Let the buyer beware: fake Football League tickets

This Friday, Cambridge United the Football League two side will host one of the biggest games in their 103 year history as they host Manchester United in the FA Cup. Not only will the game fill the near 10,000 capacity Abbey ground but the game will also be televised by the BBC both here and abroad. An event like this will give the football club a very valuable revenue boost which in these days will be very welcome. Whilst talk of multi-million pound wages and TV deals are everyday news in the media, little of that cash flows down into the lower reaches of our beautiful game. With tickets to the game being in huge demand, it is no surprise that stories are now emerging of secondary market ticket websites offering them for sale at over £250, nearly ten-times face value.

The football club have reported a website selling fake tickets for the club's match, although it is hard to prove this unless you've actually got a ticket purchased from the website in hand. Unfortunately, the laws of supply and demand often dictate the price of football tickets, although few buyers and sellers actually understand the law with regards to reselling tickets in this country.

As current legislation stands, it is illegal to offer a ticket for any game played in England, or featuring an English football team for resale is illegal under section 166 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 unless you are an "authorised" person which is why organisations like StubHub are allowed to offer a secondary or resale market for certain English clubs. Even if the company or website is located overseas, it is illegal to offer the for sale. Recent noises in political circles have called for tighter controls on websites offering outrageous prices for sold-out events although there is almost nothing they can do to stop organisations outside the UK from selling tickets in this way.

Technology has made it easy to set up a ticket resale website although it's impossible to verify if the inventory is actually real or not. The lengths some fans go to to watch a game puts them in dangerous situations if they are not careful.  At best you may end up paying significantly more for a ticket, at worst you will have handed over your financial details to criminals who never had any tickets to sell in the first place. You may also get a ticket only to find out its a fake when you turn up at the ground.  In such instances, whilst the club may be sympathetic to your plight they are often absolutely powerless to do anything to remedy the situation. Be careful of buying "instant download" or print at home tickets that could be duplicated hundreds of times and thus the same ticket could be resold many times.

So what can clubs like Cambridge United do? It's hard for them to monitor the Internet 24 x 7 for websites selling tickets as that would involve significant costs and resources for such a one-off event.  Instead they should focus on educating fans about the official ways to buy tickets and how to ensure your ticket is legitimate. From a fan point of view it's a case of "caveat emptor" or "let the buyer beware". We seem to let all of our natural skepticism and defences disappear when we want something badly online.

Our three tips to ensure you don't end up out of pocket and locked out of the biggest sporting events:-

  1. Never use websites that do not offer SSL protection - the little padlock or green browser bar ensures that the organisation has gone through some authentication and validation procedures and that any personal or financial details are secure.

  2. Check when the website was set up.  Do a search on the website URL or domain name using http://www.who.is for instance. If it's relatively new then alarm bells should be ringing in your ears.

  3. Use Social Media to validate the company. Look for customer reviews although be warned, it is cheap and easy to build a fake social media profile with bought Facebook likes or Twitter followers.

Nobody can begrudge clubs like Cambridge United their moment in the spotlight. However, despite the romance of such events, the same precautions should be taken to stop the biggest game of year doesn't end in tears, disappointment and financial loss.

Written by Stuart Fuller, Director of Commercial Operations and Communications, NetNames.