Lost no more: Campaigners take centre stage as IQ Focus returns
After taking a week off last week, IQ’s popular virtual panel series, IQ Focus, returns this Thursday, inviting six new panellists to shine a light on worthy causes which have taken a back seat during the Covid-19 crisis.
Before Covid-19, a wide range of advocacy work was centred around live music, from campaigns to improve gender diversity in line-ups and accessibility for disabled customers to environmental projects and drives around recruitment, inclusion and mental health.
But what have experts and practitioners in these areas been doing since live music shut down? And when music events do return, against an uncertain economic backdrop is there a risk that their important work will be diminished?
The Lost Causes: Campaigners & Advocacy counts the broader cost of the business interruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic
The first in a new series of ‘Lost Causes’ discussions invites Francine Gorman, outreach coordinator at Keychange; Jacob Sylvester Bilabel of Green Music Initiative; Natalie Wade, founder of Small Green Shoots; Attitude is Everything’s head of volunteering and skills development, Paul Hawkins; Musica Therapy’s Sital Panesar; and chair Adam Webb (FanFair Alliance) to counts the broader cost of the business interruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
As with previous sessions, The Lost Causes: Campaigners & Advocacy will be streamed live on Facebook and YouTube. To set a reminder for Thursday 13 August’s session, head to IQ’s Facebook or YouTube pages now.
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Campaigners urge CMA to investigate StubHub takeover
Anti-ticket touting campaign group FanFair Alliance has written to UK regulators to urge an investigation into the takeover of StubHub by Viagogo, warning that the US$4bn acquisition could “leave a single market-dominant platform” with no competition in the secondary ticketing sector.
In a letter to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), FanFair campaign manager Adam Webb writes that the deal “would concentrate market power in ‘for-profit’ secondary ticketing in the hands of a single operator (a combined Viagogo/StubHub would control closer to 100% of the UK market, far above the CMA’s 40% benchmark) and potentially result in anti-competitive behaviour with significant and damaging implications throughout the UK’s live music sector.”
One of the CMA’s criteria for if a company might have a dominant position in the market if is if it has more than a 40% market share in its given sector.
Following the shutdown of Ticketmaster’s Get Me In! and Seatwave sites this time last year, Viagogo and StubHub are the last of the ‘big four’ ticket resale sites operating in the UK.
“A merger of the two would potentially leave a single market-dominant platform”
Differentiating between B2C (business-to-consumer, describing tickets sold by professionalised touts and for-profit ticket resale businesses) and C2C (consumer-to-consumer ticket exchange, such as Ticketmaster Exchange, See Tickets’ Fan-to-Fan and CTS Eventim’s FanSALE) platforms, Webb notes that the combined Viagogo and StubHub would be the only remaining major B2C resale site, effectively eliminating all competition in that market.
“Under a single dominant B2C platform, we would be concerned that such practices would become increasingly prevalent in the UK,” Webb adds, “pushing the market away from consumer-friendly ticket resale and towards the kind of anti-consumer practices currently being investigated in North America.”
Other organisations urging the CMA to look at the merger include the Consumers’ Association (Which?), which said earlier this week that “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”.
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Why the fight against Viagogo is far from over
When the FanFair campaign launched in July 2016, the UK’s secondary ticketing market was in the midst of a golden era. It was a fantastic time to be a ticket tout.
The market was dominated by four sites: Viagogo, StubHub, Get Me In! and Seatwave – and on a weekly basis, huge volumes of tickets would flood onto these platforms during event pre-sales or just past 9 a.m. on a Friday morning. For certain shows, it was incredibly hard to buy a ticket at the face value price.
Meanwhile, legislation designed to protect consumers and provide transparency was flouted across the board. The secondary platforms gave little indication about where your ticket was located or its original face value, never mind who you were buying it from.
The impact on audiences was horrendous, with unwary customers also being ripped off and led astray by misleading advertising – particularly search advertising – and fast and loose marketing practices such as “drip pricing”.
Effectively, this was a peer-to-peer market built around anonymity and populated by chancers, rent-seekers and outright fraudsters.
Against this backdrop, a beacon of hope emerged – the UK’s business regulator, the Competition & Markets Authority, or CMA.
On the back of mounting evidence, much of it supplied by FanFair, and an illuminating session at the Digital Culture Media and Sport Select Committee, the CMA launched a major investigation into secondary ticketing in December 2016.
In April 2018, this investigation bore its first fruits, with StubHub and Ticketmaster agreeing to undertakings under the Enterprise Act – committing to comply with various consumer protection laws. A few months later, Ticketmaster UK retreated from secondary ticketing entirely, in another hugely positive step.
Viagogo was always the most problematic of the platforms, and responsible for the vast majority of consumer victims
Viagogo, however, ploughed forward. The secondary site now had the ditch to itself. Always the most problematic of the platforms, and responsible for the vast majority of consumer victims, Viagogo carried on breaching the law, carried on misleading audiences and carried on wreaking havoc.
With a sense of detachment akin to that of infamous London football team Millwall (“no one likes us, we don’t care”), Viagogo even snubbed Select Committees, on not one, but two separate occasions.
And then, in November 2018, with pressure mounting and with Creative Industries Minister, Margot James, publicly advocating a boycott, Viagogo finally appeared to be snookered – pushed to the courthouse steps, they agreed to terms in a wide-reaching CMA court order. With this Sword of Damocles hovering, the platform was given two months to “overhaul” its business model, not merely complying with the law, but also making fundamental changes to its website.
The mid-January ultimatum laid out in the court order, however, came and went. After self-declaring its own compliancy, Viagogo did next to nothing.
By the end of the month, the CMA had declared “serious concerns” about Viagogo’s compliance with the court order – at which point, the penny appeared to drop. Incrementally, improvements started to become visible – some tickets were listed with seat numbers attached, names of “traders” (aka touts) were provided, and some of the distractive marketing tactics were toned down.
However, Viagogo still appeared to fall some way short of its obligations, and on 5 March the CMA repeated its warning. Finally, the regulator appeared to snap, announcing in early July that Viagogo had still not done enough, and legal proceedings for contempt were moving forward.
As far as campaigners and victims were concerned, this was fait accompli. Despite some obvious improvements, Viagogo had not kept its side of the bargain and consequences were expected to follow.
FanFair, and others, continued to submit evidence and awaited further news. A contempt verdict, even if not resulting in punitive action, would still provide an important marker and hopefully keep Viagogo in future check.
Even with the regulator breathing down its neck, Viagogo has exhibited breathtaking arrogance in its disregard for consumers and legislators
But then, out of the blue, the CMA announced that court action was being suspended. In a short statement, and without specific explanation, the regulator declared that “outstanding concerns” with how Viagogo “presents information” had now been addressed.
In response, and in words that will surely stick in the craw of every right-thinking music fan, a Viagogo spokesperson commented that, having “worked collaboratively” with the CMA, they now looked forward to “challenging the wider ticketing market to raise its standards in the interests of all in the live event world”.
This was fairly astonishing. Having forced this hugely controversial website to the brink of compliancy, the CMA appeared to relinquish its grip. What was presented by the Guardian newspaper as potentially “one of the worst businesses in Britain” was now giving lectures about standards. Considering the same company might have been in court eight months previously, it was pretty galling stuff.
So what next? To some extent, Viagogo has been hoisted by its own petard.
Due to Google’s positive move to globally suspend Viagogo’s search advertising in July 2019, web traffic to the site appears to have sunk. Meanwhile, because of the CMA’s work and the application of regulatory pressure, UK consumers do indeed have far greater transparency when browsing Viagogo, certainly compared to Viagogo users in other countries. Artists and organisers also have more power to exert control over their own events.
However, concerns still remain that the clean-up is not complete, and today (11 September) I have sent yet more evidence to the CMA – not only outlining what look like new and continued breaches of consumer law by Viagogo, but also detailing what appear to be continued breaches of its court order.
Even with the regulator breathing down its neck, the site has exhibited breathtaking arrogance in its disregard for consumers and legislators. That raises a real fear that, when the CMA decides to close down its investigation, as it surely will at some point, Viagogo will simply renege on progress and revert to their default setting.
More fundamentally, surely it also sends out the wrong kind of signals to rogue businesses that persist in ripping off the public, and risks holding back what we should all be pushing for – a properly functioning market with the interests of ticket buyers at its heart.
Adam Webb is campaign manager of anti-tout group FanFair Alliance.
FEAT launch ruffles feathers in Europe
Both major European secondary ticketing sites have responded to the launch of the Face-value European Alliance for Ticketing (FEAT), the continent-wide anti-ticket touting association which broke cover at Eurosonic Noorderslag last week.
San Francisco-headquartered StubHub, a division of eBay, and Switzerland-based Viagogo each issued statements following the launch of FEAT, which is backed by promoters, agents and managers in seven European countries.
While Viagogo’s response doesn’t actually mention FEAT by name, sticking instead to the tried and tested ‘we don’t sell tickets’ spiel – Viagogo “is not the ticket seller”, reads the statement, with the company simply making sure “everything goes smoothly” once “buyer and seller have entered into a transaction” – StubHub’s goes further, saying the company is “concerned by the rhetoric of the newly formed Face-value European Alliance for Ticketing (FEAT) and its potential to harm consumers, especially as we observe the trend of rising average face-value prices”.
“As outlined in the independent Waterson report presented to the UK parliament, the desire to implement price caps is ill-advised and will, among other things, likely drive resale back onto the streets and other parts of the internet, like social media, where enforcement is limited and there are no equivalent consumer protections,” says StubHub’s managing director for its northern EMEA division, Wayne Grierson.
Following on from an IQ comment piece in which he challenged primary ticket sellers to make clear how many tickets go on sale, Grierson says FEAT should instead be advocating for transparency in the primary market. “Fans have the right to understand how many tickets are being made available for sale, and when and at what price, and whether those prices will fluctuate due to demand,” he continues.
“Fans have the right to understand how many tickets are being made available for sale, and when and at what price”
“In the state of New York, it was reported that an average of 54% of tickets never even go on public sale and are instead held back by promoters and primary sellers. When consumers have this information available to them, they can make informed purchasing decisions.”
Referencing recent developments concerning Viagogo – specifically the Consumer and Markets Authority (CMA)’s court order which, among things, compels the controversial platform to end speculative listings and list the face value of tickets – Grierson adds: “[W]e’ve seen the positive effects that regulation can have on the consumer experience across the secondary market. Any further regulation should look comprehensively at the entire industry and focus on protecting consumers, not policies that will have negative consequences.”
This argument would hold more water had StubHub itself not been previously compelled by the CMA to change its business practices, suggests promoter Scumeck Sabottka of Germany’s MCT, one of the founders of FEAT.
“While we agree on the importance of a secure environment for fans to resell tickets when they can no longer attend a gig, we disagree on the need for this to involve price-hiking to the value of €8bn annually,” Sabottka tells IQ, referencing the estimated cost to European consumers for tickets resold above face value. “FEAT advocates for transparency in ticketing, [to which] our website attests.
“However, on that subject, we question why it took a CMA investigation for StubHub to commit to telling UK ticket buyers what they are buying, whether they are buying from a business and whether their ticket might not actually get them into the event.
“Both artists and fans want face value resale”
“Both artists and fans want face value resale. We note the closure of Seatwave and Get Me In! in the UK, the success of face-value resale platforms like Twickets in the UK and Spain, and the fact that countries like Ireland are moving towards a face value resale-only policy. We hope StubHub will catch this wave and work with organisations like ours towards a resale ecosystem that is truly fan-first.”
As for Viagogo, which was given a deadline of last Thursday (17 January) to comply with the court order, the CMA said this morning it has not done so, despite claims to the contrary.
“Following initial checks, the CMA has serious concerns that Viagogo has not complied with important aspects of the court order we secured against them,” reads a statement from the authority. “The CMA has now raised these concerns with Viagogo and expects them to make any necessary changes without delay. If they do not, the CMA will return to court to ensure they do.”
Responding, Adam Webb, campaign manager for anti-touting group FanFair Alliance, says: “Last week, Viagogo passed a strict deadline to comply with a court order and overhaul its business.
“True to form, we have seen little evidence of change. In fact, our concerns with how this website operates have only intensified, and while we welcome today’s update it is now vital that the CMA act quickly and decisively to enforce the law. Viagogo has run out of road.”
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UK MPs urge Google action on Viagogo
The UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ticket Abuse, along with campaign group FanFair Alliance and the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR), has written to Google urging the web giant to stop taking advertising from what they describe as “one of the world’s least-trusted” brands, Viagogo.
In the letter, addressed to Google’s president of EMEA business and operations, Matt Brittin, and managing director in the UK and Ireland, Ronan Harris, the signatories highlight how, despite 2018 having seen “major progress in tackling online ticket touting” – and Google having “played an important part in his change” with its new certification system for ticket resellers – Viagogo still tops Google’s search listings for many high-profile shows.
The controversial secondary ticketing site is currently the subject of legal action by the Competition and Markets Authority for alleged breaches of consumer law, and last week once again snubbed a UK parliamentary inquiry at the 11th hour, leaving StubHub’s Wayne Grierson as the sole representative from the resale sector.
“We urge you to protect consumers who daily put their trust in Google and act now to restrict Viagogo’s ability to pay for prominence”
With Viagogo believed to operating illegally in the UK, the letter suggests accepting advertising from Viagogo breaches Google’s own AdWords guidelines, which “state clearly that advertisers are expected ‘to comply with the local laws for any area that their ads target’”.
Speaking to IQ in June, a Google rep said the company does not comment on specific advertisers, but that it is committed to working with the music industry to protect consumers.
The letter is reproduced in full below:
Matt Brittin, President of EMEA Business & Operations
Ronan Harris, Managing Director UK and Ireland
1-13 St Giles High St,
Friday 7th September 2018
Dear Matt and Ronan,
This year has seen major progress in tackling online ticket touting.
Google has played an important part in this change. In February 2018, Google launched a new certification system for ticket resellers, with the aim of providing clearer information for consumers. However, Viagogo’s use of Google paid-for search to achieve prominence to consumers continues to concern all signatories to this letter, now more than ever.
On Friday August 31st, the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) issued court proceedings against Viagogo for potential breaches of consumer protection law.
Last Wednesday (September 5th), Viagogo failed for the second time to appear before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in an evidence session on secondary ticketing. The Committee’s Chair, Damian Collins MP, described this as a “pattern of evasion, disrespectful to the House and disrespectful to consumers.”
“If you’ve got nothing to hide, the truth will do you no harm,” he added. “If you want to be safe, do not buy tickets from Viagogo.”
Repeated research by FanFair Alliance has highlighted how Viagogo systematically tops Google results for tickets, even when primary inventory is still widely available or, most worryingly, when the tickets listed will be invalid for entry at the event.
This results in confusion, and risks your users clicking through to Viagogo unaware they are being transferred to a ticket reseller.
Working with the campaign group Victim of Viagogo, FanFair has helped many individuals who believe they were mis-sold tickets to claim back hundreds of thousands of pounds. The vast majority of these customers tell us they were led to Viagogo through Google search and unaware they were buying a resold ticket.
It is an untenable situation.
In effect, one of the world’s most trusted brands – Google – is being paid to actively promote one of the least trusted.
Viagogo’s search advertising is also, we believe, breaking Google’s own AdWords guidelines. These state clearly that advertisers are expected “to comply with the local laws for any area that their ads target” and that Google will “generally err on the side of caution in applying this policy because we don’t want to allow content of questionable legality.”
We understand that Viagogo is a valuable client to Google, spending considerable sums each year on paid search advertising.
However, we urge you to protect consumers who daily put their trust in Google, and act now to restrict Viagogo’s ability to pay for prominence.
We look forward to working with you to achieve these goals,
Sharon Hodgson MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ticket Abuse
Adam Webb, Campaign Manager, FanFair Alliance
Jonathan Brown, Chief Executive, Society of Ticket Agents & Retailers (STAR)
Nigel Adams MP
Pete Wishart MP
Lord Tim Clement-Jones CBE
Annabella Coldrick, Chief Executive, Music Managers Forum
Claire Turnham, Founder, Victim of Viagogo
Lucie Caswell, Chief Executive, Featured Artists Coalition
Martin Ingham, Chair, National Arenas Association
Michael Dugher, Chief Executive, UK Music
Neil Tomlinson, President, The Entertainment Agents’ Association
Paul Reed, Association of Independent Festivals
Phil Bowdery, Chair, Concert Promoters Association
Star (full member list at star.org.uk/all-members)
Julian Bird, CEO, Society of London Theatre & UK Theatre
David Allfrey, Chief Executive & Producer, The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Edward Snape, Chair, League of Independent Producers
England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB)
Sport and Recreation Alliance (SRA)
Lawn Tennis Association (LTA)
All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC)
Rugby Football Union (RFU)
The Football Association (FA)
More Google resale reactions: “Some distance left to go”
With new global restrictions now live on the use of Google AdWords by secondary ticketing sites, UK anti-touting campaign group FanFair Alliance has “unequivocally welcomed” the update to Google’s ad policies – but warned there is still room for improvement if the search giant is serious about cracking down on dishonest ticket resellers.
As required by Google’s new ‘event ticket reseller policy’, all major online secondary outlets – including Get Me In! and Seatwave in the UK, Ticketmaster Resale in Australia, SeekGeek, TicketsNow and Vivid Seats in the US and StubHub and Viagogo internationally – have put up notices making clear they are resale sites, and that prices may be above face value.
However, the same wording isn’t included in the ads themselves, meaning a Google search, for example, for “Kendrick Lamar tickets” still brings up scores of resale sites as the top results, with no indication they are not the primary sellers.
In a statement, FanFair identifies this lack of consistency as the “one crucial area” where more needs to be done, saying that while it welcomes Google’s “proactive involvement to bring further transparency to the ticket resale market”, the “largest resale sites still fail to make clear that they are secondary platforms, listing secondhand tickets.
“Given their continued prominence on search pages, the implication remains that these are authorised primary sellers or ‘official sites’. That is simply not the case. Until their ad messaging is amended, we suspect UK ticket buyers will continue to be misled.
“Until ad messaging is amended, we suspect ticket buyers will continue to be misled”
“This is something we look forward to discussing with Google and will urge them to act upon. Unless secondary ticketing sites are forced to ‘be honest’, the full consumer benefits of certification are unlikely to be achieved.”
Elsewhere in the UK industry, Mark Gasson, founder of primary ticket agency Gigantic, urges Google to go on step further in totally excluding secondary sellers from its search results. “While we welcome these changes that help to protect customers from being deceived when searching for tickets online, we would like to see this as the beginning rather than the end in the attempt to safeguard online ticketing,” he tells IQ. “In time, we would want to see all secondary sites excluded from all ticket searches and be restricted to pure secondary tickets searches.
“As it stands, some customers will still not see past the warnings and will end up paying more than they need to for their tickets. This not only misleads customers but also impacts on their potential spend on other concerts.”
“Google’s moves to ban misleading adverts from the secondary sites on its search engines is a welcome move, and a step in the right direction which should stop a lot of people being ripped off,” adds Dan Ealam, director of promoter DHP Family.
“Having seen firsthand the pain these unethical sites can cause consumers through false claims of being official, financial heartache for music fans and sometimes even selling non-existent tickets, we feel there is still some distance left to go, but this is a good starting point from Google.”
Study: Overpriced resold tickets putting off gig-goers
More than two thirds of British consumers who have bought above-face value tickets on resale sites say they now plan to attend fewer shows, according to new consumer research highlighting the potentially negative impact of widespread ticket touting on concert attendance.
Ticked Off: Consumer attitudes to secondary ticketing, a survey of nearly 1,200 people commissioned by anti-touting campaign group FanFair Alliance, discovered 67% of ticket buyers who paid above the odds said they would attend fewer concerts in future. Sixty per cent said the same also applies to festivals, while 58% would spend less on food and drink at venues.
Meanwhile, 80% of the British public think the UK secondary ticketing market – valued at £1 billion – is a “rip off”, with the vast majority supporting further measures to clamp down on ticket touting, including the provision of authorised resale services (87%), limiting ticket purchases (80%), and personalised tickets with ID checks (75%).
Other key findings include:
- 52% of respondents said it was difficult to distinguish between authorised primary ticket sellers and unauthorised secondary sites
- 43% of said Google was their first port of call to search for tickets, despite evidence secondary sites pay the search engine to top its rankings, ensuring they’re seen first
- 58% said they supported the concept of face value resale
- 82% said secondary platforms should be more transparent and show more detail about the identity of those reselling tickets
Commenting on the research, Adam Webb, FanFair’s campaign manager, says: “The debate around online ticket touting raises strong passions, so it’s important that the wider music business, politicians and regulators can get a sense of what the general public think.
“Touts aren’t just responsible for massively inflating prices – they are chipping away at the public’s confidence in the live music industry”
“The message from this research appears to be pretty clear: UK audiences are fed up. The model of secondary ticketing promoted by Viagogo, StubHub, Get Me In! and Seatwave is causing them very real concern – albeit, they are not against the concept of ticket resale. The majority would like the option to resell a ticket for the price they paid for it, and they’re in favour of measures to curb mass-scale online ticket touting. On that front, FanFair urges legislators and regulators to accelerate their endeavours to tackle the most egregious practices of the secondary market.
“More positively, an increasing number of UK ticket companies are now offering face-value resale services, and it’s becoming common practice for artists to implement anti-touting strategies. This is hugely encouraging, although there remains a deep-rooted resistance from some parts of the live business that needs to be overcome. For, while the status quo might bring short-term gains to certain companies, there is a real danger that their intransigence will cause considerable long-term damage – not only to the live music sector, but across the music business overall.”
Rob Wilmshurst, CEO of See Tickets, which operates its own face-value resale site, adds: “Touts aren’t just responsible for massively inflating prices; they are also, as the research shows, chipping away at the public’s confidence in the live music industry. Buying a ticket for an act you really want to see should be exciting, but touts are turning this into a fraught, overpriced and desperate experience for a lot of people.
“We firmly back any action to combat touting and have made our stance on this very clear by offering customers of Seetickets.com the use of an ethical resale site where tickets can only be resold at the price customers paid or less with commissions below everyone else’s.”
A Competition and Markets Authority enforcement investigation into online secondary ticketing in the UK, announced in December 2016, remains ongoing.
Anti-Viagogo campaigner ‘helps reclaim £100k’
Anti-Viagogo campaigner Claire Turnham says she has helped disgruntled people claim back over £100,000 in refunds and bank chargebacks in six months.
The founder of the Victim of Viagogo Facebook group started her crusade in February after she says she was overcharged £1,150 trying to buy four Ed Sheeran tickets through the resale site. She finally got a refund after doggedly persisting with her claim and taking her story to the media.
“We continue to hear from ticket-buyers who are extremely frustrated when seeking redress from Viagogo.”
On Wednesday, BBC consumer advice programme Watchdog investigated the activities of secondary ticketing websites – in particular Viagogo and its sale of tickets to Ed Sheeran concerts in the UK. The singer vowed to cancel all tickets to his gigs on secondary sites, and promoters Kilimanjaro and DHP reportedly voided 10,000 passes.
However, while most resale sites refused to list the tickets, Viagogo continued to allow them to be sold. It claimed the promoters were not legally able to cancel tickets, maintained they remained valid, and refused refunds. UK Trading Standards disputes this interpretation of the law, the programme heard.
Fanfair Alliance campaign manager Adam Webb said: “We continue to hear from ticket-buyers who are extremely frustrated when seeking redress from Viagogo, which is why FanFair Alliance has teamed up with Claire Turnham to produce some comprehensive guidance to help them secure a refund.”
Turnham said: “If you are distressed and desperately seeking a refund, I urge you to persevere. It’s not an easy process but it is possible to reclaim your money back. Keep referring to our self-help guide and connect with others for support.”
Recent research by Which? found that approximately half of people who purchased tickets on these sites believed that they were buying from the official ticket seller.
Scale of secondaries’ Google domination revealed
FanFair Alliance has again called for music fans to avoid using search engines to buy tickets, after it emerged more than three quarters of Google results for some of the biggest upcoming UK shows are topped by secondary ticketing websites.
Data released this morning by anti-touting campaign group FanFair Alliance reveals that of 100 upcoming UK tours – “by artists ranging from Metallica and Cliff Richard to Lulu and Run the Jewels” – a ticket resale site was the no1 search result for for tickets on 77 occasions, despite only six of the tours being sold out.
Expanding the search to include the top two results, that figure rises to 94%.
The research by FanFair follows an IQ report that revealed secondary ticketing sites such as Viagogo, StubHub and Seatwave are paying as much as 15 times more than promoters to appear at the top of Google’s sponsored search listings.
Viagogo, predictably, is the worst offender, topping search results on 65 of those 77 occasions (and, most controversially, presenting itself on Google as an ‘official site’ for concert tickets).
Echoing comments made to IQ in March by Kilimanjaro Live CEO Stuart Galbraith, FanFair’s Adam Webb says: “The reason that Viagogo and other secondary sites can manipulate Google search in this way is simple: it’s because they can afford to. Their business model is practically risk-free and their service fees are typically set at around 20–30% of the resale price.
“The reason Viagogo and other secondary sites can manipulate Google search in this way is simple: because they can afford to”
“As a result, when purchasing AdWords they can outbid authorised ticket sellers whose charges are significantly less.
“FanFair has brought these practices to the attention of regulators and Google itself, but until action is taken we strongly recommend that would-be ticket buyers give search engines a swerve and check first with the artist or festival website.”
FanFair’s guide to ticket buying, released earlier this year and backed by a host of famous faces, advised fans not to “trust search engines”, instead heading straight to the artist’s or promoter’s website.
Digital Economy Bill signed into law
The Digital Economy Bill 2016-17, which criminalises the use of ticket bots in the UK, has received royal assent and become law.
The bill, which also includes provisions relating to online pornography, direct marketing, digital intellectual property and increasing broadband speed, prohibits the misuse of an “electronic communications network” or “electronic communications service” to bulk-buy tickets.
It also builds on the Consumer Rights Act 2015 by requiring secondary ticket sellers to provide a “unique ticket number that may help the buyer to identify the seat or standing area or its location”.
Matt Hancock, the UK’s minister of state for digital and culture (pictured), says he’s “delighted the Digital Economy Act has become law”, saying the legislation will provide “better support for consumers” and “help build a more connected and stronger economy”.
Anti-ticket touting group FanFair Alliance has welcomed the news, but cautioned that the effectiveness of the bill “will be for nothing” without proper enforcement.
“It is now vital that the UK’s consumer laws are enforced, and recommendations made in the Waterson review are fully implemented”
“On top of government measures to criminalise the bulk-buying of tickets, this relatively minor amendment to the Consumer Rights Act, for a ‘unique ticket number’ to be displayed when a ticket is listed for resale, should greatly increase transparency in the so-called secondary ticketing market,” it said in a statement.
“If enforced, it will give users some assurances that the ticket they are buying actually exists, as well as disrupting the practices of hardcore touts that thrive on sites like Viagogo, StubHub, Get Me In! and Seatwave. FanFair Alliance would like to thank everyone who has supported us in campaigning for these changes – and particularly Nigel Adams MP, Sharon Hodgson MP, Lord Moynihan, Baroness Hayter, Lord Clement-Jones, Lord Stevenson, the late Baroness Heyhoe-Flint and members of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
“We were also heartened that the culture minister has clarified unequivocally that secondary platforms must provide information of any resale restrictions. Going forward, it is now vital that the UK’s consumer laws are enforced, and recommendations made in the Waterson review of secondary ticketing are fully implemented.
“After the general election [on 8 June], we will need details on how all these changes will work in practice. Only then, and combined with a concerted effort from industry and regulators, will this broken market be fixed and British audiences provided with the open and properly functioning resale market they deserve.”