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CMA suspends legal action as Viagogo addresses concerns

UK watchdog halts action against Viagogo in light of changes to information on its website but states that stronger consumer powers are needed in the secondary sector

By Anna Grace on 05 Sep 2019

CMA halts action against Viagogo

CMA's new London HQ

image © UK Government

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has suspended preparations for court action against Viagogo, in a move that comes as a surprise to anti-tout groups.

In July, the watchdog notified Viagogo that it would be moving forward with contempt of court action following several warnings that the site had failed to comply with a legally binding court order. The order instructed Viagogo adhere to CMA demands in relation to the way information was presented to ticket buyers.

Viagogo has now addressed the outstanding concerns, providing more accurate information on the number of tickets available, disclosing details of seat locations and sellers’ business addresses and indicating whether tickets guarantee entry.

The CMA’s decision comes as “a bolt from the blue”, for anti-tout group FanFair Alliance, the group’s campaign manager Adam Webb tells IQ.

The Viagogo website is “far more transparent than it was in December 2016”, when the CMA investigation began, states Webb. “However, even leaving aside its historic abuses of UK audiences, which are serious, extensive and well documented, we still hold serious concerns that Viagogo remains non-compliant with a range of consumer protection laws.

“We continue to share these concerns with the CMA on a regular basis,” continues Webb, “and there’s the rub. Having gone to the cost and effort of serving Viagogo with a court order, it certainly feels disappointing that our regulator is apparently relinquishing its considerable efforts and not finishing the job.”

“It feels disappointing that our regulator is relinquishing its considerable efforts and not finishing the job”

Sam Shemtob, director of continent-wide anti-tout group the Face-value European Alliance for Ticketing (FEAT), also notes the “damage” done to fans since the CMA’s review opened, which “underlines the importance of the government giving the CMA stronger powers in this area.”

Shemtob references the recent European-wide legislation outlawing the use of automated ticket-buying software, or ticket bots, which enables authorities such as the CMA “to jointly address breaches of consumer law.”

“Once in place, these powers will hold while the UK remains in Europe and during any transition period and will form the incumbent law post Brexit,” explains Shemtob. “We hope that will further strengthen the CMA’s hand.”

Although CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli states the Viagogo website visited by UK customers today “is worlds apart” from what it used to be, he says the time taken to get to this stage “is clearly not acceptable”.

“Stronger consumer powers are required in the secondary ticketing sector and we will continue to work with the government on the most effective way to achieve this.” states Coscelli.

“A key part will be the government’s existing plans to give the CMA stronger consumer protection powers, so that it can rule on whether a company has broken the law and impose fines on those infringing companies.”

“What is clearly not acceptable is the time it’s taken to get to this stage”

Despite decision to halt action, the CMA boss does not rule out future action against the secondary site, declaring that “we will keep up the pressure on Viagogo to ensure that it continues to comply with UK consumer protection law.”

A further independent review of Viagogo’s compliance with the court order will be completed in October 2019. The CMA states it “will not hesitate to take further action – through the courts if necessary”, if the results of this review, or any other new information, suggest the company is not meeting its obligations.

A spokesperson for the secondary site comments: “Viagogo is pleased it has been able to work with the CMA to find solutions to the final few areas of discussion.

“We are grateful to the CMA for their engagement over the past few months and the ability of both parties to work collaboratively to reach this point. Looking ahead we will continue to work with them to ensure we are delivering the best possible service for our customers and challenging the wider ticketing market to raise its standards in the interests of all in the live event world.”

In response to pressure from industry organisations, anti-tout groups and politicians, Google barred Viagogo from advertising through its platform in July, in what one anti-touting group deemed a ‘landmark moment’. The suspension means the site can no longer pay to appear at the top of Google’s global search rankings.

This article is being updated with industry reactions as IQ receives them.


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