Dozens of tickets to see Michelle Obama speak at London’s Royal Festival Hall have been snapped up by touts and are already on sale for more than £70,000 on the controversial ticket resale website Viagogo.
Minutes after the phone lines opened for seats at a talk by the former first lady, Viagogo – based in Switzerland – was already offering seats for more than 570 times face value.
While the South Bank Centre has set a price for the event of between £30 and £125, the most expensive ticket listed on Viagogo at time of writing was £72,181 for a box seat.
Sellers, likely to include professional touts, appear to have got hold of them via the South Bank Centre’s ticketing system, despite competition from more than 50,000 genuine fans.
A spokesperson for the 2,700-capacity venue said it had asked Viagogo to remove the tickets from sale, although the website had not done so by 12.45pm on Thursday.
“We are aware that a small number of tickets to this event have appeared on third-party resale sites,” the spokesperson said. “We take secondary ticketing very seriously and aim to discourage this by stipulating that tickets should not be resold for profit or commercial gain.
“If we find tickets on sale without our authorisation by any unauthorised third parties they are identified and cancelled.”
Comedian Ros Ballinger, who failed to get tickets for the event, said: “I think it’s particular egregious for certain gigs or events. To make enormous profits off someone who’s inspirational to people historically oppressed and dedicated to public service is horribly ironic.”
Buyers were asked to join a “waiting room” at 8am, before being allocated a random place in a queue when tickets officially went on sale at 10am. Anyone searching for Michelle Obama tickets would have found Viagogo at the top of Google search rankings. The internet giant has previously come under pressure to stop accepting money from Viagogo to appear at the top of search results.
Only one ticket is listed at the extraordinary price of more than £70,000 and there is no certainty that sellers using Viagogo, which typically takes a cut of up to 25% of the price, will manage to find a buyer.
But at least 19 more are listed for between £2,000 and £7,500, indicating that sellers believe fans of Obama will be prepared to pay thousands to see her speak.
The event involves Obama talking about her highly anticipated new memoir, Becoming, with the acclaimed novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
The South Bank Centre website says: “Reflecting on her memoir, Michelle Obama invites the audience […] into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her – from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive, balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address.”
The swift appearance of tickets on Viagogo, frequently used by professional touts who harvest tickets for resale at the expense of genuine fans, could reignite the public outcry about the so-called “secondary ticketing” industry.
The industry, and Viagogo in particular, has faced criticism from MPs and campaigners amid concern that fans are being ripped off or buying tickets for gigs and events that will lead to them being turned away at the door.
Viagogo is currently subject to legal proceedings brought by the UK’s consumer watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority, for alleged breaches of consumer law.
The company said it was only a platform for resale and did not set prices. It did not respond when asked whether it would comply with the South Bank Centre’s request to remove the tickets.
The Guardian has approached the Office of Barack and Michelle Obama for comment.