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Australian consumer rights commission takes Viagogo to court

By | Published on Tuesday 29 August 2017


The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission has begun legal proceedings against always controversial secondary ticketing website Viagogo, accusing the ticket resale platform of making false or misleading representations, and of engaging in misleading or deceptive conduct, which is plenty to be getting on with.

As previously reported, in various countries where it actively operates, the always secretive Viagogo has come under particularly heavy fire from those who oppose rampant online ticket touting. For example, in the UK – while the anti-tout brigade also has plenty of issues with eBay’s StubHub and Live Nation’s Seatwave and Get Me In! – in recent months more attention has been given to Viagogo.

Partly because it was the one ticket resale platform to refuse to justify its business model when asked to do so by the culture select committee in Parliament. Partly because it is the one ticket resale platform which consistently refuses to work with promoters who are pro-actively clamping down on touted tickets, including organisers of the Teenage Cancer Trust charity gigs. And partly because of the Victims Of Viagogo campaign on Facebook.

The latter accuses Viagogo of employing tactics to confuse and rip off consumers, and that’s pretty much what the ACCC is claiming in its new legal filing with the Aussie Federal Court, which alleges that the secondary ticketing company breached Australian consumer rights law between 1 May and 26 Jun this year.

Among the specific complaints made by the ACCC are: that Viagogo failed to disclose upfront its significant booking fees, that are 27.6% for most events; that it misled consumers about ticket availability by making statements like “less than 1% of tickets remaining”, without explaining that that only referred to Viagogo’s own supply of tickets; and that it used the word ‘official’ in Google ads, implying it was an approved primary ticket seller.

The latter point has also been raised by anti-touting campaign group FanFair in the UK and by the Advertising Standards Authority in Ireland. FanFair recently showed just how often Viagogo uses Google ads to come top when fans search for information on shows. Consumers who don’t know the difference between paid-for and organic search result listings may assume that the top ranking means Viagogo is the official seller of tickets, a confusion the site’s use of the word ‘official’ exacerbates.

ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said yesterday: “We allege that Viagogo failed to disclose significant and unavoidable fees upfront in the ticket price, including a 27.6 per cent booking fee for most events and a handling fee. [And] Viagogo’s statements such as ‘less than 1% of tickets remaining’ created a sense of urgency for people to buy them straight away, when tickets may have still been available through other ticket sources”.

She added that her organisation also alleges that “by using the word ‘official’, Viagogo represented in [its] ads that consumers could buy official original tickets, when in fact Viagogo is a platform for tickets that are being on-sold by others”. Revealing that the ACCC had received 473 customer contacts about Viagogo just this year, she concluded: “The ACCC expects all ticket reselling websites to be clear and upfront about the fees they charge, the type of tickets they sell and the nature of their business”.

The UK’s FanFair campaign welcomed the developments in Australia. Campaign Manager Adam Webb told CMU: “FanFair Alliance welcomes the ACCC’s decision to take Viagogo to court. The only astonishing aspect here is such action has not occurred sooner and that Viagogo has been able to dominate the resale market for so long”.

He went on: “The list of complaints made by the ACCC – sky high fees, failure to provide refunds, misleading users, the masquerading as an ‘official site’ on Google search – are all unerringly familiar and, for the sake of UK audiences, we hope this move emboldens our regulators to act accordingly. Not only towards Viagogo, but against all secondary ticketing platforms who follow their lead”.

For its part, Viagogo – which now operates from a bunker in Switzerland and which sends out security when MPs come to its London HQ with some questions to ask – is yet to comment on the ACCC action. Though presumably it will at least send some lawyers to the Federal Court Of Australia when the case comes before judges there.