Adam Webb, campaign manager at anti-ticket touting organisation FanFair Alliance, provides his view on what the industry and government need do to end “rampant” online ticket touting
However, even in the depths of the lockdown, quite a bit has occurred – the most high-profile being Viagogo’s purchase of StubHub for $4.05bn (£3.25bn).
A competition complaint initiated by FanFair Alliance forced a divestiture of the non-US parts of this new acquisition, but as of today Viagogo controls StubHub North America – and in the UK, they hold an unassailable monopoly in uncapped ticket resale.
Given the controversies surrounding Viagogo’s business practices, this is problematic. Especially given the limited successes of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to bring these practices under control.
“Although competent at pushing Viagogo into greater legal compliance, our competition regulator has proved far less adept at actual enforcement.”
Although competent at pushing Viagogo into greater legal compliance, our competition regulator has proved far less adept at actual enforcement. In fact, the CMA’s unfathomable decision in September 2019 to declare Viagogo “compliant” with a painstakingly obtained court order, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, has helped unpick much of their previous good work.
This decision has also triggered less than optimum results elsewhere. Google, for instance, has now rowed back significantly on previous commitments to tackle misleading search adverts for tickets.
Despite newspaper investigations showing mass-scale fraud continuing to take place on Viagogo, the CMA eventually waved a white flag in August 2021 – passing the buck to government and urging it to toughen up the laws on ticket touting.
In the nine months since, we’ve heard not a peep on the matter from either the CMA or the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.
All of which is immensely frustrating. After taking so many steps forward since FanFair was founded in mid-2016, we’ve now gone one or two back. With live shows returning en masse, this is the last thing anyone needs – especially as the “fixes” to rampant online ticket touting are relatively straightforward.
In my view, that means four actions:
- Promoters, ticket companies and artists must make crystal clear – at the point of sale – that tickets are for “consumers only” and not for “traders or commercial resellers”. And they need to start properly promoting their approved resale services.
- Google must act responsibly. It should cease accepting advertising from rogue companies and do more to help its users find “official” sources of tickets. If it won’t do this, then legislators should use the Online Safety Bill to force change.
- The CMA should revise its court order and make Viagogo liable for tickets listed by “traders” on their platform – ensuring there is evidence that those tickets have actually been purchased. This would markedly reduce instances of “speculative ticketing” (i.e. fraud).
- Government should accept the recommendations made by the CMA in August 2021 and strengthen laws around ticket resale. This would include a ban on resellers selling more tickets for an event than they can legally buy on the primary market.
Alternatively, the UK government could simply follow the example of Ireland and put an outright ban on resale above face value. This would also fix things.
None of this is rocket science and none of these changes are particularly controversial, but if enacted then we could finally move forward again, making it easier for customers to resell a ticket while preventing exploitation of British audiences who supported the live event industry in its hour of need.