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UK govt rejects CMA’s calls to tighten resale laws

The UK government has rejected the recommendations of the British competition regulator to tighten laws around online ticket touting.

In a 2021 report, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) proposed stronger rules to deal with illegal activity on non-price-capped secondary ticketing sites, including measures to clamp down on the bulk-buying of tickets as well as the practice of “speculative ticketing”, where sellers list tickets they don’t yet own.

Other suggestions included ensuring platforms are fully responsible for incorrect information about tickets that are listed for sale on their websites, and a new system of licensing for platforms that sell secondary tickets that would enable an authority to act quickly and issue sanctions.

However, in the government’s response, business secretary Kevin Hollinrake MP says he is “not convinced” by the need for additional legislative changes.

“I am not convinced that the additional costs that would fall on ticket buyers (as regulatory costs would be passed on) are justified by the degree of harm set out in your report,” says Hollinrake. “This is especially the case when we are already proposing to give the CMA additional administrative powers to protect consumers which the CMA could deploy in the secondary ticketing market.

“However, we propose to keep the position on maximum numbers of ticket resales under review as part of our ongoing monitoring of the legislative landscape in the ticketing market and in the light of technological, enforcement and other market developments.”

“It appears the uncapped market may still provide a service of value to some consumers”

He continues: “The government notes and agrees with the CMA recommendation that there should not be a ban on the uncapped secondary ticket market. Whilst both the way tickets are sold and used are changing and there is a growing authorised capped ticket resale market to help those who can no longer use their purchased ticket, it appears the uncapped market may still provide a service of value to some consumers.”

Hollinrake argues that is “too soon to conclude that the only way forward is further legislation focused on this market”.

“As you are aware, there are a number of improvements to other aspects of consumer law which we have now published in our response to the 2021 consultation,” he adds. “These will be our priority in the immediate future, rather than changes to the secondary ticketing regime specifically.”

“The government has effectively given bad actors a free pass to continue acquiring tickets in bulk to popular events and to engage in speculative and fraudulent selling”

Sharon Hodgson MP, chair of the APPG on ticket abuse, says the group is “struggling to understand” why the government has turned down the CMA’s recommendations.

“In August 2021, the CMA made it clear to the government that a handful of additional safeguards could help reduce the scale of unlawful online ticket touting, and better protect consumers,” says Hodgson. “Nineteen months on, and all their recommendations have been rejected. We are still struggling to understand why, and on what basis.

“Rather than improving the capacity of enforcement agencies to clamp down on malpractice, the government has effectively given bad actors a free pass to continue acquiring tickets in bulk to popular events and to engage in speculative and fraudulent selling. These individuals can make extraordinary profits at the expense of ordinary fans who are left ripped off and out of pocket.

“The UK is rightly proud of its live event industry, but an uncontrolled black market risks harming the consumer experience and wreaking untold damage on the sector overall.”

“The experiences of consumers appear to have been overlooked entirely”

Adam Webb, campaign manager of UK-based campaign against industrial-scale online ticket touting FanFair Alliance, shares similar sentiments.

“In August 2021, the Competition & Markets Authority published a series of common sense recommendations to the government that aimed to further protect consumers from being ripped off by unscrupulous ticket touts and parasitical ticket resale sites,” he says. “These included new measures to clamp down on the unlawful bulk-buying of tickets and large-scale speculative fraud, where rogue traders list tickets for sale that they do not possess. Research by FanFair Alliance has shown these problems remain rampant on certain secondary ticketing platforms.

“Nineteen months down the line, and, despite overwhelming evidence of continuing bad practice, the government has today comprehensively rejected the CMA’s advice – without, we believe, consulting with experts, campaigners or the live music industry.

“The experiences of consumers appear to have been overlooked entirely. Although much progress has been made in recent years to tame the UK’s black market for tickets, FanFair Alliance shares the views of the CMA that further action is still required to tackle these evident and ongoing problems with online secondary ticketing.”


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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)

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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