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Old 01-27-2005, 03:38 AM   #1
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guardian - "Watchdog targets booking fee rip-offs"

Not about U2 but hopefully things can improve. As if.

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Watchdog targets booking fee rip-offs

Public denied information on ticket prices, says OFT

A shake-up in the way concert and theatre tickets are sold was announced yesterday after Britain's main consumer watchdog said the public are not getting clear information on prices.
Even legitimate agents are charging as much as two-thirds on top of the face value of a ticket, according to the Office of Fair Trading's research. In future it would like advertisements for events to show the face value of tickets.

The OFT uncovered evidence of some ticket sellers breaking the law and employing "potentially unfair" terms and conditions, and mark-ups as high as 600% on some tickets sold over the internet.

The watchdog also revealed just how much fees can add to the price of a concert or West End show ticket. A comprehensive mystery shopping exercise, looking at the cost of tickets for everything from West End hit Chicago to a gig by up-and-coming rock band Hope of the States, found that some people using well-known agencies were being asked to pay up to 67% extra to cover booking fees.

"It is extremely rare not to be charged an additional fee when buying tickets," said the OFT.

But ticket sellers were likely to be relieved by its conclusions that, in general, the public were not being ripped off, the market was working "OK", and there was no evidence of a lack of competition between agents leading to higher prices.

Selling tickets for shows, concerts and sporting events is big business - the British public buys at least £1.4bn worth each year. The amount of business going through so-called "primary ticket agents" - companies such as Ticketmaster, See Tickets and Keith Prowse - has increased dramatically in recent years, due in part to the rise of the internet, which has replaced the need to queue outside the venue box office on the morning tickets go on sale.

Sir John Vickers, OFT chairman, said agents needed to provide a "better and fairer service".

Among its findings were:

· Some ticket agents were relying on "potentially unfair" terms and conditions buried in the small print, designed to allow them to deny refunds or to make changes to events.

· "Secondary agents" - ranging from ticket booths to firms specialising in getting people into sold-out events - attracted the most complaints. People being misled about the face value of tickets or not receiving what they had paid for were among the main gripes.

The OFT yesterday threatened tougher enforcement action to bring firms into line. Overseas tourists appeared "particularly vulnerable" to the practices of rogue sellers.

One of the biggest problems is that, because of the way the rules currently work, most adverts for shows and pop concerts provide no information at all about ticket prices. So adverts for Victoria Wood's stage version of Acorn Antiques, opening in London tonight, make no mention of the fact that the top-price tickets are £65, and the same applies to adverts for forthcoming concerts by Kylie and REM.

The OFT said this system was not working and has recommended that advertising rules be changed so that all event advertising must include the cost of the ticket excluding any fees, and details of where tickets can be bought at face value. This could help to reduce the dominance of the leading agents. The watchdog said consumers can reduce the amount they pay in extra fees. It found that total ticket prices, including additional fees, for a Saturday night performance of Chicago ranged from £45.25 to £53.50 - despite the fact that the face value is £42.50.

A music fan buying a £10 ticket for Hope of the States' gig at the Camden Electric Ballroom in London last summer would have shelled out an extra £6.70 in fees if they bought from See Tickets.

The OFT wants people to shop around, but admitted: "In practice, the only way to avoid paying fees is to go to box offices and pay in cash."
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