2020 promises to be another great year of global sport. Next summer we have the Summer Olympics in Tokyo as well as the European Football Championships which will be played across Europe in June with the final stages being hosted at Wembley Stadium in London.
Unsurprisingly, both events will see demand for tickets far outstrip supply. Over 3.2m ticket have already been sold for the Summer Games in Tokyo, with ballots due to take place in early 2020 to determine the lucky spectators for the remaining events, whilst the initial ballot for the 1.5 million tickets for the European Championship games to be played across Europe generated over 19.3 million applications. Whilst there are still a small number of tickets being held back for future ballots, it is unlikely that any of the 51 games that will be played will do so in front of many empty seats.
Technology is a wonderful thing and has made ticketing for major events so much easier. Barcodes and Q-Codes allow immediate security and verification of the authenticity of a ticket and the identification of the holder. Print at home technology means that tickets bought a few seconds ago on the other side of the world can be in your hand within seconds, meaning significant reductions in the handling and administration costs of ticketing events, as well as issues that arise when tickets go astray.
But unfortunately, technology has also driven up the number of bad actors who see big events as huge opportunities to make big bucks. Major events, concerts and shows a decade ago were blighted by the spectre of ticket touts, who would acquire tickets at knock-down prices from Corporate Sponsors who had little interest in attending events, and sell them at inflated prices outside the venues. Many attendees at these major events have stories of picking up bargains in this way, only to see the name of a Multinational company on the ticket.
For the really big events such as the European Championships or the Summer Olympics, rogue ticketing companies launch websites on a weekly basis, listing events where demand far outstrips supply and simply take people’s money and never deliver any tickets. They have a window of opportunity thanks to the delays in dispatching the official tickets to make their cash. For most events, tickets are not printed and dispatched until around 60 days prior to an event, by which time the criminals will have packed up shop and more than likely have moved onto the next big event.
A report issued by the City of London Police a few years ago estimated that the UK is home to over 1,000 ticket touts who are responsible for contributing over £40 million to organised criminal networks per annum. Unfortunately, the recovery of that cash is virtually impossible. Two years ago, the City of London Police teamed up with a number of other bodies, including the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR) in launching an awareness campaign that involved setting up a fake website themselves, which saw more than 1,500 people tried to buy tickets from. It is no surprise - more than 21,000 people have reported falling victim to ticket fraud in the last three years alone.
So what can be done to stop this nefarious practice? In the case of any football matches played in the United Kingdom, reselling tickets is a criminal offence. Section 166 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 states that it is an offence to tout tickets for football matches played in the United Kingdom, by making it illegal for any unauthorized vendor to sell tickets to a designated football match. That hasn’t necessarily stemmed the flow of unauthorised channels but some high profile convictions has certainly had some impact and will be a powerful deterrent against unauthorised sellers in and around London for the European Championship matches next Summer.
Organisations such as FIFA, UEFA, The International Olympic Committee and the Lawn Tennis Association spend hundreds of thousands of pounds in trying to prevent both genuine tickets falling into criminal hands or simply criminals setting up businesses to commit fraud. In the run up to the London Olympics in 2012, a specialist police unit, known as Operation Podium was set up to great effect. In the 18 months prior to the start of the games the team shut down a number of high profile sites that had been offering fake tickets and criminal charges were imposed on the men behind the scams. Despite there being only one authorised ticket seller in the UK, the Operation Podium team identified over 200 unauthorised websites and eight that were set up specifically for fraudulent purposes. Unfortunately, with tickets for events being so scarce, buyers were forced onto the secondary market which created favourable conditions for fraudsters, especially with websites that were well designed, ranked high on search engines and mimicked the official website. One high profile case involved the website http://2012-londonsummergames.com which was reported to have defrauded over 400 people for a total of over €500,000 in just five weeks. The owner of the site was sentenced to four years imprisonment in 2011.
The Operation Podium team conducted 19 separate operations designed to identify and shut down fraudulent websites selling tickets for a variety of events in the UK. Their work has led to new legislation being introduced in the UK designed to protect buyers in the secondary market, such as the Digital Economy Act of 2017 but that doesn’t offer much protection to websites that operate outside of the UK. Consumers need to be part of the solution rather than the problem, which means being extra vigilant when preparing to buy tickets from an unauthorised source. Some tell-tale signs of websites that may not be offering the real thing include:-
Come July time the eyes of the world will be firmly on Tokyo who will be hosting the 32nd Olympiad. So far over 3.2 million tickets have been sold through official channels, with a number of further phases to come. Come tournament time and the greatest show on earth is bound to be played out in front of capacity crowds. Once again, huge demand coupled with scarce supply means sports fans who are heading to Japan will take a risk on trying to find alternative methods to get their match tickets. A simple search for the term “Olympics 2020 Tickets” on Google throws up over 1.6 billion results, with some organisations who have no official link to the games or the organising committee stating that they can “provide authentic tickets for all events” or “guarantee best tickets”, with seats at the opening ceremony starting from over $6,500 each.
The danger here is that tickets will not be produced until close to the start of the games meaning that fake ticketing websites will have already collected hard-earned cash from unsuspecting sports fans and disappeared into the virtual wilderness before buyers realise that they have been duped. Others will take the cash now and then hope to secure the tickets nearer the time at a lower value – a practice that rarely works.
In previous major events such as the FIFA World Cup, one way to acquire tickets through a travel package. Many organisations hedged their bets that they would receive tickets closer to the tournament and sold expensive travel packages to desperate fans. In many instances the flights and hotel bookings were real, but the tickets never materialised. Some travel companies were victims just as much as the individuals were, never receiving the tickets that had paid for. However, many simply used the cover of adding the extra value of travel to line their pockets even more.
One thing that is certain is that the closer we get to the events, there will be an increase in cybercrime, especially from traditional scams relating to fake competition winners in the run up to the competition as people desperate to watch the games are willing to explore any avenue to get their hands on tickets. During the run up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup number of spam-related or phishing emails increased to over 25% of the global spam emails.
It is almost impossible for many sporting associations or organisations to stop websites offering the sale of tickets. Whilst they will have their own enforcement programmes, enthusiastic sporting fans also need to play their part in looking for websites that may be offering deals too good to be true or offering tickets at eye-watering prices. They need to look for some of the tell-tale signs that the website may not be as authentic as it could be and if there are any warning signs, report it to the authorities to investigate.
Not only private persons should be beware of cyber criminals, also trademark owners need special protection on the net, so contact our experts in time.