Music

Despite A $7-Million Fine, Viagogo Is Back On Its Bullshit

Some tickets are being slung for more than double the original price, and promoters are furious.

viagogo photo

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Barely six months after it was slapped with a $7-million fine from the consumer watchdog, controversial ticket reseller Viagogo is once again causing fury amongst artists and promoters for selling tickets at wildly inflated prices.

Last October, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) found that the Switzerland-based company had breached Australian consumer law for making false or misleading representations to its customers when reselling tickets. It had falsely presented itself as the “official” seller of tickets to particular events, had lied to customers about the scarcity of tickets, and didn’t disclose the significant fees tacked onto tickets — including a 27.3 percent booking fee — until late in the checkout process.

“Viagogo’s business practices were unacceptable,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims said at the time. “Viagogo misled thousands of consumers into buying tickets at inflated prices when they created a false sense of urgency by suggesting tickets were scarce and when they advertised tickets at a lower price by not including unavoidable fees.”

At the time, Viagogo copped the fine on the chin, although they insisted they had “overhauled” their processes and the decision only focused on a period of eight weeks.

“Since that time, we have overhauled our platform,” a spokesperson said. “A process that included consultation with consumer protection regulators in a number of countries. We are carefully considering today’s decision and for that reason we cannot provide further comment at this time.”

But now, as live gigs creep back on the horizon after the devastation of COVID, promoters are once again furious at the reseller, claiming it has simply returned to its old tricks and is selling tickets at illegally inflated prices again.

“Blatantly Breaking Existing Laws”

“The live music industry has taken a battering from COVID,” Dion Brant, Frontier Touring’s Chief Operation Officer, told Music Junkee. “The international scene is a long way from restarting given international border restrictions and the local scene is being disrupted weekly with lockdowns and state border closures.

“When shows are staged, they are done so with strict COVID-Safe compliance regulations from health authorities. Against that backdrop you have an uninvolved, third party bypassing the COVID-Safe ticket sales protocols, confusing fans, and profiteering with no involvement or risk. It is hard enough at the moment without a fan innocently googling your show, clicking on a link, and being told the tickets you are still trying to sell for $112 via your authorised channel cost $256.”

Brant uses the example of the upcoming Midnight Oil tour. A general admission ticket to the NSW show will set you back $112 from the official seller, Ticketmaster. However, that same ticket is being sold for up to $256 on Viagogo.

Screenshot of Midnight Oil GA ticket, via Ticketmaster

Screenshot of resold Midnight Oil GA ticket, via Viagogo

In NSW, the Fair Trading Act specifies that you cannot onsell tickets at more than 10 percent the original price. Additionally, the reseller must state the original price of the ticket. The above example shows an increase of over 128 percent on the face value of the original ticket, and nowhere is the original price shown.

“How does Viagogo get away with so blatantly breaking existing laws?” asks Brant. “Viagogo claims it is the ‘platform’ and not the ‘seller’. It puts itself in the same category as when say a vitamin company takes an ad in the paper saying it can cure COVID.

“Viagogo is not merely an advertising platform,” he continues. “It spends millions each year on google to get you to go to its site. You put your credit card into Viagogo. Your tickets come from a Viagogo email address. You have no idea who you are buying from other than Viagogo.”

The changes made to the Fair Trading Act in 2018 were welcome, he says, but they are clearly not being adhered to. It’s not just that one instance on Viagogo either — other available tickets to the same Midnight Oil show are being slung for over $190, obviously above that 10 percent onsell mark.

Laws like the 2018 NSW Fair Trading amendments are welcome, but the Midnight Oil example shows they are useless. Music Junkee contacted Viagogo and the ACCC regarding the above tickets.

It’s Not Just The Prices

If you were to go to Google right now, and plug in any artist name or question about upcoming tours, the first result you will undoubtedly see is Viagogo.

Viagogo

To the average music fan, you wouldn’t necessarily think anything was amiss — you’d probably assume that Viagogo was the right place to buy tickets, and the website doesn’t really lead you to think anything otherwise. It does contain one disclaimer on its front page now — that prices are set by sellers and it is a ‘secondary’ ticket marketplace — but it’s rather overshadowed by the colourful branding. To the untrained eye, Viagogo looks like the official seller.

“Viagogo implies to the average fan that they are an official, authorised channel to buy tickets,” says Brant. “They buy up keywords to wind up at the top of search engine results.

“If the average person clicks on Viagogo, finds the event and it says there are no tickets available — they assume the event is sold out. If they see that the tickets available are $250 they assume that the tickets for that concert are $250 and make a purchase decision on that basis. Meanwhile there may be thousands of tickets available at the price intended by the artist on official channels.”

A key part of the ACCC ruling was that Viagogo had also created a false sense of urgency by claiming there was a scarcity of tickets. It doesn’t appear much has changed, with images like the below flashing up after any ticket search:

While you’re browsing for tickets, a red panel on the left will also flash, indicating the apparent shortage of tickets.

viagogo

There’s also the issue of invalid tickets. In 2018, when Music Junkee spoke to FOMO Festival promoters BBE, organiser Jess Krishnaswamy told us the company had been overwhelmed by fans buying tickets from unofficial websites, only to turn up to the event on the day and realise the ticket was fake.

“You don’t need to have a valid ticket [to advertise them],” Krishnaswamy said, in early 2018. “One of the biggest issues with these resale sites is that people are making copies, or screenshots of PDFs and actually tricking people into buying them… We had so many issues at FOMO Brisbane, for example, with kids who had bought tickets via Viagogo that weren’t valid. Or, it was originally a valid ticket — and the scalper is selling that same ticket to 20 different kids to make money.”

“Viagogo has this business model built on deception.”

It’s unclear whether this has been rectified at all. In a recent Herald Sun article, TEG Live head Tim McGregor told journalist Kathy McCabe he had seen fans be turned away because their tickets weren’t valid: “We have seen it first-hand, the misery it creates when a fan has bought a ticket in good faith to see their favourite band live and it’s not valid,” he told McCabe. “It’s heartbreaking and we don’t want people to lose faith in going to shows again after waiting for so long.”

McGregor and Mushroom/Fronter boss Michael Gudinski have called on Google to reinstate the ban it put in place in 2019, which saw Viagogo booted from the ‘top search results’ section of the search engine. Until then, it’s up to punters to be extra careful.

Brant says the way forward is clear: laws like those in the NSW Fair Trading need to be Australia-wide, they need to be strictly enforced, and they need to make platforms like Viagogo responsible for legal compliance.

“Effectively Viagogo has this business model built on deception, and the expectation seems to be that if promoters don’t want consumers to buy from Viagogo, we should educate them about the pitfalls and dirty tricks at our cost,” Brant says. “It’s hard to think of another industry where the product manufacturer or service provider is expected to go out of their way to warn customers they might be getting ripped off by dodgy practices when buying their product or service.”

Update: Thursday February 18 9.00am

Viagogo has provided the following statement to Music Junkee:

“There is a clear misunderstanding of the viagogo business model. viagogo is a global online marketplace that connects sellers to buyers on an open, secure platform.

The viagogo website features banners making customers aware they are using a secondary ticketing platform. It is also prominently stated on the website, that viagogo does not set ticket prices, this is done by the people who use the platform to resell their tickets and that prices may be listed as higher or lower than the face value, depending on demand, so that all users are aware of this fact prior to their purchase. Tickets that are listed at unreasonable prices get the most media attention but rarely, if ever, sell.

“Furthermore, viagogo has a team dedicated to ensuring all buyers receive accurate information regarding their tickets, including notification of any COVID-19 protocols for their event.

“The past year has taught us that buyers require flexibility to change their plans more than ever. At viagogo, we want to ensure that buyers are able to exercise their right to resell their ticket should they be unable to attend the event. We also offer a high standard of customer protection in the form of the viagogo guarantee which ensures all buyers receive valid tickets and in the extremely rare case of a problem (no more than 1% of tickets sold worldwide in 2019 had any issues), viagogo steps in to find comparable replacements – or offer a full refund.

“In order to ensure a safe and swift recovery of live events, we believe industry wide cooperation is key and welcome the opportunity to work directly with event organisers so that fans get maximum access to events, which we believe should be the ultimate goal of everyone in the industry.”


Jules LeFevre is the editor of Music Junkee. She is on Twitter.