "chuffed".
"If people bid, they're willing to pay, they're happy."
It works for some fans.
"In theory, touting is fine," says rugby fan Terry Raven, who has followed England and the Lions on tour, buying from fans, touts and legitimate sources.
"If I'm cash rich and time poor, and desperate to see a game, I would use them."
For Joe, an Australian Liverpool supporter living in London, it is about access.
His network of contacts on antipodean sites like Gumtreee.com and fan sites thisisanfield.com and redandwhitekop.com usher him through an otherwise-locked turnstile.
"I support Liverpool, but I don't live there. I don't have membership - there's a 15,000-odd waiting list," he says. "It opens the doors. Someone sits there, repeatedly pressing the buttons on a mouse for tickets - I don't necessarily have the time. But I am prepared to pay."
But touting inflates an already pressured market. Hard-up fans are out-bid, tickets may be fakes, stolen or invalid.
"These boys have very efficient networks to acquire tickets before Joe Public has even had time to wield his computer mouse in anger across the booking screen," says Terry Raven.
Photo ID option
Simon Begley, is a fan of many things - cricket, music and Tottenham Hotspur - but definitely not touts.
"Pixies tickets last year cost me £95 each, on a face value of £25. I felt mugged, but I wanted to go incredibly badly."
Watching the match on TV just isn't the same
For some, the answer lies in allocating more tickets to real fans and fewer to corporate sponsors.
"If demand outstrips supply there will always be a market," says football follower Paul Ross, "But if tickets are available to organisations which don't need them, then you are artificially creating that market."
Others say the answer lies in legislation. Only a government ban on resale would stop the "scum, living off our backs making money from our tickets," says U2's European tour promoter John Giddings.
He has shut down independent resale sites that mushroomed when U2 Vertigo tour tickets were released.
"The problem is we don't sell U2 tickets at what people think they're worth," he says. "(The band) wants to keep prices down, so people buy them, and sell them immediately."
MCC's unusual tactic
For its part, eBay stresses selling concert tickets online is legal.
It has talked to the government about sporting bodies' concerns, but says anti-resale policies would be against consumer interests.
Event managers elsewhere are trying a range of tactics to elbow out the touts. At Glastonbury this year, tickets will carry names and festival goers must show photo ID to get in.
Wimbledon says it takes out injunction on those who resell normal tickets, while in cricket the MCC has set up a "substantial" fighting fund to buy back touted Ashes tickets - after demand outstripped seats four to one.
Scotland, however, has gone for an all out ban. Were this to happen in the rest of the UK, venues would probably have to police it. But even then, the canny tout will find a way.
As Simon, the paid-up Pixies fan, puts it: "A friend got tickets from a tout for the 2003 Rugby World Cup final. You'd pay anything. Imagine being offered a ticket and not going? Once in a lifetime stuff."
Some of your comments:
Why not just make it illegal for a ticket to be resold at anything other than face value? That way individuals with a spare can sell it on, but it will crack down on touts and profiteering.
Claire Winsor, UK
It's called capitalism. Great when it builds your pension fund, less so when you can't get in to see Madonna.
Paul T, Cumbria
I don't see the problem with the resale of Live 8 tickets. The money is being generated by the text message applications and the event itself, the tickets are essentially free. If these are then sold on and a portion of the money given to charity as eBay promise, then surely this raises the amount of money donated?
Tom Hargreaves, England
So buying something cheap and selling it on at a profit should be illegal then should it? Let's ban shops! What a great idea!
It's going to be "tout heaven" if we win the Olympics. Something should be done now.
Mike T, England
It's not the people who have a genuine reason for selling that I object to, it's those who buy a load of tickets specifically to sell at a profit. I was disgusted at the amount of people trying to sell Live 8 tickets on eBay.
Charlie D, UK
Didn't find out about a once-in-a-lifetime pop event until way after the tickets sold out. But thanks to eBay and a tout we bought two tickets that allowed us to have the best night ever. Leave the touts alone.
In Oz for the 2001 Lions Tour, I had to buy my tickets off the street. I paid £1200 for 3 test matches. The folk selling were football supporters from London, it makes you sick.
Gavin Bevan, England
Shameless profiteering from the lucky Live 8 ticket winners? I live in Durham, the cheapest return ticket on the train for the weekend is now £172.
Dave H, UK
As long as the majority of tickets go to corporate sponsors who couldn't care less about the game, it will always happen. At the Wales V SA rugby game in 2004 there were three entire sections without a single red or green shirt.
I've just discovered a site called Scarlet Mist which matches people who want tickets up with those who have spares at face value. They encourage the buyers to make a donation to a charity as a thank you.
Sam Routledge, UK
We live in a free market economy. If people can think of a way to make money, then they will.
Alan, Telford, UK
Of course ticket touting should be banned. They buy at one price and sell for much more, making a huge profit in return for providing nothing at all for anybody.
Hugh Parker, England
Tickets are not always sold by touts. Sometimes legitimate fans end up with spare tickets because they find they can't go to the event. It's handy to sell odd tickets to recoup the money I've spent, most legitimate fans don't mark up the price. Legislation would affect regular fans.
Helen, Portsmouth, UK
The proposition that these thieves are merely supplying a demand is bogus. The shortage of supply is artificially created by the touts as they make it their business to buy up all the tickets.
Pete Nightingale, UK
Why can we not just have non-transferable tickets? Not perfect in terms of flexibility, but surely people can put up with that if they can a) more easily manage to buy tickets instead of competing with reseller buyers, and b) pay the base price?
If venues would refund people for tickets they bought but could not then use others still wanting to attend could stand a chance of getting tickets. This would remove the tout market to some extent, as people would know there was a chance of paying the right price.
Julie H, UK
Theatres charge a 'booking fee'. Booking agents do the same. There is clearly a market for tickets at a price above the face value. Touts can legitimately claim they are charging for the work they have done in obtaining tickets. Most products are bought at one price and then sold on at a profit.