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CMA suspends legal action as Viagogo addresses concerns

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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CMA pursues legal action against Viagogo

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has confirmed that it is moving forward with legal proceedings against Viagogo, as the secondary ticketing site continues to show non-compliance with consumer law.

The CMA has today notified Viagogo that it will be taking action to find it in contempt of court. The decision follows several warnings from the British competition authority that Viagogo had not done enough to overhaul to way it presents information on its website.

In November 2018, the resale site avoided trial by agreeing to address demands made by the CMA and a legally binding court order was drawn up to ensure Viagogo comply with the requirements.

Eight months down the line, the watchdog remains dissatisfied with Viagogo’s efforts.

“After the CMA repeatedly raised concerns with Viagogo, and also took the time needed to give proper consideration to the findings of an independent review of Viagogo’s compliance, we are very concerned that it still hasn’t done what it was ordered to do,” says CMA chief executive, Andrea Coscelli.

“We are now taking the next step in legal action to ask a court to find Viagogo in contempt.”

In particular, the CMA believes that the secondary ticketer does not give sufficient warning to fans that tickets bought through the site may not allow them to enter an event.

“We are now taking the next step in legal action to ask a court to find Viagogo in contempt”

The watchdog also maintains that Viagogo uses misleading information, especially relating to the number of tickets available.

Incomplete ticket and seller information on the site is another point of contention. In many cases, seat numbers and sellers’ business addresses are not disclosed to customers.

The CMA does point out that “many positive changes have been made”. Viagogo has paid out over £40,000 in refunds to people whose claims had been wrongly rejected, and customers now have access to more information than previously.

However, according to the watchdog, these changes do not constitute full compliance with the court order.

“It is simply not good enough that Viagogo is continuing to drag its heels by not complying in full with this important court order,” says Coscelli.

“We secured the order on behalf of people who use these resale websites and deserve to know the facts before parting with their hard-earned money.”

Adam Webb, campaign manager of FanFair Alliance, says the anti-touting group “fully supports” the CMA’s decision.

“This company can be allowed no more excuses to delay or drag its heels.”

“Our campaign has consistently raised serious concerns that Viagogo remains short of full compliance with UK consumer law, and trust that any court action will take place without delay,” comments Webb.

“This company can be allowed no more excuses to delay or drag its heels.”

The British parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee similarly welcomes the decision.

“The CMA clearly shared our concern and we look forward to a speedy resolution to end what has been a troubling and distressing time for music fans who’ve had bad experiences with the site,” states DCMS Committee chair Damian Collins.

Viagogo and the CMA have also been in court on a separate issue in relation to the use of ‘hover text’, or text that is only visible when the mouse pointer is placed on it, to display the face value of tickets and refund deadlines.

A hearing took place on 18 June and the CMA is now awaiting the outcome.

Viagogo is locking horns with competition authorities across the world, with varying results. The Italian Competition Authority, AGCM, recently returned a €1 million fine to the resale site, after a court rejected claims of non-compliance.

 


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CMA to take action against ‘law-breaking’ secondaries

The UK’s Consumer and Markets Authority (CMA) is to take ‘enforcement action’ against ticket resale websites suspected of breaking consumer protection law.

Following an almost year-long investigation, which included the raiding of Viagogo and StubHub’s UK offices, the CMA announced this morning it has “identified widespread concerns about the information people are given” during the ticket-buying process, and has gathered evidence it believes reveals numerous breaches of consumer law. The consumer watchdog will therefore be “raising its concerns” with the websites concerned and requiring them to take action – including listing seat numbers, any restrictions on resold tickets and the identity of the seller – to comply with the relevant legislation.

The CMA has also, in light of new information, widened the scope of its original investigation to include speculative selling, where sellers list tickets they do not yet own; ‘pressure selling’, wherein sites such as Viagogo rush customers by implying tickets are about to sell out; whether event organisers are passing tickets directly to secondary sites; and the difficulties experienced by many customers in reclaiming money under a website’s guarantee.

IQ understands the sites in question have a deadline of spring 2018 to comply or risk legal action.

“We will use the full range of our powers to get the right outcome for these sites’ customers”

CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli (pictured) says: “Secondary ticketing websites can offer an important service by allowing people the chance to buy tickets at the last minute or giving them a chance to resell tickets they can no longer use. But our investigation has identified concerns that the law protecting consumers is being broken.

“Thousands of people use these sites and they have a right to know if there is a risk that they will be turned away at the door, who they’ve bought their ticket from or exactly what seat at the venue they’re getting for their money.

“We are putting our concerns to these websites and will be requiring the changes necessary to tackle them. We will use the full range of our powers to get the right outcome for these sites’ customers – including taking action through the courts if needed.”

Additionally, the CMA says it will be acting to address a failure by one website to comply with commitments it had given previously to improve the information provided about listed tickets.

“It is has taken far too long to get here, but a sword of Damocles now hangs over the entire secondary market”

While the organisation makes clear it has “not yet reached a final view” on whether the practices it has identified definitely breach consumer protection law – something only a court could decide – anti-touting group FanFair Alliance welcomes the crackdown, saying it “justifies everything FanFair Alliance supporters have campaigned for”.

“Alongside work from the Advertising Standards Authority and National Trading Standards, we are especially pleased the CMA will expand the scope of their investigation,” reads a FanFair statement. “Beyond suspected breaches of consumer protection law, we believe the largest ticket resale platforms are riddled with bad practice, including speculative ticket listings, pressure selling and collusion with large-scale ticket touts.

“It is has taken far too long to get here, but a sword of Damocles now hangs over the entire secondary market. If they fail to deliver root-and-branch reforms, we expect the largest resale platforms to face significant consequences.”

Alex Neill, managing director or home products and services at consumer advocacy group Which?, adds: “With people increasingly finding that they have to buy tickets through secondary sites, it’s right that the competition authorities are taking action against companies that aren’t playing by the rules. Our research has found many websites breaking consumer law by not listing the face value of, or restrictions on, tickets as well as key information, such as block, row and seat numbers.

“It is particularly encouraging to see that the CMA have broadened their investigation to span additional issues such as pressure selling and speculative selling”

“This action must now lead to much greater transparency so that consumers have a better chance of getting the best tickets for popular events.”

“We welcome the CMA’s move to deepen their investigation into the secondary ticketing market, including commencing action against one site,” comments Richard Davies, founder of face-value ticket exchange Twickets. “It is particularly encouraging to see that the CMA have broadened their investigation to span additional issues such as pressure selling and speculative selling, which have plagued consumers for far too long.

“We look forward to seeing further action being enforced to ensure that fans are better protected against the unscrupulous practices of touts.”

Vibe Tickets founder and MD Luke Massie says: “The secondary ticketing market is fundamentally broken due to the lack of transparency. This is an ongoing issue that is costing genuine fans and threatening the live music industry.

“The only way to tackle this issue is to create a fully transparent community, where all users are verified and genuine fans are free to speak directly to other like-minded individuals, negotiate a fair price for a ticket and purchase them online in a safe and secure environment. The average £1m worth of transactions that occur on the Vibe platform each month show that this is what fans want, and it’s encouraging that the CMA is forcing other industry players to follow suit.”

 


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