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CMA demands “clear-cut solution” from Viagogo for its concerns over StubHub deal

By | Published on Friday 12 June 2020


The UK’s Competition & Markets Authority has said that Viagogo must propose a “clear-cut solution” to overcome its concerns regarding the StubHub acquisition, otherwise the regulator will launch a more detailed investigation into the transaction.

Often controversial secondary ticketing company Viagogo announced plans back in November to buy rival StubHub from its previous owner eBay in a $4 billion deal.

That transaction was completed in February, but by that point the CMA had already confirmed it was looking into the merger, meaning that the two companies couldn’t formally come together within the UK. Because of that, Viagogo and StubHub have remained as separate businesses on a global basis, even as both have dealt with the unique challenges created by the COVID-19 shutdown.

A more formal CMA investigation into the merger was then announced in April. Yesterday the competition regulator confirmed it was “concerned that the loss of competition brought about by the merger could result in customers who buy and resell tickets losing out as a result of higher prices and fewer options”.

Although there are a number of smaller ticket resale sites active in the UK – and Viagogo claims it also competes with primary ticketing platforms – when it comes to secondary ticketing a combined Viagogo/StubHub would totally dominate the UK market. The firms previously also competed with two Live Nation-owned platforms – Seatwave and Get Me In! – but the live entertainment giant shut down all its European resale sites in 2018.

CMA’s statement yesterday went on: “After completing its initial phase one investigation, the CMA found that Viagogo and StubHub are close competitors in an already very concentrated market with limited alternatives. It is particularly concerned that the merger would raise the prices for customers, including fans, who resell and buy secondary tickets to live events”.

The regulator did note the challenges faced by the entire ticketing sector as a result of COVID-19, but said “it anticipates Viagogo and StubHub will remain important competitors in the online secondary ticketing market in the longer term. The CMA has seen no evidence that either company would be more adversely affected by the current market climate in comparison to other competitors”.

With all that in mind, the CMA stated: “Viagogo now has five working days to address the CMA’s concerns by offering remedial undertakings in lieu of a reference to a ‘phase two’ investigation. For the CMA to accept undertakings, Viagogo would need to deliver a clear-cut solution that will preserve effective competition in the UK market. If Viagogo is unable to do so, the deal will be referred for an in-depth (phase two) investigation”.

CMA’s Executive Director For Markets And Mergers, Andrea Gomes Da Silva, added: “Viagogo is already the largest secondary ticketing company in the UK by some considerable margin and has purchased an established rival, with no other significant competitors in the market. We are therefore concerned that this transaction could lead to customers losing out through higher prices, less innovation and a lack of real choice”.

The CMA already has particularly in-depth knowledge of Viagogo and StubHub’s operations, of course, as a result of its other role ensuring that secondary ticketing platforms are compliant with UK consumer rights law. At one point the CMA took Viagogo to court to force it to comply with those laws, while it made new demands of StubHub in January, despite it having previously voluntarily met the regulator’s requirements.

Adam Webb from anti-ticket-touting campaign group FanFair welcomed yesterday’s CMA announcement and said he hoped “it leads the way to an in-depth phase two investigation”.

He added: “Viagogo remains a highly controversial business. The company has widely flouted consumer protection law in the UK and remains under investigation in numerous other countries. Even today, amidst this terrible crisis that has decimated live music, Viagogo’s suppliers are attempting to sell tickets to cancelled events”.

“Such a company, that has created thousands of consumer victims, should not be allowed to monopolise for-profit ‘secondary ticketing’. That outcome would raise significant competition concerns in the UK and threaten to reverse hard-won reforms to prevent abuses in this market”.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Viagogo says: “As we have throughout this process, we will continue to work diligently with the CMA during their review of the Viagogo/StubHub merger. We remain committed to our belief that the combination of the two companies is a good move for customers worldwide”.

“To suggest Viagogo does not take its consumer protections seriously is simply wrong”, they go on. “All tickets listed on our platform are protected by the Viagogo guarantee, representing some of the highest standards in the market. The assertion that Viagogo’s sellers are listing tickets for cancelled events is baseless. Our customer service teams are working hard to confirm the status of thousands of events impacted by coronavirus. If an event is officially confirmed as cancelled, we contact customers to offer them refund or voucher options”.