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Google drawn into secondary ticketing controversy

Internet giant Google has been dragged into the ongoing debate over secondary ticketing in the UK, coming under fire from lawmakers for allegedly accepting advertising money from sites listing tickets fraudulently.

Nigel Huddleston MP – a member of the British parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Committee, which is leading an inquiry into ‘ticket abuse’ – says he believes many ticket resale sites regularly violate Google’s AdWords policies on misrepresentation, despite spending as much as £15 per click to appear at the top of its sponsored search listings.

Referencing Tuesday’s evidence session, in which MPs heard about non-existent tickets listed on Viagogo for the musical Hamilton (and for which the site controversially declined to send a representative), he tells IQ: “I was concerned – as were other members of the committee – to discover a Viagogo ad for tickets to Hamilton on Google, as highlighted by John Nicolson MP, and my understanding is that it would breach Google’s existing policies…

“I suspect other similar ads by secondary sellers may also breach such rules.”

Stuart Galbraith, founder and CEO of promoter Kilimanjaro Live, highlights how Google recently agreed to stop accepting advertising from companies offering pirated music and films and expresses his hope that a similar agreement is brokered in future to stop AdWords being bought by ticketing “companies which are defrauding customers”.

Huddleston says he has already asked Google to clarify its position on the removal of speculative and fraudulent ticket listings. “I do know that Google are generally quite quick at removing ads that breach their own rules and guidelines,” he explains, “but often the breach needs to be brought to their attention before they do so.

“We have a defined limit and the secondaries know that, so they outbid us every single time”

“I have written to Google to ask them to look into this and clarify the situation, and am awaiting a response.”

Reached for comment, a Google spokeswoman told IQ: “We have a set of strict policies which govern what ads we do and do not allow on Google. We do not allow fraudulent or misrepresentative ads, and when we discover ads that break our policies, we quickly take action.”

While the CMS Committee deliberates over further regulation of – and Google’s role in – the UK secondary ticketing sector, FanFair Alliance is advising ticket-buyers to avoid search engines altogether.

In its recently released 10 tips for ticket-buying guide, the anti-touting group tells fans: “Don’t trust search engines. Increasingly, search engine results for concerts and festivals are dominated by the big secondary ticketing websites […], all of whom spend big money to top the rankings. We advise that you ignore search engines and go straight to the artist website. This is where you should find definitive information about ticket sales and the authorised ticket agents.”

Galbraith also illustrates how promoters and primary-only ticket agencies, lacking the budget of the ‘big four’ secondary ticketing sites – Viagogo, StubHub and Ticketmaster’s Seatwave and Get Me In! – are struggling to make themselves visible on the world’s most-used search engine.

“It’s an auction,” he tells IQ. “The people that pay the most go at the top.

“We do not allow fraudulent or misrepresentative ads, and when we discover ads that break our policies we quickly take action”

“They’re [secondary sites] regularly having to pay £10–£15 – and the reason they’re happy to do is that is because their margins are huge.”

Galbraith says the most Kilimanjaro – a promoter which, he revealed earlier this month at ILMC, is frequently left with as little as 30% of a show’s ticket inventory, with the venue holding onto the rest – can pay is around £1 per click, “otherwise you’re spending more than you’re making”. Resale sites, on the hand, can afford to “pay £10 [per click] if they’re making £500” on a ticket.

While that £10–15 figure is generally only around a hot on-sale, IQ can reveal the major secondary sites are still spending up to £3 cost per click (CPC) on Google AdWords for tours which have been on sale for some time and have long sold out of face-value tickets.

To beat Viagogo to the top of Google’s search results for “Ed Sheeran show dates”, for example, would cost in excess of £2.75 per click – even without any guarantee of conversion into a ticket sale.

“We have a defined limit [on how much we can spend on AdWords], and the secondaries know that, so they outbid us every single time,” concludes Galbraith, who is a signatory to FanFair’s declaration against online ticket touts. “That’s why we’re urging fans not to use any search engine and instead go straight to the artist’s, venue’s or promoter’s site.”


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