Confidence Man tickets highlight Viagogo’s industrial-scale scam [op-ed]
For a company whose adverts are plastered all over Google and has the resources to fund a $4.05bn acquisition of its biggest rival, Viagogo runs a notoriously opaque business. And a highly controversial one too.
After upping sticks from the UK to Switzerland in 2012, in the wake of a damning undercover TV documentary, the self-styled “world’s largest secondary market for tickets to live events” has been followed by accusations of everything from grossly misleading consumers to straight-up law breaking.
At the very least, Viagogo has been the dark beating heart of a global multi-million-dollar ticket mis-selling scandal that has needlessly cost audiences around the world an astounding amount of money.
But if the site has proved problematic for consumers, it’s also presented challenges for regulators.
In the UK, legislation introduced in 2015 to provide ticket buyers with greater transparency was flagrantly ignored by Viagogo for four years or more. It took warnings from Government ministers and a court order from our Competition & Markets Authority, followed by a series of escalating warnings, before Viagogo even considered compliance.
This is not the behaviour of a normal company.
As a result of this sustained pressure, UK users of Viagogo do now have some indication about the kind of ticket they’re purchasing, its original face value, their seat location and who they’re buying it from. In most instances, this will be one the high-volume ticket touts on whom Viagogo is dependent.
Unfortunately citizens elsewhere in the world – including Australia – are not presented with this level of information. Although they are presented with fake waiting rooms, bogus loading bars, and other visual trickery to suggest tickets are in short supply (also practices banned in the UK).
Despite recent claims by Viagogo that, on the back of the $7m fine levied by the ACCC, their Australian business has been “overhauled”, those purchasing a ticket from viagogo.com/au still have no idea who they’re actually buying from.
Take this one example: Confidence Man, at the Melbourne Forum.
According to the venue website, the show has already been rescheduled twice due to the pandemic, and is now due to take place on 5th June 2021.
Ticketmaster has tickets available, priced $42.65 each.
Yet, when I Google “Confidence Man + Tickets”, the top search result is Viagogo.
Click through to viagogo.com/au and the show is still listed as taking place on 13th November 2020. Less than a month away. Demand is described as “high” although, fortunately, a fellow fan appears to be listing 20 tickets at once. Possibly a cancelled works outing?
They’re priced at $188 each. A 340% mark-up.
Go to viagogo.co.uk, however, and a slightly different picture emerges.
Confidence Man’s Melbourne show is still incorrectly listed as 13th November, and the 20 tickets are still there – priced at £103 each in local currency.
But as a UK user, I can also see the original face value of the tickets ($42) and that the seller is not in fact a fan, but a ticket tout called BTC registered to a post office in Booran Road, Caulfield, Victoria.
Such information on Viagogo’s apparently “overhauled” platform remains completely hidden to Australian users.
This same seller – also known as BT Corporate, PO Box 6036, Booran Road LPO, Caulfield, Victoria, 3162 – appears to be listing an awful lot of tickets through Viagogo.
Perhaps an investigative journalist might like to find out who this company is, how they get their tickets, and the extent of Viagogo’s dependency on their supply.
But beyond that, how can we fix this never-ending shit-show?
Here’s three fairly straightforward ideas:
First, Google needs to stand up, pull their finger out and stop profiting from this industrial-scale rip-off. Force Viagogo to make clear disclosure in their search adverts that they are a ticket reseller. Or, even better, just don’t let them advertise.
Second, the industry must do more to promote consumer-only resale. If you don’t like Viagogo, tell your customers to avoid it, and provide a better alternative.
And third, we need regulators to go harder.
Viagogo have consistently viewed consumer law as an inconvenience to their business model, and a $7m fine – however welcome – is chump change to Viagogo founder Eric Baker, who recently bought his third Beverly Hills mansion for $39m.
Regulatory bodies like the ACCC would be better off playing by Viagogo’s rules. You wouldn’t let a restaurant keep operating if it was poisoning its customers, and the same should apply here. A site is either “overhauled”, or it’s not. And if it isn’t, then shut it down until it is.
This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.