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Ad industry regulator demands some clarity from the secondary ticketing sites

By | Published on Wednesday 7 March 2018

Live Music

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has published a new ruling regarding the way secondary ticketing websites present pricing information. It also demands that Viagogo stops using the words “official site” and “100% Guarantee”.

The advertising industry regulator is the latest UK authority to put the spotlight on the ticket resale market. In addition to new laws passed by Parliament via the 2015 Consumer Rights Act and 2017 Digital Economy Act, both the Competition & Markets Authority and National Trading Standards have been investigating the operations of the big secondary ticketing platforms and the ticket touts who use them to resell tickets for profit.

Then, last month, the government’s Department Of Business Energy And Industrial Strategy issued guidelines reaffirming and clarifying the rules contained in the CRA, while also introducing a new requirement for ticket resellers to declare ticket numbers. Meanwhile, in the advertising domain, Google recently introduced new rules for secondary ticketing websites to follow if they want to buy advertising on the web giant’s search engine.

The ASA announced this morning that it was making new demands of eBay’s StubHub, Live Nation’s Seatwave and Get Me In, and pesky old Viagogo, “following formal investigations which ran concurrently as part of a sector-wide sweep”. Those investigations found that advertisers in the ticket resale market “were not upfront and clear with consumers about additional ticket fees and charges that were added at the end of the booking process”.

To that end, the ASA is demanding that secondary sites make the total price of buying a ticket clear from the outset, including any booking and delivery fees. Such ‘first-screen’ notification of the total price has been adopted for some time by most in the primary ticketing sector, where end-of-transaction booking fees also used to cause frustration.

On the misleading words used by Viagogo – something anti-touting campaigners have been criticising for a while – the ASA said it had banned the resale site “from using the claim ‘official site’, because it misleadingly implied it was an official primary ticket outlet rather than a second-hand ticket website”.

It has also told Viagogo to stop “making the claim ‘100% Guarantee’, which the ASA considered suggested that consumers were guaranteed entry to the relevant venue when there was in fact a reasonable risk that buyers might not be able to gain entry into an event”. Concert promoters, of course, are usually allowed to cancel touted tickets under the terms of the original ticket sale. So tickets bought on Viagogo do not guarantee entry at all.

Commenting on today’s ruling, ASA Chief Executive Guy Parker told reporters: “Many of us will recognise the frustration of being happy with the initial price of tickets on a secondary website only to be stung by hefty fees when we come to book. The message from our rulings is simple and it’s clear: the price you see at the start should be the price you pay at the end”.

The ASA ruling was welcomed by music industry-led anti-touting campaign FanFair, though – as with all the other recent moves seeking to regulate the secondary ticketing market – it stressed that such rules would only have effect if they are properly enforced.

FanFair said in a statement that it was “aware of thousands of UK music fans who feel ripped off” by the secondary ticketing sites. “Almost without fail, these victims share three recurring complaints: they were directed via Google advertising towards these sites, they thought they were purchasing from an authorised seller, and they were misled on pricing”.

It went on: “While we welcome today’s ASA ruling and hope it goes some way to addressing this latter issue, what’s absolutely crucial now is enforcement. Without proper sanctions, we fear that much-needed reforms will not be implemented, particularly by Viagogo, and the public will continue to be duped”.

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