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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
Google,
1-13 St Giles High St,
London,
WC2H 8AG

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)

Countersigned by:
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)

 


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IEA: Have to accept some people will miss out on big shows

The secondary market is a natural consequence of demand for concert tickets outstripping the supply, and any kind of cap on resale prices is both unworkable and contrary to the “basic realities of economics”.

That’s the view of Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), who has argued that the growing movement to curb ticket resale in the UK is the result of failure to properly grasp the economic concepts of scarcity and value.

Writing in the Times, Littlewood (pictured), who has led the influential free-market think tank since 2009, says anti-touting campaigners “have to accept that popular live events will always involve disappointed people missing out”. Using the example of Ed Sheeran’s latest album, ÷, which was streamed more than 200 million times in its first week of release, Littlewood says if 200m people wanted to see Sheeran live, “he would have to perform at Wembley Stadium every night for more than seven and a half years. Sheeran’s already hectic schedule is unlikely to make this feasible.”

He also argues that it is “folly” to believe a ticket’s face value “somehow reflects its intrinsic, objective value”. “As with all other goods and services, a ticket is worth whatever someone will legally pay for it,” he writes. “A rare chance to see my beloved Southampton FC play at Wembley may not be worth the £90 asking price to the overwhelming majority of people, but it is worth it many times over to me.”

“It is folly to believe a ticket’s face value somehow reflects its intrinsic, objective value”

This, he says, “highlights the absurdity” of a proposal by Labour MP Sharon Hodgson to cap resale prices at 10% above face value. “Why would we apply a legal cap on the mark-up of ticket prices, but not on other things?” Littlewood asks. “If in 1938 you purchased the first issue of Action Comics, featuring the debut of Superman, for 10¢, you could now sell it for more than $3 million. Presumably, Ms Hodgson believes you should only be allowed to sell it for 11¢ – or, if she is willing to take account of inflation, for a maximum price of $1.84.”

The secondary market, then, is necessary to allow those who can afford to buy access to shows they otherwise would have no chance of attending, Littlewood concludes.

“The reason that you can get into some events – if you have the cash and are willing to spend it – but may be unable attend others, irrespective of the financial sacrifice you are willing to make, hinges on whether an effective secondary market in ticket sales is allowed to operate,” he writes.

“Secondary markets in tickets are not a modern phenomenon. In ancient Rome, tickets for gladiatorial games or chariot races were typically given away. This led to the swift growth of the locarii – a profession dedicated to the purchase and resale of these tickets, which were made of shards of pottery. With modern technologies, today’s resale market is rather more sophisticated, but the principle remains the same: to get things into the hands of people who want them more than the people who currently own them.”

 


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MPs slam Viagogo secrecy: “Odd practice” for ‘legitimate co’

British parliamentarians have written to Viagogo to express their concern over the culture of “secrecy” at the controversial secondary ticketing business, which is reportedly instructing receptionists to deny the company is based at its new UK HQ on Fenchurch Street, London.

In a letter dated 18 July, Nigel Adams MP – who sat on the Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Committee at the time of Viagogo’s infamous no-show – and Sharon Hodgson MP, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ticket Abuse, call on Viagogo to provide “more transparency about its UK presence” and advise on how both they and their constituents can “engage” with the notoriously publicity-shy business.

Viagogo in the UK is now trading as VGL Services, with one listed active director, Prabah Shah, a ‘digital marketer’ who founded the company Online Seller UK.

“We recently learned with interest that VGL Services/Viagogo are now operating from address at 71 Fenchurch Street,” write Adams and Hodgson to Shah. “This is different from the address listed with Companies House, and we understand that despite journalists and consumer advocates seeing correspondence for Viagogo on the reception desk in the building, the reception desk has been instructed to deny that Viagogo has offices there. We find this an odd practice for a company that contends it is behaving in an entirely above-board manner.”

“Despite journalists and consumer advocates seeing correspondence for Viagogo on the reception desk, it has been instructed to deny Viagogo has offices there”

The MPs also rebuke Viagogo for its snub of the CMS Committee’s inquiry, saying the company had told the committee it “did not have sufficient capacity in the UK [to attend] – something we had trouble believing given that clearly the operation is of significant size, as there were between 40 and 50 positions with Viagogo in the UK being advertised online at the time. We do hope that should be the committee resume this inquiry in the current parliament, Viagogo will be more forthcoming.

“However, it is also of concern to us an elected representatives that we, and the committee clerks, had such difficulty getting in touch. This seems to us to be somewhat obstructive, as select committees and their inquiries are an important part of public accountability. Additionally many of our colleagues have been contacted by constituents who have been Viagogo customers with issues and wish to make their own representations to Viagogo.

“They should be able to do so. In light of these issues, we would appreciate more transparency from Viagogo about its UK presence, and how we can engage.”

It is illegal to list an “unauthorised address” for a company trading in the UK.

 


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