Via-No-No: Time to give ticket reseller the boot

by Peter Griffin / 07 February, 2019
viagogo credit card

Online ticket reseller Viagogo has become notorious for dodgy ticket resales. Photo/Getty

Of all the online brands that have infiltrated my life, from AirBnB to Uber, there’s one that fills me with dread – Viagogo.

The Geneva-based ticket resale site has caused misery and heartbreak for countless people here and abroad who are seeking the most reasonable of things – a fair price on tickets to a concert or sports event.

Viagogo has a one star rating on Trustpilot after more than 25,000 reviews. The negative experiences just keep piling up: people paying massively inflated ticket prices, not getting the class of ticket or seating they were promised or worst of all, turning up to the venue and being refused entry because their ticket is a fake or has been resold multiple times by scammers.

The world’s largest ticket reseller has grown massive by putting a shiny face on ticket scalping. It doesn’t set the ticket prices on its site – the sellers it represents do. But it uses sales tactics and charges fees in a way that have raised concerns from consumer watchdogs all over the world.

While Viagogo claims that ticket sellers on its platform are only paid for their tickets “after the buyer has successfully gained entry to the event”, numerous complaints tell of diabolical customer service and disputes over refunds.

Viagogo isn’t alone in hawking second-hand concert tickets, but compared to major competitors like StubHub and Seatwave, Viagogo appears to be a magnet for scams, rip-offs and misleading advertising.

Regulatory heat

While regulators around the world have pursued action against Viagogo, our own Commerce Commission has taken them to court in a civil lawsuit that kicked off yesterday. The Commission said in its opening statements that Viagogo is the most complained about company in New Zealand.

The outcome of that lawsuit could change how Viagogo operates in New Zealand or see it withdraw from selling tickets to local events if it was unwilling to change its ways to suit such a small market.

So why do people continue to risk disaster with this offshore e-commerce operator with zero trust to buy expensive concert tickets? 

The ticket sell-out

There are two reasons for that. The first is hard to address – the limited supply of tickets to the most sought-after events and the massive demand for those tickets. Think of Ed Sheeran’s record-breaking run of concerts in Auckland and Dunedin last year.

Unless you are waiting online to buy tickets when they go on sale or have access to ticket pre-sales, getting your hands on tickets to your dream gig or sports event can be incredibly difficult. The problem has only escalated with the proliferation of tours by ageing musicians such as Phil Collins and Elton John, who are nearing retirement and keen for one more lap to shake down the baby boomers before they exit stage left for good.

Paying $80 for a concert ticket seemed expensive 15 years ago. Now you are regularly expected to shell out $300 or more for a half decent seat at one of our stadiums, arenas or theatres.

So people who miss out are naturally going to turn to the web to try and find that elusive ticket to see their favourite artist play.

viagogo nz

A screenshot from Viagogo; the interface is similar to Ticketek.

Google’s complicity

That’s where the second reason for Viagogo’s stubborn refusal to die comes into play. The company spends massive amounts of money buying advertising alongside Google’s search results. So people searching for tickets are likely to see a link to Viagogo with available tickets for sale as the top premium hit on Google.

Viagogo outbids everyone else to be the number one result every time and many people, oblivious to the controversy surrounding the company, click on through to browse the available tickets. The site looks glossy and official, mirroring many of the attributes of Ticketmaster or Ticketek, who may have been the official agent for the tickets originally.

Google’s track record as an enabler of Viagogo is well-documented. But as Consumer New Zealand chief executive Sue Chetwin pointed out yesterday, Google has no incentive to block sale of ads to Viagogo on Google search results, because it makes millions of dollars from Viagogo.

Not all tickets sold on Viagogo are fake or sold at multiple times the original sale price. But until Viagogo reveals who the seller of the ticket is, reveals the face value of tickets and offers more transparency around pricing, ticket buyers are taking a gamble when they use Viagogo.

Google has remained largely silent on Viagogo but has said elsewhere that it will comply with competition watchdog rulings in regards to the company.

So what’s the alternative to Viagogo?

There are other ticket resale websites. But as a Consumer New Zealand investigation of the ticket resale market in conjunction with its Australian equivalent Choice showed in 2017, the other resellers also cop their share of criticism.

The biggest local rival to Viagogo in New Zealand is Ticketmaster Resale. It is the resale market run by Ticketmaster, listed as the official ticket vendor for a multitude of touring artists and events.

But the difference between the two sites may be lost on some users, who may go to Ticketmaster Resale expecting to buy tickets at face value. With Ticketmaster Resale you are also likely to pay inflated prices for tickets as Ticketmaster is also selling them on behalf of people who set the price, making a margin in the process.

Trade Me hosts a flourishing market for tickets on resale and the company is unapologetic about facilitating ticket scalpers.

“For the vast majority of events people are allowed to on-sell legitimate tickets, so Trade Me’s position is that we allow them to be sold,” a Trade Me blog post explains.

“It is impossible for us to enforce the terms and conditions of a third party like a ticketing agency for example, as we don’t have oversight of how the tickets were originally acquired.”

Facebook Marketplace features users selling tickets, but without any of the buyer protections Trade Me offers. It is the wild west of trading, to be avoided until Facebook introduces some quality control and security.

Other ticket resellers such as Australian-operated Tixel and Viagogo arch-rival StarHub also list tickets for New Zealand events, though they should be used with caution too.

Ed Sheeran had endorsed Australian website Twickets in the run-up to his 2018 concerts, which only resells tickets at face value. Twickets takes a fee of 10-15 per cent of the selling price, charged to the ticket buyer. But the site is yet to debut in New Zealand.

Such face value ticket resellers offer hope for the future of the ticket resale market, which after all serves an important purpose. With touring acts advertising their gigs a year or more before they actually arrive to play, it is quite possible that your plans will change by the time your favourite act arrives to perform.

I’ve on occasion bought a ticket to a gig in Auckland only to find flights and accommodation are so eye wateringly expensive that I’ve on-sold the ticket to someone in my Facebook network – at face value.

All eyes are now on the Commerce Commission to see if it can enforce better behaviour from Viagogo. In the meantime, we should all follow the Commission’s advice and “seriously consider whether buying tickets from ticket reselling website Viagogo is worth the risk”.

Viagogo responds: “All tickets on viagogo are valid and it is perfectly legal to resell a ticket or give it to someone else if you want to. It is our aim to make information as clear as possible.” 

"Viagogo will continue to work with the Commerce Commission to address their concerns. We remain committed to providing a secure platform for people to buy and sell sport, music and entertainment tickets to events all over the world."

Ten tips to avoid ticket buying disasters

  1. Only buy tickets from the official ticket agent endorsed by the artist, theatre or sports team.
  1. Register for pre-sales and look for opportunities to get preferential deals and seating e.g. Spark customers are occasionally offered deals on tickets to gigs at Spark Arena, one of Auckland’s biggest and most popular music venues.
  1. Get on the ticket agents’ and artists’ mailing lists so you know exactly when tickets go on sale and of any deals that may be on offer.
  1. If you can, go directly to the venue to buy your tickets, or call them on the phone. You may save on fees charged by ticket agents and can get advice on seating arrangements.
  1. If tickets are not being offered exclusively by one agent, shop around and compare prices between them as well as “delivery” and credit card processing fees.
  1. Follow Trade Me’s guidelines on buying tickets from its site or the likes of Facebook Marketplace. Can the seller show proof they have the tickets to sell? What is the feedback rating on the seller like?
  1. If using the likes of Viagogo or StarHub, check the face value of the ticket and whether there are any restrictions around the tickets being resold. Don’t panic at alerts suggesting there are only a handful of tickets left – they are just sales tactics to get you to buy now!
  1. If you’ve missed the boat entirely on getting tickets to a hot gig, don’t immediately resort to ticket resale websites. Wait a while. Often additional gigs will be announced or more tickets will be released closer to show time.
  1. Consider volunteering as an usher or steward at the event venue. This is especially common at festivals, where a large number of casual staff are required for a short period of time. You’ll be repaid for your efforts in free tickets.
  1. Pay for tickets with a credit card and screengrab, or otherwise record your transactions. If something goes wrong and there is a dispute, you may be able to get the credit card transaction reversed and having a digital paper trail will help in resolving the matter.

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