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UK competition regulator announces investigation into Viagogo’s StubHub buy

By | Published on Monday 16 December 2019


In the middle of all the hoo haa that followed the UK’s general election last week, the country’s Competition & Markets Authority confirmed on Friday that it will investigate Viagogo’s planned acquisition of eBay’s StubHub.

Secondary ticketing company Viagogo announced its plan to buy rival StubHub in a $4 billion deal last month. Among other things, it will give the former a significant stake in the US market, where ticket touting in the main continues to be less controversial and therefore less subject to new regulation.

It also means that Viagogo boss Eric Baker will be back in charge of the StubHub company he co-founded, but which he left in 2016 prior to its purchase by eBay. After leaving StubHub, Baker relocated to Europe to set up a rival platform. Since then, StubHub has always dominated in the US, while Viagogo has the edge in various other markets.

In the UK, a combined Viagogo/StubHub will be an incredibly dominant player in the secondary ticketing sector, Live Nation having shut down its resale platforms in Europe last year amid mounting criticism about online touting from within the music and political communities.

When asked about that by the BBC last month, Viagogo’s Cris Miller argued that both his company and StubHub also compete with primary ticket sellers and the face-value resale sites that have become more popular in the UK in recent years.

However, critics reject that argument, countering that the Viagogo/StubHub business is very different to that of primary and face-value resale sites. And while there are some other much smaller for-profit touting sites operating in the UK, the combined Viagogo/StubHub would totally dominate, meaning fees could well go up as customer service quality falls.

Anti-touting campaigners have also pointed out that, as a result of the deal, the resale site that reluctantly accepted CMA demands to fall in line with UK consumer rights law will now be run by the company that resisted until it faced contempt of court proceedings.

The music community’s FanFair campaign recently called for the CMA to investigate the Viagogo/StubHub deal. It raised an assorted of concerns in a letter to the regulator, and concluded: “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”.

The CMA confirmed that it was investigating the deal via a template statement on Friday. It said: “The CMA is considering whether it is or may be the case that this transaction, if carried into effect, will result in the creation of a relevant merger situation under the merger provisions of the Enterprise Act 2002”.

“And if so”, it went on, “whether the creation of that situation may be expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition within any market or markets in the United Kingdom for goods or services. To assist it with this assessment, the CMA invites comments on the transaction from any interested party”.

Interested parties now have until 10 Jan to make their submissions, after which the CMA will decide whether to approve the deal or instigate a more detailed investigation.