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Campaigners call on UK competition regulator to investigate Viagogo’s StubHub deal

By | Published on Friday 29 November 2019


Anti-touting campaigners FanFair and consumer rights group Which? have both called on the UK competition regulator to investigate Viagogo’s proposed $4 billion acquisition of its secondary ticketing rival StubHub, which was announced earlier this week.

A key motivation for Viagogo in doing the deal is likely that it will give the company a significant stake of the American ticket resale market. While politicians and regulators have started to much more closely scrutinise secondary ticketing in many key European markets – and Australia and New Zealand – where Viagogo is dominant, this has not really happened Stateside. Yet. Although ticketing in general is now under the spotlight in Washington.

Meanwhile, from a UK perspective, the deal gives Viagogo a near monopoly in the for-profit ticket resale domain here, Live Nation having shut down its resale platforms last year as regulator scrutiny and demands increased. It also means that the platform that voluntarily complied with those regulator demands – ie StubHub – will now be owned by the company that only fell in line at the very last minute once the matter was in the courts.

However, in an interview with Radio 4’s ‘You & Yours’ earlier this week, Viagogo’s Cris Miller argued that even a combined Viagogo/StubHub would still be operating in a very competitive market place. Though that was on the basis that the touting platform competes with primary ticket sellers like Ticketmaster and See Tickets, and the face value ticket resale platforms, both standalone and those operated by the primary sites.

In a letter to the Competition & Markets Authority urging the regulator to investigate the StubHub deal, FanFair argues that comparing Viagogo/StubHub to primary sellers and face value resale platforms is misleading. In particular it urges the CMA to distinguish between those resale sites employed by industrial level touts and those that are exclusively used by consumers who need to sell on a ticket for a show they can no longer attend.

FanFair refers to these two groups respectively as B2C platforms and C2C platforms. It then explains how in the UK, unlike the US, “there has been a dramatic expansion in the provision of C2C ticket resale services”.

It adds: “These include standalone resale services such as Twickets, a range of capped resale services operated by primary ticketing agents including See Tickets, Eventim, AXS, Resident Advisor, Ticketmaster and Ticketline, and mobile-only services such as Dice. The UK now hosts more consumer-friendly ticket resale services than any country in the world”.

Crucially, “the dynamics of this C2C sector are vastly different from [B2C]: they are for consumers only, users can only resell for the price they paid or less, and on some services users can reallocate tickets for free. Otherwise, buyers are typically charged a fee of between 10-15% of the sale price. Even within these constraints, there is competition developing within the market”.

Although it acknowledges that there are some other much smaller B2C sites still operating here, FanFair goes on: “The closure of [Live Nation’s] Get Me In! and Seatwave means there are currently only two significant B2C secondary platforms operating in the UK: StubHub and Viagogo. A merger of the two, would potentially leave a single market-dominant platform. There would be no competition”.

And while touts selling tickets on that combined platform would still compete with each other – something Miller was also keen to talk up earlier this week – when it comes to the already substantial fees the resale sites charge and the quality of the customer service offered when sales go wrong, less competition in the market could well see the former go up while the latter goes down.

With that in mind, FanFair quotes what US ticketing consultant Dave Wakeman told BBC Radio 5 Live earlier this week: “When consolidation of this nature happens in any industry, typically it’s bad for customers. Knowing Viagogo’s track record though, I would say that this has potential to be even worse … because they have a record of not being friendly to consumers. If customers are complaining about fees or a lack of transparency now, that’s likely to become an even bigger issue”.

Responding to concerns expressed about its StubHub buy, a spokesperson for Viagogo told The Guardian: “Viagogo expects the market regulator to look at this deal as they would with any deal of this size and we will be working with them collaboratively on that as required”.