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Viagogo and StubHub respond to CMA’s proposals for new ticket touting rules

By | Published on Tuesday 17 August 2021


Both Viagogo and StubHub have responded to yesterday’s report from the UK’s Competition & Markets Authority which proposes new laws regarding the regulation of the secondary ticketing market.

The two main resale platforms would obviously prefer not to face new obligations under law, but are pleased that the competition regulator has rejected the idea of an outright ban of for-profit touting. They also both call for the primary ticketing market to be included in any future investigations of the sector.

The CMA is one of two government agencies that has a role in regulating the secondary ticketing business. Its focus is generally the platforms used to resell tickets – such as Viagogo and StubHub – while National Trading Standards has led the charge in enforcing the law against the actual touts, in particular those who buy and sell tickets on an industrial level.

Launching his agency’s report yesterday, the CMA’s Senior Director For Consumer Protection, George Lusty, noted that – as a result of the ticket touting regulations introduced in the 2015 Consumer Rights Act and the subsequent efforts of the CMA and NTA to enforce those regulations – “the secondary ticket websites are now worlds apart from those we saw before [we] took action”.

However, he added, “it is clear that concerns about the sector remain”. But addressing those concerns is tricky because, Lusty said, “there are limits to what the CMA and other enforcers can do with their current powers”. To that end, the CMA’s report proposes some new rules that Parliament could make law, and an alternative approach for regulating the sector long-term.

Lusty concluded: “With live music and sporting events starting back up we want the government to take action to strengthen the current laws and introduce a licensing regime for secondary ticketing platforms. If adopted, these proposals will help prevent people getting ripped off by unscrupulous resellers online and we stand ready to help the government to implement them”.

While anti-touting campaigners have welcomed the proposals for new rules and ramped up regulation, supporters of the ticket resale sector have noted that the CMA’s report specifically rejects the idea of banning for-profit touting out-right, an approach that has been taken in some other countries, and which is currently being implemented in Ireland.

The report states: “We have considered whether a ban on the uncapped secondary ticket market would resolve the issues [we have] identified. In summary, we believe that such a ban would not significantly diminish the incentives to buy up tickets for popular events and resell them at a profit and that it would be very difficult to enforce”.

For such a ban to work, it adds, “it would likely require a significant ongoing resource commitment to, for example, i) take down or block access to overseas secondary ticket websites that UK consumers may seek to buy from, ii) take down tickets being offered for sale through social media websites and iii) tackle other alternative ticket resale methods, such as street selling”.

The big secondary ticketing platforms have long argued that outright touting bans wouldn’t stop the resale of tickets online, but would instead push sales to social media platforms and foreign websites where consumers have less protection and are more likely to be victims of fraud. And Viagogo revisited that classic argument in its response to the CMA’s report yesterday.

“The CMA’s report into secondary ticketing offers an interesting insight into the effectiveness of current regulation”, a spokesperson said, before adding: “The CMA notes their report is not as a result of customer complaints and, moreover, that a ban on secondary platforms would lead to an explosion in black market sources for tickets”.

Another argument often presented by those in the secondary ticketing market is that campaigners and regulators have too often focused their attention exclusively on resale, and ignored issues within the primary market. That argument, of course, is a classic distraction tactic, although at least some of the criticism of the primary ticketing business is nevertheless valid.

“We have argued strongly that the UK should grasp the opportunity of the COVID-19 recovery to improve the events industry and strengthen market collaboration between all players including event organisers, venues, primary and resale platforms”, Viagogo’s statement continued yesterday.

“We are open to all ideas as to how that is achieved, but it must be carefully considered and focused on improving the industry’s service for customers”, it added. “There is a need to address the failings of the primary market and we need to explore the risks of new and unregulated online resale channels”.

The need to also investigate primary ticketing was echoed by StubHub, which remains a rival of Viagogo in much of the world despite the two companies’ merger, as a result of the intervention in that deal by the CMA.

Its spokesperson said yesterday: “We have a long history of collaborating with regulators in the interests of our fans and will continue to support measures that promote a secure, transparent, and competitive ticket marketplace. We believe that the tools are in place today, through existing law, to protect consumers and address the potential issues highlighted by the CMA”.

“We encourage any ongoing regulatory discussions to be comprehensive”, they went on, adding that any such discussions should, “include a review of practices by primary ticket sellers that disadvantage fans such as restrictions on transferability or the way tickets are allocated for sale”.

All parties will now await with interest to see how the UK government responds to the CMA’s report.