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Execs point finger at Google over ticket resale

Live music professionals have raised further questions about Google’s influence on the secondary ticketing market.

In a session at Primavera Pro in Barcelona yesterday (1 June), Neo Sala (Doctor Music), ticket resale specialist Nicole Jacobsen (previously tickets.de), Sam Shemtob (FEAT) and Scumeck Sabottka (MCT-Agentur) discussed how search engines host advertisements from unauthorised ticket resale platforms such as Viagogo, which appear at the top of the search page, above organic listings for official ticket sellers.

The panel noted how the advertising policies of search engines do not permit advertising that deceives users – either by excluding relevant information or providing misleading information – but suggested Google did not appear to be adequately enforcing this policy.

“We see a close parallel between the situation now with the live events industry, to that in the noughties with the record business,” said FEAT director Neo Sala, founder & CEO of Spain’s Doctor Music. “I think we all remember when you’d Google a song name and ‘mp3’ and you’d be met with piracy links as the first, second, third results. Today, try Googling ‘Harry Styles tickets’ and you’ll see a link to unauthorised, overpriced tickets right at the top. The live industry needs to ask Google to take the same sensible steps as they did with the record industry and start guiding fans to trusted, official sources.”

Viagogo was banned from advertising on Google globally in July 2019 after the latter came under fire from lawmakers for allegedly accepting advertising money from sites listing tickets fraudulently. The ban was quietly lifted four months later.

“In this environment of strengthening legislation, search engines ought to start asking what kind of companies they are”

The panel said that, during Google’s brief ban on advertising from Viagogo in 2019, global traffic to the site fell by two thirds, which it claimed highlighted the extent of its influence.

A coalition of live industry organisations and professionals from across Europe launched the Make Tickets Fair! campaign earlier this year with the intention of helping music fans avoid being ripped off on the secondary ticketing market. The panel also touched on the development of the initiative.

“Across Europe, countries including Belgium, France, Ireland and others have outlawed unauthorised ticket resale,” added FEAT (Face-value European Alliance for Ticketing) director Sam Shemtob. “The European Court of Justice meanwhile has ruled that event tickets are a contract for services, subject to terms and conditions of the event promoter; and the incoming Digital Services Act promises to tighten consumer protections in e-commerce further.

“In this environment of strengthening legislation, search engines ought to start asking what kind of companies they are. Do they want to enable the activities of ticket scalpers, and support the anti-consumer and anti-artist practices of unauthorised resale platforms? Or, do they want to stand up for their users and guide them toward legitimate tickets for the events they want to attend? We hope companies like Google will choose the latter option.”


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European live sector demands tougher touting laws

More than 130 representatives from across Europe’s live sector have signed an open letter calling for the EU to introduce tougher laws to combat online ticket touting.

Signatories include Ed Sheeran’s agent Jon Ollier of One Fiinix Live and manager Stuart Camp of Grumpy Old Management, Ian McAndrew of Wildlife Entertainment, Alec McKinlay of Ignition, CAA’s Emma Banks, Andy Cook and Jamie Shaughnessy, UTA’s Jules de Lattre, Beth Morton and Jamie Waldman, Pure’s Angus Baskerville and Jodie Harkins, and representatives from Paradigm, Primary Talent International, All Artists Agency and Progressive Artists.

Dozens of trade organisations have signed up alongside promoters such as DEAG, Doctor Music, DreamHaus, FKP Scorpio, Goodlive Artists, Greenhouse Talent, Karsten Jahnke Konzertdirektion and MCT Agentur, and festivals including Rock en Seine (France), Cruilla (Spain) and Paleo (Switzerland). Venues such as The O2 in London and Brighton Centre have also lent their support.

“We need tougher rules to help us fight back”

The letter, which comes as the EU reaches the final stages in negotiating rules for a Digital Services Act and has been circulated among policy-makers, was penned by the Face-value European Alliance for Ticketing (FEAT), in association with FanFair Alliance, International Federation of Musicians, Pearle – Live Performance Europe and promoters’ associations BDKV and Association of Musical Promoters (APM).

It asks that marketplaces of all sizes be required to collect and maintain up-to-date information on sellers, as well as for marketplaces to verify the seller information obtained, and be required to carry out periodic spot-checks on products, to help detect fraudulent tickets.

“I, like others who have signed this letter, am sick and tired of parasitic secondary ticketing sites ripping off fans and live events businesses,” says Scumeck Sabottka, founding partner of FEAT and CEO of MCT Agentur. “We need tougher rules to help us fight back and I hope that a stronger framework can be established to achieve this.”

Live performance professionals can sign the letter here.


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FEAT publishes new Stop Touting guide

Anti-touting group the Face-value European Alliance for Ticketing (FEAT) has published a guide showing how agents and promoters can stamp out unauthorised resale with personalised tickets.

Launched by MCT-Agentur CEO and FEAT director Scumeck Sabottka, Stop Touting: A Guide to Personalised Tickets in Europe includes a straightforward, step-by-step guide on how to implement a tout-proof personalised ticketing system without creating long entry queues.

It shows how ticket personalisation can be done successfully and straightforwardly, without risking long entry queues or putting one’s reputation as an agent or promoter on the line,

Stop Touting also surveys the secondary ticketing landscape across Europe, including:

“This guide uses our experience of ticket personalisation, gleaned from multiple tours and arena shows, to show it can be done straightforwardly and successfully,” explains promoter Sabottka.

“We hope to make things a little easier for artists, managers, agents and promoters who want to do the right thing”

“My hope is that the live business will use this pandemic-induced standstill to improve the way we sell tickets, and protect artists, fans and our own businesses from these ticket-touting vampires.”

Adds Nicole Jacobsen, managing director and co-owner of Germany’s Tickets.de: “Personalised ticketing is all about protecting fans from scalpers. I really hope this guide can begin to give the live sector the confidence it needs to make personalised ticketing part of its practice.”

According to Intellectual Research Partners, the secondary ticketing market in Europe was valued at €1.66 billion in 2020, despite the impact of the pandemic, and is expected to grow to €2.29 by 2023.

“Navigating the various markets across Europe, with different ticket laws in different states, can be difficult,” comments FEAT director Sam Shemtob. “With this guide, we hope to make things a little easier for artists, managers, agents and promoters who want to do the right thing.”

To download the free Stop Touting guide, visit the FEAT website.


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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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