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Australian court rules Viagogo misled consumers

The Australian Federal Court has found that secondary ticketing platform Viagogo misled consumers, falsely marketing itself as an official ticket seller, exaggerating the scarcity of tickets and obscuring booking fees.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) instigated legal proceedings against Viagogo in 2017, alleging the Swiss-headquartered secondary ticketer “made false or misleading representations, and engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct, regarding the price of tickets on its online platform by failing to disclose substantial fees.”

The federal court ruled today, Thursday 18 April, in favour of the Australian watchdog’s allegations, finding Viagogo in breach of consumer law.

The court found that the ticketing site claimed tickets to certain events were in short supply in order to incentivise buying, when in fact the scarcity only referred to the tickets available on its resale platform, and not elsewhere.

“Today’s federal court decision is a reminder to businesses that consumers must be clearly told that there are additional fees associated with a displayed price”

“Viagogo’s claims misled consumers into buying tickets by including claims like ‘less than 1 per cent tickets remaining’ to create a false sense of urgency,” says ACCC chair Rod Sims in a statement.

The ruling also objected to the presence of the word ‘official’ in Viagogo’s online adverts, which misled consumers into believing they were purchasing tickets from the event’s official ticketing site.

“Extraordinarily high booking fees” of 27.6% were another point of contention. The court found that the website failed to sufficiently disclose additional fees or specify a single price for tickets, instead attracting customers with the promise of prices that did not exist.

“Many consumers were caught out,” states Sims. “Today’s federal court decision is a reminder to businesses that consumers must be clearly told that there are additional fees associated with a displayed price.”

Viagogo’s head of business development Cris Miller says the company is “disappointed by the ruling”, which “does not reflect” the ticketing platform in its current state, or the “many changes” the company has made.

“Without services like Viagogo, people would be forced to return to buying and selling tickets outside venues, or to use informal social media platforms”

“Our first priority continues to be to provide people with a safe and secure platform to buy or sell sport, music and entertainment tickets, many of which would otherwise not have been available to them due to the limited number that event organisers release to the box office.

“Without services like Viagogo, people would be forced to return to buying and selling tickets outside venues, or to use informal social media platforms where no customer protection exists.

“We are disappointed that the chair of the commission does not support the greater competition that Viagogo and other ticket resellers bring to the market which provides greater choice for Australians consumers,” states Miller.

The penalties that the controversial secondary ticketing company will receive are to be determined at a later date. The maximum penalty amount is set at AU$1.1million per contravention.

Anti-touting campaign group FanFair Alliance lodged a similar complaint against Viagogo in the UK last year. The country’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) rejected the claims.

The secondary ticketer has been embroiled in multiple lawsuits across Australasia and Europe. The company recently resumed dialogue with the international press, after years of silence.

 


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“Misleading” Viagogo facing Australia court case

Viagogo is facing legal action in Australia after being accused by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) of multiple breaches of consumer law over its “misleading” ticket pricing.

ACCC alleges the secretive, Swiss-headquartered secondary ticketer “made false or misleading representations, and engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct, regarding the price of tickets on its online platform by failing to disclose substantial fees” from 1 May 2017 to 26 June 2017.

“We allege that Viagogo failed to disclose significant and unavoidable fees upfront in the ticket price, including a 27.6% booking fee for most events and a handling fee,” says Delia Rickard, the deputy chair of ACCC, a government body responsible for bringing legal actions against companies that breach Australia’s Competition and Consumer Act.

ACCC, acting on information from consumers’ association Choice, cites several examples of the alleged illegal pricing, including the price of a ticket to The Book of Mormon increasing 31%, from A$135 to $177.45, after factoring in booking and handling fees, and two Cat Stevens tickets costing 29% more ($579.95, rather than $450) after fees.

Choice shops secondary ticket sites to Aus govt

It is also alleged Viagogo misled consumers by flagging tickets as almost sold out, without making clear this referred only to tickets listed on Viagogo, as well as promoting itself as an ‘official’ (ie primary) ticket seller on Google, mirroring the similar recent controversy in the UK.

Statements such as “‘less than 1% of tickets remaining’ created a sense of urgency for people to buy them straight away, when tickets may have still been available through other ticket sources”, adds Rickard, while the use of the term ‘official” implies “that consumers could buy official original tickets, when in fact Viagogo is a platform for tickets that are being [sold on] by others”.

ACCC, which says it has received 473 complaints about Viagogo so far this year, is seeking “declarations, injunctions, pecuniary penalties, corrective publication orders, orders for a compliance programme and costs” from the Federal Court of Australia.

“The ACCC expects all ticket reselling websites to be clear and upfront about the fees they charge, the type of tickets they sell and the nature of their business,” says Rickard.

 


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Choice shops secondary ticket sites to Aus govt

Australian consumer organisation Choice has uncovered multiple alleged breaches of consumer law following an investigation into the country’s secondary ticketing sector.

The investigation, which focused chiefly on Viagogo and Ticketmaster Resale, found those who buy tickets from secondary sites generally pay over the odds – and could, owing to Australia’s complicated state-by-state ticket resale laws, even be liable for hefty fines.

The most serious allegation, however, concerns the ‘hidden’ fees levied by some secondary ticketing sites, which are potentially illegal under Australian law. Commenting a case in which a seller on Viagogo listed tickets to The Avalanches in Sydney for A$199 each, with an additional “handling, booking and VAT fee” of $52, Choice head of media Tom Godfrey (pictured) says: “By dripping in an unavoidable $52 fee, consumers cannot redeem the advertised ticket price of $199. Instead they are slugged a 26% increase, with the total price jumping to $251.

“Under Australian consumer law companies have to advertise the total price of a product or service. It is illegal to drip in additional fees and charges which result in the advertised price unable to be redeemed.”

“Under Australian consumer law companies have to advertise the total price of a product or service. It is illegal to drip in additional fees”

Choice (formerly the Australasian Consumers’ Association) also claims those who buy tickets through Ticketmaster Resale could be levied with a fine – in Queensland, for example, where resale for more than 10% of face value is illegal. “We found Ticketmaster Resale listed VIP tickets to Justin Bieber’s concert at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane for $2,555 – a 374% mark up on the face value of $539 – yet Queenslanders face a fine of more than $600 if they buy a resold ticket above 10% of the original price,” says Godfrey.

Choice has passed on its findings to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), a government authority responsible for bringing legal actions against companies that breach the Competition and Consumer Act.

“We think it’s important that consumers have the right to resell legitimate tickets they can’t use,” comments Godfrey, “but with anti-scalping legislation varying from state to state and some venues cancelling resold tickets, it pays to read the fine print before parting with hundreds of dollars.”

 


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