Reg Walker, founder of The Iridium Consultancy & co-founder of WebbWalker, has nearly four decades of experience overseeing event security and combating ticket touts. He tells AAA that the new technology being used to jump the queues for tickets to events such as Eurovision and Formula One is among the biggest threats to the industry he has ever seen.
Ticket tout subscription services such as The Golden Circle exploit a defect in a software used by retailers and governments to enable users to try their hand as ticket touts and make thousands of pounds for an outlay of just £99 per month.
For over 30 years, I have been exposing some of the dubious, and often illegal, activities in both primary and secondary ticketing markets – including pivotal roles in 2012’s undercover investigation by Dispatches (“The Great Ticket Scandal”), in the 2016 Waterson Review, and in the landmark and precedent-setting prosecution of Peter Hunter and David Smith in 2020.
As a consultant for artists including Arctic Monkeys, Ed Sheeran and Iron Maiden, I have scoured, literally, millions of lines of ticketing data. With all this experience, I thought I’d seen everything but then along came The Golden Circle. The Golden Circle? Effectively, it’s a subscription club.
“I’ve personally seen them cut through the security features of some of the very largest primary ticket agents – security features that have been newly installed – in a matter of minutes.”
An online group of 400 people who pay £99 per month for access to a suite of software – including ticket bots, email generators, and online queue passes – that pushes them to the front of the line, ahead of genuine fans. Members also receive inside information on which artists and sporting events to target, including details of which specific standing and seated tickets will likely return the maximum “return on investment”.
It’s an incredibly sophisticated operation that allows subscribers to acquire huge numbers of tickets for high-demand events such as Madonna, Beyonce and Formula 1. With little or no experience, entry-level touts can make extraordinary sums of money and cause significant disruption to the live events business.
And for the past few months, I enjoyed a unique front row seat to their activities – all detailed in a recent extended edition of BBC Radio 4’s You & Yours.
On one presale we saw one of The Golden Circle’s organisers boast they had created over 100,000 queue passes, generating links that would be used by touts to compromise ticketing queues and waiting rooms. By flooding these systems with place holders, most genuine fans would have little chance of getting into the queue – let alone be able to buy a ticket.
Such “phantom” identities also risk corrupting the data on which promoters increasingly rely, creating the illusion of mass demand – an illusion that could be catastrophic when it comes to putting roll-over dates on sale.
Worryingly, there are now a number of these kinds of pyramid-type operations in existence, of which The Golden Circle is simply the best structured and best organised.
I’ve personally seen them cut through the security features of some of the very largest primary ticket agents – security features that have been newly installed – in a matter of minutes.
Alongside the consumer harm, the ease with how bad actors can infiltrate ticketing systems also raises some difficult questions.
Ticket bots and bypasses are not new, and primary ticket agents have been aware for some time now that the third-party software used for ticket queues and waiting rooms is susceptible to being compromised.
So why isn’t more being done to capture evidence and complain to law enforcement?
Some primary ticket agents do go the extra mile and try to combat the wholesale trashing of their systems by touts. Others appear to do little beyond launching ineffective anti-bot measures for the purposes of PR, while happily turning a blind eye to the identity of their “customers”.
This, in my view, has to change.
Rather than throw fans to the wolves, we need the industry to step up. The Golden Circle offers a good indication of where online ticket touting is heading. It is now incumbent on the primary market to fight back and make some concerted efforts to protect consumers.