Are your seats really the "best available"?

2017 saw considerable focus on ticket reseller practices.  For example, CHOICE magazine launched an investigation into the ticket resale industry, then launched an international campaign to make ticketing fairer for all fans (here)  Meanwhile, the ACCC has instituted proceedings against the ticket reseller, Viagogo in the Federal Court (here).

Now ticketers themselves are under the spotlight; the UK Advertising Standards Authority has ruled on the use of the term “best available tickets”.

Lesson:  The term is regularly used on ticket purchase sites in New Zealand.  Unless the tickets can clearly be shown to be the best available (which is difficult at the borders - where the separation is e.g. one seat row) then this finding is likely to reflect the likely outcome in New Zealand if a complaint were made. NZ ticketers and event promoters should think carefully before using this term.

What happened in the UK?

Because some popular events sell out quickly when tickets first go on sale to the general public Ticketmaster UK said that they launched their Platinum product to enable the event organisers to sell a small proportion of the most sought-after tickets to their event. Platinum tickets were dynamically priced at a granular seat level (that is each block and row had its own price) and ticket prices might increase or decrease from time to time depending on market demand.

Through their Platinum service Ticketmaster UK offered fans “the best available tickets for an event direct from the artist”.  Three complainants challenged whether the claim could be substantiated.

Ticketmaster UK argued that consumers were likely to interpret the claim “best available tickets” to mean the best available at the time they were making the booking.

Ticketmaster UK argued that “best” was a subjective term and depended on the type of event in question. However, their experience and the experience of the event organisers allow them to know for any particular type of event, which tickets were likely to be considered best

Ticketmaster UK argued in the context of standing Platinum tickets that the benefits in purchasing Platinum compared to general tickets was that they were able to purchase tickets that were otherwise unavailable because they were only released once all the general tickets sold out. In relation to the seating tickets Ticketmaster UK explained that Platinum customers were able to purchase tickets from a separate hand-picked allocation of tickets which only included seats in the most in demand areas whereas customers purchasing standard tickets would enter a general queueing system for tickets from all areas of the venue except the Platinum allocation of tickets.

The UK ASA upheld the complaint, having decided that customers were likely to interpret the claim that the Platinum tickets were “the best available tickets” to mean that those tickets were better than any other available tickets for the event generally.

In relation to the Platinum standing tickets the Authority considered the claim was misleading because at the time of sale they were the only tickets available and the experience offered by those tickets was no different to the experience offered by general standing tickets and therefore those tickets were not better than the general standing tickets.

In relation to the Platinum seating tickets, while the Authority noted that some of the seat allocations were among the best seats at the venue there were rows and blocks of general tickets seats which were as good as those in the Platinum category in terms of proximity to the stage and/or sight line to the stage. In addition, there were some blocks of general seats that were better than some of the Platinum seats because they were closer to the stage or offered a better view of the stage.

Ticketmaster UK was told not to claim in future that its Platinum tickets were “the best available tickets” if that was not the case.

Peter StubbsComment