Inside Snooker promised to have an overdue look at a couple of controversial aspects of ticketing during this year’s Betfred World Championship – and we can now deliver that.
The two main areas in the spotlight at the Crucible this year are the secondary ticket market, and relationship with official ticket sponsor Viagogo – and secondly the treatment of around 30 season ticket holders, who have seen big price rises imposed for next year, set to be their last with the system almost certain to be scrapped.
Today we look at Viagogo and their tie-up with World Snooker – and tomorrow the season-ticket holders whose time, for some after 35 years and a very substantial outlay, looks to be almost up.
There is a shortened version of this report in some of today’s [April 21] national newspapers (notably The Times and The Sun), but here we have the ability to publish responses from World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn, and under-fire ticket site Viagogo, in full. You might not agree with what they say, but at least Hearn notably has fully fronted up and answered all questions very frankly, and commented in detail on the issues.
Viagogo are not the most open company I have ever dealt with and initially refused to issue any response even via the company’s designated spokesperson. They then backtracked on that position – possibly because on the day they were ‘encouraged’ to comment, there were pages of Steve Davis stories in the newspapers, and realisation dawned this might actually get some coverage. Some questions were not answered for ‘commercial sensitivity’ reasons.
Eventually the only basis Viagogo agreed to answer any questions at all was not in a conversation, but responding to submitted written questions. This is a very inferior way of conducting interviews, and offered no opportunity to come back on answers that may not have been satisfactory.
THE VIAGOGO RELATIONSHIP
Most people know how Viagogo and similar companies work. World Snooker have an official tie-up with secondary ticketing site Viagogo, who brand themselves as an online marketplace for buying and selling tickets for sporting and music live events.
If you failed to get a ticket trough the normal channels from a year before, World Snooker and the Crucible box office, then you can purchase them offered by sale by individuals or others (see Viagogo response later). These are at a price set by the seller (with a commission paid to Viagogo), or by Viagogo themselves for their allocation, believed to be between 30 and 40 tickets. Viagogo pay World Snooker a substantial fee for this. If you want to sell tickets you have bought, believing to be worth more than you paid, you can advertise them on Viagogo.
The company is not without controversy, and sports and music fans have many times expressed grave misgivings about the ethics of offering tickets for re-sale at so far above the face value. In addition, the awarding of an allocation as part of any official tie-up has been criticised.
The company would and do claim they are making tickets available to those who didn’t get them. Critics would say these tickets often end up with the same fans who would have bought them anyway, but at many times the face value, with the profit going to Viagogo, individuals, professional sellers, and indirectly to the promoter if they have received a large fee.
Betfred World Championship tickets for 2016 went on sale last year, and many sessions were soon sold out, including the final session of the final which I have kept an eye on since November.
A couple of things also need to be said. Everyone believes the face value of the tickets to be entirely reasonable. Prices start from around £20, and even the last session of the final, at £75 to see history made and the trophy lifted, seems very reasonable when run of the mill Premier League football game tickets can cost the same at the big London clubs.
Taking the final session as a specific example, one of the premium tickets, this was sold out months ago, but from November there were 50-60 tickets available on Viagogo at prices of up to £795. And it is the fact that World Snooker has an official link to them, seen by some as tacitly approving what is going on, that has enraged many fans of snooker desperate to try and get in to the Crucible.
Viagogo stated in one joint press release with World Snooker: “We’re proud to continue working with World Snooker Limited to give even more snooker fans the chance to attend.” The often-heard criticism is that this should come with the rider: ‘As long as you can afford several times the face value.’
It is perhaps worth noting in the comments below that Hearn admits the issue of pricing and secondary ticketing may need reviewing.
“The relationship with Viagogo is a fiasco and a disgrace. They should not get any allocation, they should all go to proper fans at face value.
“Why the need for World Snooker to even give them one ticket? All tickets would sell at face value no problem. Have you not seen the queues at the ticket desk every day?
“The biggest disappointment here is the World Snooker connection with Viagogo.
“In the past I have queued up outside the Crucible on the Tuesday morning after the final when on-site sale start at 6.15am, only to be told when i go to the ticket desk at 9.30am, NO finals match tickets available for ANY session. So you can be in Sheffield, queue up before dawn outside the box office and get nothing for finals weekend. But then you see them later on Viagogo for £300 and upwards.”
WORLD SNOOKER CHAIRMAN BARRY HEARN
“The problem is when the man in the street becomes a ticket tout using these sites. They take the trouble to queue up, buy six tickets, and it becomes a little business for them.
“It is almost impossible to monitor, I accept it is a constant problem, but I don’t know the answer or how you get round it.
“If we got rid of Viagogo, the easiest solution would be to hugely increase the face value of tickets, destroying the secondary market. But that hits ordinary fans very badly.
“No one criticises our face value prices, of course not because they are too cheap given supply and demand. It is a very, very small venue.
“If you try to keep your base price as low as possible, I think it is clear that is below the real market price, so people will speculate.
“They get maybe 30-40 tickets as an allocation, and we ask them to look after the overseas market.
“The real problem is we sell our tickets too cheaply, but that is not what the average punter wants to know.
“I don’t condone tickets on sale for £795, and I don’t criticise it. If the market values the ticket at £400 or £795, the real idiots are us for selling them too cheaply.
“The whole issue of pricing and secondary ticketing is something we are reviewing, and the easiest way out is for me to vastly increase prices. That might get me more criticism than now.”
“The partnership with World Snooker gives snooker fans the chance to buy and sell tickets on Viagogo’s secure marketplace with the guarantee that they will get the tickets they paid for in time for the event, even if they are sold out at the box office.
[Questions about how much they pay to World Snooker, what the deal is worth annually to them, whether there is an upper price limit they can set on tickets received as part of the deal, and if there are particular markets for their allocation were not answered on the grounds of commercial confidentiality]
“We allow anyone to sell on our marketplace - including individuals, event organisers, promoters, artists, sports teams and brokers - as long as their tickets are valid.
“Sellers set the prices on Viagogo and for popular events, prices can be higher because there is huge demand and limited supply. However, while a seller can list a ticket at any price he likes, it doesn’t mean the ticket will actually sell at that price. Ticket prices for the Betfred World Snooker Championship currently start at £47 on our site.
“In the old days, had you not managed to get a ticket from the box office, you would have had to take your chances on classified ads or perhaps from someone outside the venue. What we have done is added consumer protection to ensure that everyone gets a valid ticket, in time for the event.
“Viagogo is a marketplace. Viagogo’s role is to manage that transaction from start to finish and provide a 100 per cent guarantee that you will get your ticket and you will get into the event. What people want is absolute confidence that they get their ticket and will get into the event. Buyers can compare prices easily on our transparent marketplace. Most of the tickets on Viagogo are sold at, or very close to face value, and in many cases much less.
“In the old days, had you not managed to get a ticket from the box office, you would have had to take your chances on classified ads or perhaps from someone outside the venue. What we have done is added consumer protection to ensure that everyone gets a valid ticket, in time for the event and increased international distribution through our network of nearly 60 global websites, reaching new customers worldwide.”
Photograph courtesy of Monique Limbos