CMA refers Viagogo/Stubhub merger for further investigation
The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has referred the merger of secondary ticketing giants Viagogo and StubHub for an in-depth investigation, warning that the deal could result in “a substantial lessening of competition”.
The watchdog began its investigation into Viagogo’s US$4 billion all-cash acquisition of StubHub in December, following pressure from anti-ticket touting groups.
Earlier this month, the CMA stated that the deal, which would see both companies brought back under the control of founder Eric Baker, “could lead to customers losing out through higher prices, less innovation and a lack of real choice.”
The organisation is now advising that the merger be investigated further, after giving Viagogo five days to respond to its initial concerns.
Adam Webb, campaign manager of anti-touting group FanFair Alliance “welcomes” the CMA’s decision.
“We remain committed to our belief that the combination of the two companies is a good move for customers worldwide”
“Over recent years, there have been major steps forward in the UK to eradicate the bad practices of sites like Viagogo and StubHub and those of the large-scale ticket touts who dominate their supply chain,” says Webb.
“Even in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, the thought of such a business monopolising “for profit” secondary ticketing remains highly problematic.
“Viagogo’s predatory marketing practices and business model continue to endanger audiences, and its $4.05bn acquisition of StubHub raises acute competition concerns, particularly in the UK.”
A Viagogo spokesperson says that the company “will continue to work diligently with the CMA” during the second phase of their review.
“We remain committed to our belief that the combination of the two companies is a good move for customers worldwide.”
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CMA: Viagogo/StubHub merger to drive up prices
The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has stated that the merger of secondary ticketing giants Viagogo and Stubub could result in “higher prices and fewer options” for fans.
The watchdog began its investigation into Viagogo’s US$4 billion all-cash acquisition of StubHub in December, following pressure from anti-ticket touting groups. The deal would see both companies brought back under the control of founder Eric Baker.
Upon investigation, the CMA has found that the merger would drive up prices for fans wishing to resell or buy tickets on the secondary market, given the companies are “close competitors in an already very concentrated market with limited alternatives”. (Together, the ticketers hold 80% of the secondary market in the UK.)
“Viagogo is already the largest secondary ticketing company in the UK by some considerable margin and has purchased an established rival, with no other significant competitors in the market,” comments CME executive director, Andrea Gomes da Silva.
“We are therefore concerned that this transaction could lead to customers losing out through higher prices, less innovation and a lack of real choice.”
“[Viagogo] should not be allowed to monopolise for-profit ‘secondary ticketing'”
The CMA also states that the current impact the coronavirus pandemic is exerting on the live events business is unlikely to adversely affect Viagogo and StubHub’s position in the market in the long term, in comparison to other competitors.
Viagogo has five days to address the CMA’s concerns by offering a solution that would maintain effective competition in the UK market. The deal will be referred for an in-depth phase two investigation, if the secondary ticketer fails to do so.
Adam Webb, campaign manager of anti-touting group FanFair Alliance, says the organisation “welcomes” the announcement.
“Viagogo remains a highly controversial business,” says Webb. “The company has widely flouted consumer protection law in the UK, and remains under investigation in numerous other countries. Even today, amidst this terrible crisis that has decimated live music, Viagogo’s suppliers are attempting to sell tickets to cancelled events.
“Such a company, that has created thousands of consumer victims, should not be allowed to monopolise for-profit ‘secondary ticketing’. That outcome would raise significant competition concerns in the UK and threaten to reverse hard-won reforms to prevent abuses in this market.”
“As we have throughout this process, we will continue to work diligently with the CMA during their review of the transaction,” says a Viagogo spokesperon. “We remain committed to our belief that the combination of the two companies is a good move for customers worldwide.”
StubHub, whose president Sukhinder Singh Cassidy announced she was stepping down last month, is currently facing lawsuits in the US and Canada on account of its Covid-19 refund policy.
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“A huge concern”: Live industry reacts to StubHub buy
Controversial secondary ticketing site Viagogo yesterday (25 November) acquired StubHub from eBay in a US$4.05 billion all-cash deal, returning both companies to founder Eric Baker’s hands and eliciting strong reactions across the live music industry.
The sale to Viagogo – a consequence of pressure from eBay shareholders for the company to divest itself of StubHub – followed reported interest from multiple parties, including US resale marketplace Vivid Seats, and saw the e-commerce giant receive almost 13 times its original investment.
As IQ speaks to ticketing experts and commentators, a question on the lips of many is: “Just how did Baker raise the funds for the all-cash deal?”
More technical concerns include what the deal means for the future of the secondary ticketing market; how it may be used to “detoxify” Viagogo’s brand – or not; how regulators will react to the deal; and how much more likely are consumers to get ripped off.
Adam Webb, campaign manager, FanFair Alliance
“This feels like a desperate move from both parties.
“However, news of this acquisition should be a major concern for both audiences and music businesses – especially if Viagogo, a company that recently had a court order hanging over its head and is still the subject of a CMA investigation, uses this process as an attempt to detoxify its brand.
“FanFair will be writing to UK regulators and politicians and we reiterate our advice to music fans to avoid these sites.”
Katie O’Leary, campaign lead, Feat (Face-value European Alliance for Ticketing)
“It’s alarming to think of Viagogo potentially gaining an even greater stronghold in the secondary ticketing market, given it’s been the subject of various legal actions across Europe and banned from advertising on Google globally. (Google last lifted Viagogo’s ban on advertising. For more information, click here.)
“Viagogo claims this will create a ‘win-win for fans’, but further consolidation in the secondary ticketing market would most likely restrict competition, and further negatively impact fans.
“We hope that regulators will have consumers’ best interests at heart when considering this deal, and consider not only the question of Viagogo’s increased dominance but also whether they can be considered a fit and proper owner.”
“We hope that regulators will have consumers’ best interests at heart, and consider whether Viagogo can be considered a fit and proper owner”
Anton Lockwood, director of live, DHP Family
“Coupled with the disturbing news that Google is allowing Viagogo to advertise again, we see this as a step backwards in the fight against inflated price secondary ticketing, Viagogo’s brand has become toxic in the last few years and this seems like an attempt to cleanse it.
“At DHP we stand strongly against unscrupulous traders selling tickets at inflated prices, at the expense of genuine fans – this acquisition can only serve to further that, and we urge the regulators to look very closely at what the new company does.
“We always advise buying tickets from primary vendors or face value secondary vendors who are members of Star to obtain genuine tickets, at the correct price with consumer protection in place.”
Neo Sala, founder and CEO, Doctor Music Concerts
“Viagogo may hope that their reputation will be greenwashed through association with Stubhub, who have historically kept more in line with regulation — but both have a long history of ripping off fans.
“I have no doubt that if this gets cleared it will be bad news for fans, as well as those of us who invest in the live sector. Coupled with the news from Google, it’s really concerning to see things take such a backwards step.”
“At DHP we stand strongly against unscrupulous traders selling tickets at inflated prices, at the expense of genuine fans”
Claudio Trotta, founder, Barley Arts
“In my more than 40 years in the business, this is one of the worst pieces of news I have received.
“It is really scary – first of all, the fact that Viagogo can spend $4 billion in cash is very worrying. Secondly, that Viagogo has bought a competitor that operates in most countries in the world means we are really far away from winning the battle against this cancer – and I do truly believe it is a cancer. I am sure they have made this deal because they absolutely know they can carry on doing secondary ticketing in the majority of countries in the world and circumvent the laws that are in place.
“This is very bad for the future of industry – for music, for punters, and for overall quality. Music is in danger of becoming only for rich people and for fanatics – the only people capable of paying inflated secondary prices.
“We need to do something against this, otherwise live music will be dead in the way we know it. With these prices, there would be no new acts either, which means no more future.
“In Italy, there is a law against secondary ticketing, and also a law on nominative tickets. I am the only one of the major Italian promoters in favour of this law. I think the future is to have complete digitalisation of tickets, and for each to have a unique code. This is the only way to fight secondary ticketing.”
“In my more than 40 years in the business, this is one of the worst pieces of news I have received”
Dave Newton, ticketing professional
“In North America the deal will make no noticeable change as StubHub already dominates the resale market along with having an appreciable share of the primary market (especially in the sports sector) and Viagogo has no presence there.
“But in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere, we may see the increasingly toxic Viagogo brand put out to pasture as its market share is folded into the now-established StubHub brand in each of these territories.
“There is a scenario whereby the Viagogo brand is kept alive for a while as a way of deflecting anti-tout activity and attention from StubHub which has been generally been regarded as ‘the best of a bad bunch’ over the last five years. Viagogo could soak up the emotional ire of the media, customers and the events industry while StubHub quietly holds onto its more collaborative and conciliatory reputation.
“Could we see primary ticketing agencies launching resale platforms in Europe if StubHub succeeds in becoming the acceptable face for touting? There may also now be room for significantly-funded new entrants into the space.
“And where does this leave the ticket-buying fan? No less ripped-off, that’s for sure.”
“We may see the increasingly toxic Viagogo brand put out to pasture as its market share is folded into the now-established Stubhub brand”
Annabella Coldrick, CEO, MMF (Music Managers’ Forum)
“On the back of the FanFair Alliance campaign, we’ve seen huge steps to reform the UK’s secondary ticketing market and put a stop to the rip-off, anti-fan practices of sites like Viagogo. For that reason, the announcement is a huge concern.
“The consolidation of the biggest remaining platforms for ticket touts could potentially reverse progress and cause untold harm for audiences and artists alike.”
Rob Wilmshurst, CEO, See Tickets
“I had to check my calendar to make sure it was not April Fools’ Day. I am very, very surprised, not just at the scale of the deal but at where the cash might have come from.
“I am no fan of ticket touting so I can’t say it made my day but it is what it is. In any case, I congratulate Eric for pulling it off.”
Richard Davies, CEO, Twickets
“This is further terrible news for ticketing as two deceitful operators combine forces in order to further turn the screw on the consumer. It demonstrates the need more than ever for a specialist face value resale service that properly serves genuine fans.”
“The consolidation of the biggest remaining platforms for ticket touts could cause untold harm for audiences and artists alike”
Maarten Bloemers, CEO, Guts Tickets
“In five years I expect this to be deemed a total waste of money. It’s a joining of forces of two eerily similar entities companies, the main similarity being that they do not care in the slightest about the consumer they are supposedly serving.
“Technological innovation is making these businesses obsolete, and will put the priority back with the consumer, where it belongs.
Jonathan Brown, chief executive, Star (The Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers)
“We note with interest the news that Viagogo has bought StubHub and will continue to watch developments closely.
“Customers need to know where they can buy tickets reliably from authorised sources and the best way of doing this is to always buy from Star members who have signed up to our code of practice and approved dispute resolution service.”
Adam French, consumer rights expert, Which?
“Viagogo has a long history of ripping off music and sports fans and had to be threatened with court action after failing to provide vital information to customers, so any move to increase its grip on the secondary ticketing sector is likely to be a worry for consumers.
“The regulator should closely examine this deal and the impact it could have on competition in the sector to ensure consumers do not lose out.”
This article will be updated with more reactions as IQ receives them.
Viagogo acquires StubHub for $4.1bn
In a landmark deal that brings together the world’s two largest secondary ticket sellers, Viagogo has announced its acquisition of StubHub for US$4.05 billion in cash.
The deal, announced at 2pm GMT today (25 November), sees Viagogo founder and CEO Eric Baker take control of a company he co-founded in 2000, and which was sold to ecommerce giant eBay for $310m seven years later. In recent months, many eBay shareholders have agitated for the company to divest itself of slow-performing StubHub, and eBay’s share price rose 6% on news of the sale.
“It has long been my wish to unite the two companies,” comments Baker. “I am so proud of how StubHub has grown over the years and excited about the possibilities for our shared futures.”
“Bringing StubHub and Viagogo together will allow us to drive further expansion and innovation, and create a more competitive offering for live event fans globally,” adds Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, president of StubHub. “This provides a great opportunity to expand our business, pursue new partnerships and execute our strategy. We expect a seamless transition for all our employees, partners and customers, and we are excited for what the future holds.”
“I am so proud of how StubHub has grown over the years and excited about the possibilities for our shared futures”
The combined company will operate in 70 countries worldwide, creating a “global live experiences marketplace”, according to a StubHub statement.
Prior to the merger, StubHub and Viagogo – headquartered in the US and Switzerland, respectively – were the last remaining major ticket resale sites active in Europe, following the shutdown of Ticketmaster’s Seatwave and Get Me In! platforms last August (collectively often called the ‘big four’). Most ticket sellers now have price-capped ticket exchanges, such as Ticketmaster Exchange, See Tickets’ Fan-to-Fan, CTS Eventim’s FanSALE, and AXS and Ticketek’s solutions, both called Marketplace.
While StubHub has worked hard in recent years to shed its ‘ticket tout’ image, reaching to out to the industry and working with regulators while increasingly focusing on the primary market, Viagogo appeared to relish its role as ticket outlaw, snubbing parliamentary inquiries and weathering lawsuits from national regulators trying to enforce local consumer laws.
“We firmly believe in the StubHub business and we are excited about its future growth”
It also found itself unceremoniously banned from advertising on Google in July, leading to a 70% reduction in website traffic.
“We believe this transaction is a great outcome and maximises long-term value for eBay shareholders,” says Scott Schenkel, interim chief executive officer of eBay. “Over the past several months, eBay’s leadership team and board of directors have been engaged in a thorough review of our current strategies and portfolio, and we concluded that this was the best path forward for both eBay and StubHub.
“We firmly believe in the StubHub business and we are excited about its future growth potential with Viagogo as its owner.”
The sale is expected to close by the end of the first quarter of 2020 (31 March), subject to regulatory approvals.
Viagogo to relocate UK workforce to New York
Viagogo is reportedly preparing to relocate much of its UK workforce to New York, British newspaper the Guardian reports. The move to “explore US expansion” comes as the company faces multiple investigations into its operations across Europe.
Viagogo has faced staunch criticism in the UK in recent months, with digital minister Margot James calling for a boycott of the company. Beyond this, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) warned back in April it could face legal action for breaches of consumer law and shortly after, National Trading Standards launched a separate investigation into the company’s “misleading” pricing strategies.
Speaking to the Guardian, a source familiar with the developments has said many senior London-based staff were notified of the relocation plans back in May. “Several senior developers have already relocated,” the source says. “A few others are moving in the next couple of months, and others are leaving very soon.”
The relocation appears to be part of a plan to explore US expansion. Whilst ticket touting has attracted criticism across much of Europe, the response in the US has been significantly less heated. The company also has its roots in the US; before Viagogo, Eric Baker, founder and CEO, co-founded ticket resale website StubHub in the US in 2000.
“Several senior developers have already relocated”
The US can also provide the company with a new level of privacy. Ticket touts speaking to the Guardian have revealed payments from Viagogo have started being sent from Viagogo Entertainment Inc, rather that its Swiss headquarters, Viagogo AG. The new business is registered in Delaware, a state known for its financial secrecy.
According to the UK’s Companies House filings from last year, around 100 staff worked at Viagogo offices on London’s Fenchurch Street. It is thought that the potential relocation of these staff members will not have an effect on the CMA and Trading Standards investigations.
It may, however, make things difficult for MPs looking to convince Viagogo execs to sit before a select committee hearing next month. The company has already refused to attend a hearing once before.
Outside of the UK, Viagogo faces action in Germany, France, Spain and Switzerland, as well as New Zealand and Australia. With criticism of secondary ticketing websites escalating, Ticketmaster revealed this month that it would be closing down its own resale websites, Get Me In! and Seatwave.