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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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Consumer groups welcome new CMA powers

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the UK’s competition regulator, will be given new powers to impose fines on businesses that mislead or overcharge customers, under plans unveiled by the outgoing prime minister, Theresa May, yesterday.

The government is to consult on whether the CMA should be given new powers to decide itself whether consumer law has been broken without having to go through the courts, as is currently the case. New powers would enable the CMA to intervene earlier and more quickly to tackle violations and would include being able to directly impose fines on firms for poor business behaviour.

Adam Webb, campaign manager for FanFair Alliance, says the anti-touting organisation welcomes the proposed new powers, which would have been useful in dealing with rogue secondary ticketing sites such as Viagogo, against which the CMA was forced to obtain a court order to ensure compliance with consumer law.

“We would strongly support new enforcement powers for the Competition and Markets Authority to tackle businesses that continually break consumer law. In fact, they can’t come soon enough,” says Webb. “The absence of such powers has undoubtedly served to benefit companies like Viagogo that operate with a flagrant disregard for lawmakers, regulators and the public.

“Even against a tide of political and regulatory pressure, we still hold concerns that Viagogo is not yet fully compliant with terms of a court order issued over six months ago.”

“New enforcement powers … can’t come soon enough”

Caroline Normand, director of advocacy for the Consumers’ Association (Which?), also welcomes the proposals. She says: “Action to impose fines on firms that harm consumers through excessive charges, misleading offers and confusing practice can’t come soon enough and should act not only as a deterrent, but as an incentive to give consumers a fair deal.”

May’s plans, presented by business secretary Greg Clark, follow a so-called super-complaint by Citizens Advice which alleged that banks, insurers and internet companies were exploiting customer loyalty. The organisation, a network of 316 charities, complained last year that consumers were collectively being ripped off by more than £4bn a year for staying loyal to their broadband, mobile, home insurance, mortgages and savings, rather than switching, according to the FT.

“We also welcome much-needed new powers for the CMA and other regulators to finally clamp down on the ongoing bad practice of excessive, so-called loyalty penalties, which cost consumers billions of pounds a year,” comments Normand.

Outlining the proposals yesterday (18 June), May said: “For far too long, many big companies have been getting away with harmful trading practices which lead to poor services and confusion among customers who have parted with their hard-earned cash. The system as it stands not only lets consumers down but it also lets down the vast majority of businesses who play by the rules.

“It is high time this came to an end, and today we are confirming our intention to give much stronger powers to the CMA to strengthen the sanctions available and to give customers the protection they deserve against firms who want to rip them off.”

 


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Cautious welcome for new Google resale restrictions

Google has pledged to provide consumers with a ticket-buying “experience they can trust”, as the first of its new restrictions on accepting advertising from secondary ticketing sites come into force.

The new measures, announced last November, see the search engine giant include ticket resellers in its ‘other restricted businesses’ AdWords category, requiring them to be certified before they can advertise through its AdWords platform.

To apply for certification, resellers must agree to inform customers that their prices may be higher than face value; break down prices to show included fees and taxes during checkout, and before the customer provides payment information; and refrain from implying they are the “primary or original provider of event tickets”.

As of March 2018, secondaries must also list the face value of the tickets, along with the reseller’s price in the same currency.

The crackdown comes on the back of UK politicians accusing sites such as Viagogo, StubHub, Seatwave and Get Me In! of violating Google’s Adwords policies on misrepresentation, as well as recent research showing the extent of resale sites’ domination of Google search results, achieved through AdWords advertising.

“We constantly review our policies to ensure we are providing good experiences for consumers,” says Google spokesperson Elijah Lawal. “When people use our platform to purchase tickets, we need to make sure that they have an experience they can trust. We think that event ticket resellers that agree to these new transparency requirements will provide a better and safer user experience on our platform.”

“These new transparency requirements will provide a better and safer user experience on our platform”

The implementation of the new event ticket reseller policy – which goes live this evening UK time, with most of the effects understood to start being seen as of tomorrow morning (although the ‘big four’ UK resale sites have already added notices stating prices may be above face value) – has been well received by most industry groups, although several urged Google to go further to protect consumers.

“It’s great that Google has taken this action and have done so on a global basis,” says Jonathan Brown, chief executive of the London-based Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR). “Their requirements for clarity on resale websites should help customers searching for tickets, and it looks as though there’s more to come in March when they start requiring face value prices to be given as well.

“Obviously we’re looking forward to seeing what the real impact is once this new policy is fully implemented by Google.”

UK consumers’ association Which? welcomes the move as a “step in the right direction”, but says Google must force websites to “make it absolutely clear to consumers whether they are a primary or secondary seller”.

“If secondary sites don’t also provide clarity on ticket restrictions, ticket location and seller information, they could be in breach of the Consumer Rights Act,” says Which? managing director of home products and services Alex Neill.

“It’s still not clear enough to buyers when they are on a secondary site”

A spokesperson for StubHub, the world’s biggest ticket marketplace, says the company “has always put fans at the forefront of the business” and “welcome[s] any measures which help improve transparency and protect consumers”.

“StubHub has been engaged in discussions with Google on their new policy and we will be fully compliant once it comes into effect,” the spokesperson says in a statement.

Malte Blumenthal of CTS Eventim – whose FanSALE site was one of the first to be certified by Google – said last month the company welcomes “Google’s initiative for creating additional transparency in the ticketing market and to indicate clearly the differences between primary and secondary market platforms.”

However, a source close to a major UK association echoes Neill’s comments, telling IQ: “Our line would be similar to Which? – we want to see more.”

Despite the ‘prices may be higher or lower than face value’ that have appeared on StubHub, Viagogo, Seatwave and Get Me In!, they add, “it’s still not clear enough to buyers when they are on a secondary site.”

More reactions are expected tomorrow when the full impact of the new AdWords policy begins to be felt.

 


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