Martin Breheny: Ticket touting slammed but price rip-offs unchallenged
Hotels are just as guilty as touts of fleecing the public so why do they get away so lightly?
I once bought tickets on the black market for an All-Ireland final, wrote about it the following week and drew a thunderous response from Croke Park who deemed the report to be "mischievous in content and tone".
In a letter to the editor of 'The Sunday Press', I was accused of "seeking to damage the Association, its members and the distribution system without any regard to accuracy or objectivity".
Apparently, I had also sought to be "emotive and controversial".
This was all of 35 years ago and involved the 1982 Cork-Kilkenny hurling final, for which I purchased two tickets from touts outside Croke Park before the game.
The aim was to find out where black market tickets came from (we carried the numbers in the paper so they could be traced) and to highlight how they ended up in the hands of touts.
There was also a view that the GAA were not doing enough to block the market at a time when Croke Park had only 32,500 stand seats (access to the terraces was by cash). Croke Park claimed I hadn't given them due credit for what they insisted were genuine efforts to close the black market.
Clearly, it wasn't working as touts were doing a thriving business within yards of Croke Park.
They are still operating and while website activity renders it much more difficult for the GAA to act against them, they are making progress, mainly through the threat of cancelling tickets if they are known to have been bought on the black market.
In fairness to Croke Park, they have been waging a much more concerted war than was the case years ago.
Times have changed since 1982 but human nature hasn't. Market forces will always drive up prices, whether in high-powered business or in the shadowy world of ticket touting.
All-Ireland finals are fertile ground for black markets, as proven every year when genuine supporters are left frustrated when they see tickets for sale on various websites for ridiculously inflated prices.
Oddly enough, there doesn't appear to be as much activity as in previous years for next Sunday's football final, a sign perhaps that the threat of tickets being cancelled is working. Still, it will always be a problem and the same applies to other major events, whether in the sporting or concerts sphere.
So much so, that a Private Members' Bill, designed to make above-face-value ticket re-selling illegal, was drafted by TDs Noel Rock and Stephen Donnelly.
It's definitely on the side of the angels, since nobody can offer a coherent argument as to why touting should be facilitated.
Rock, a Fine Gael TD in Dublin North West, has been especially vocal on the issue for a long time.
His motives are, no doubt, totally honourable and in a happy aside, he has benefited from the publicity spin-off as champion of a campaign against a practice which is despised by everyone, except those profiting from it. Win-win for Noel!
He got lots of publicity for his stance last month after the GAA reiterated their determination to cancel black market tickets for the Dublin-Tyrone game.
After hearing him on 'Morning Ireland', I raised a query on another touting issue, which is just as pernicious as black market tickets.
Hotels and airlines drive up prices to coincide with big sporting or concert events, yet their greed remains largely unchallenged.
Prices for hotels in Dublin on All-Ireland weekends are substantially more expensive than on the other September weekends, yet all the focus is on ticket gouging only.
So I asked Rock for his views on the distinction between ticket and hospitality touting, if indeed there is one.
He agreed that "we need to look at the competitiveness of hotels during big match days in the city" and pointed out that a reduced VAT rate had been introduced to make sure visitors got value for money.
"But this VAT cut seems to have been completely swallowed by greed and then some," he noted.
Has that not been pounced on by Government?
"The most relevant Minister would be Shane Ross," said Rock, who got more publicity for his anti-touting bill on 'Prime Time' last Thursday night.
On Monday morning, I emailed an adviser to Ross, seeking a comment on whether (a) he accepts that just as individuals are selling All-Ireland final tickets at exorbitant prices, hotels/airlines are 'touting' prices and (b) if he has any plans to tackle them about it.
As of last night, I received no response. I sent the query to the same address which she flashed out a message last month announcing that "MINISTERS CONGRATULATE MAGNIFICENT MONA" after Mona McSharry won the 100 metres breaststroke at the world junior swimming championships.
"Fantastic news," swooned the happy Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, while Minister for State Brendan Griffin was thrilled with the 'stunning victory'.
Staff were paid to issue that sort of platitudinous guff, yet when a query is put to Ross in All-Ireland final week about hotels ripping off people travelling to Dublin for big events, silence reigns.
Isn't open Government great all the same?
As for the plans to legislate against ticket touting, it's not as easy as it sounds. Yes, it can be declared illegal but how can the law be implemented if the website is based outside Ireland?
It's 35 years since my sortie into black-market territory and guess what? It's still likely to be an issue in 2052.