Sponsors lie at the root of Hong Kong touting problem

Outrage at the cost of show tickets on the black market has seen city leader Carrie Lam enter the fray, but scalpers are not the only ones to blame 

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 May, 2018, 4:19am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 May, 2018, 4:19am

Everyone hates scalpers. For sure, they are parasites, either depriving loyal fans the chance to see their idols perform or forcing them to pay through the nose for the privilege.

Responding to outrage over the black market for tickets to shows featuring the likes of comedian Dayo Wong Tze-wah, even Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor jumped in and promised a crackdown, such as by making scalping illegal at government-run venues.

But touts are not at the root of the problem, at least in Hong Kong. 

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The real issue is the basic inequity of the system by which a majority of tickets ranging from 50 per cent to 80 per cent are routinely given to sponsors and organisers, leaving the public fighting over whatever is left over.

A close friend went on Sunday to see a concert by Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi, who wrote many famous scores and themes for the classic anime films of master cartoonist Hayao Miyazaki.

The series of concerts was especially popular because at 67, many believe it could have been Hisaishi’s last. The ticket my friend bought for HK$4,800 through resale website Viagogo had a face value of HK$1,080. But she considered herself lucky because some diehard fans paid even more for worse seating.

According to the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, a majority of tickets went to a corporate sponsor. 

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On Sunday, whole sections were taken up by families and people who knew each other, so they obviously had their tickets through the sponsor. They bought along children who complained of being bored the whole time and wanted to leave. Others didn’t show up until the second concert segment. Even though the concert supposedly sold out, there were empty seats, whose tickets obviously went to people who didn’t bother to show up.

Sponsors and organisers may have clout if they are paying the stars to perform who might otherwise not come to Hong Kong. But often the same unfair ticket distribution happens at events paid for or subsidised by the government.

That’s one reason why the defunct Mega Events Fund had such a bad reputation. 

In 2013, for example, it subsidised HK$8 million for an exhibition soccer match with Manchester United, the city’s perennial favourite, yet only 18,000 tickets were sold to the public for an event budgeted for 40,000 spectators. The fund may be no more but the practice continues.

Touts are part of the problem, but some sponsors are worse.