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Viagogo moving London execs to New York as tide turns against the touts

By | Published on Thursday 30 August 2018


Champion rip-off merchant Viagogo is preparing to move much of its UK based workforce to New York, with sources telling The Guardian that the shift is already underway. It’s thought some of the controversial ticket resale firm’s UK team may depart the company as part of the move. That at least means those people will no longer have to list themselves as “scum of the earth” on their LinkedIn profiles. So, there are upsides.

Viagogo remains the most controversial of all the operators in the always controversial secondary ticketing market, with even some touts critical of their anti-consumer practices. It has consistently refused to remove tours from its platform even when artists have vowed to cancel as many touted tickets as possible, meaning the chances are most tickets sold via the Viagogo site will be invalid by the time of the show. It has also refused to remove tickets for charity concerts that have been posted by touts at majorly hiked up prices.

Critics also argue that Viagogo deliberately seeks to confuse consumers into thinking they are buying from an official source – not least by using the word “official” quite a lot – rather than ensuring that the ticket-buyer is making an informed decision to buy from an unofficial seller, with the costs and risks that come with doing so. It also has a long history of hiding its own significant fees from the consumers until the final stages of the transaction, and then of ignoring said consumers if and when they have issues with their touted tickets.

Long slated by anti-tout campaigners, Viagogo has also come under increased fire from politicians and regulators in recent years. In the UK the firm has faced investigations, sanctions and/or legal action from no less than three regulators: the Competition And Markets Authority, National Trading Standards and the Advertising Standards Authority.

It didn’t do anything to improve its relationship with the UK political community by refusing to attend a select committee hearing in Parliament on the ticket resale market. It’s very rare for a company with operations, offices and investors in the UK to refuse to answer the questions of MPs about its policies and practices. Secondary ticketing will be debated in Parliament once again next week and Viagogo has again been asked to attend.

Announcing that new session looking at live music in general and touting in particular, Parliament’s culture select committee said earlier today: “The growth of secondary ticketing continues to frustrate the public and threaten the sustainability of live music events. MPs will use this inquiry to continue investigating this problem, since the 2017 General Election cut short the previous Committee’s inquiry looking into ticket abuse. This inquiry launched today will aim to incorporate the findings and evidence that were submitted previously, and MPs will once again invite ticket reselling companies such as Viagogo to contribute evidence”.

Viagogo’s previous refusal to engage with parliamentarians is part of a wider ‘wall of silence’ strategy that it has employed across the board in recent years as online ticket touting, and especially its anti-consumer practices, have become ever more controversial. This approach is in contrast with the early days of the company’s operations, when its founder Eric Baker was always on hand with a quote about this or that development in the live music sector.

To date Viagogo has pretty much got away with all of this, while also ignoring any new ticket resale regulations as and when they are introduced or enforced. But anti-tout campaigners feel the tide is finally turning against the rogue company. Loopholes in the law are finally being closed. Regulators are finally taking action. And consumers are finally getting the message on the back of superstar artists implementing anti-touting policies and regular newspaper reports about consumers being fucked over by Baker and his unfortunate lackeys.

All of those things have been happening in the UK, and in a number of other European countries, as well as Australia and New Zealand. The recent decision of Live Nation’s Ticketmaster to shut down its European resale sites Get Me In! and Seatwave is also a sign that increased regulation and greater public awareness of how ticketing works is making the resale market a harder place to operate, even if it remains lucrative for the key players.

All of which may be behind Viagogo’s decision to put more emphasis on its US operations. Ticketing is generally regulated at a state level in America, and therefore rules and attitudes to touting – or scalping as they call it – vary greatly from state to state. But it does seem that the backlash to touting and tout platforms is much less significant Stateside.

Indeed, Live Nation’s decision to backout of the secondary market doesn’t apply in the US. As for Viagogo, Baker is American and he began his career in tout-enablement by co-founding American resale site StubHub, which is now an eBay company of course.

According to a source cited by The Guardian, senior staff at Viagogo’s London base were told they’d be moved to New York back in May. Said source says: “Several senior developers have already relocated, but they’re mostly people that have been at Viagogo since nearly day one and so are probably invested in the company. A few others are moving in the next couple of months, and others are leaving very soon”.

The Guardian adds that touts who sell on the Viagogo platform have also noticed that they are now being paid their monies by the firm’s US subsidiary rather than its head office in Switzerland, as before. That US business, Viagogo Entertainment Inc, is registered in Delaware, as is the firm’s ultimate parent company, Baker’s Pugnacious Endeavors.

Back in Europe, all eyes are now on Google, which pledged to stop selling search advertising to secondary ticketing platforms with anti-consumer practices. Viagogo has complied with some of Google’s requirements (more so than with any government instigated regulations), but still isn’t completely compliant with the search engine’s rules. If the web giant stopped taking ads from Viagogo, so that it stopped appearing top in Google searches for upcoming in demand tours and concerts, that would have a bigger impact on the company than anything else.

It’s not clear what kind of UK base Viagogo will continue to have once it’s completed its current shift of staff Stateside. The firm also has a base in Limerick in Ireland, which was the reason one Irish senator was planning to oppose a clamp down on ticket touting there. It remains to be seen what the company decides to do with its Irish office.