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Viagogo proposes selling StubHub everywhere but North America to get UK regulator approval

By | Published on Wednesday 11 November 2020


Viagogo has proposed selling off all but the North American StubHub business in order to get regulator approval in the UK for the already-completed acquisition of its ticket resale rival.

Viagogo completed its purchase of StubHub from previous owner eBay earlier this year. By the time the purchase was completed, the UK’s Competition & Markets Authority had already confirmed it was investigating the deal because of competition concerns, a combined Viagogo/StubHub set to totally dominate the British secondary ticketing market.

For its part, Viagogo tried to argue that it also competes with face-value ticket exchanges and primary ticket agents, so there would still be plenty of competition in the marketplace, but – after a two phase investigation – the CMA said its competition law concerns remained.

In a statement last month the CMA suggested that its approval could still be secured if Viagogo committed to a significant divestment of either StubHub assets, Viagogo assets or a combination of the two. Though given Viagogo had already offered to sell StubHub Europe to get CMA approval – and that remedy had been deemed insufficient by the regulator – it was clear that any new proposal would need to involve a significant sell-off.

Hence the reported new proposal to sell off everything StubHub other than its North American business. That’s not entirely surprising, given we knew that Viagogo’s main interest in buying StubHub was to get a much bigger slice of the US market, where StubHub is a much bigger deal than Viagogo.

According to the Press Association, Viagogo made that proposal to the CMA last week. Any buyer would get access to both the StubHub brand and its customer base in all non-North American markets. “The purchaser will therefore”, Viagogo’s proposal reportedly states, “be provided with the customer and transaction data necessary to compete in secondary ticketing in the UK and beyond”.

Of course, StubHub websites in the US and Canada, operated by Viagogo, would still be accessible by ticket sellers and buyers in the UK. However, Viagogo would make commitments that the North American division of StubHub would not target UK consumers, for example through search engine advertising. And presumably whoever bought StubHub UK would want similar assurance.

There are some extra technicalities though, according to the PA’s report, which says that the buyer would have a three-year licence to use the StubHub brand in the UK. It’s not quite clear what that means, although possibly whoever buys the global StubHub business would have to rebrand within three years, so that ultimately only Viagogo’s StubHub North America division got to use that name.

It remains to be seen if this bigger divestment proposal placates the CMA. FanFair, the group that campaigns against for-profit online ticket touting in the UK, points out all the various controversies involving Viagogo over the years, and says it has specific concerns with what is now being proposed.

“Viagogo is a discredited business that’s been at the heart of a major ticket mis-selling scandal, ripping off UK audiences to the tune of millions”, the group’s Adam Webb said yesterday, adding that “the operators of this platform cannot be trusted”. Raising various issues with what has been proposed, Webb said: “We have already raised these concerns with the CMA”.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Viagogo said: “We look forward to working with the CMA to deliver a comprehensive solution which addresses their concerns and we believe this proposal would achieve that”.