What does Viagogo's rollercoaster year mean for football fans?

Match ticket

Last week Viagogo sent shockwaves through the ticketing industry when it announced it was buying ticket resale rival Stubhub for just over £4billion. The move may not come as a surprise to many as Viagogo’s founder and CEO was also the co-founder of Stubhub. It may, however, cause additional confusion to football fans already questioning whether Viagogo is a service that they should use.

Most football fans that have tried to get tickets to a high-profile game abroad will have likely come across Viagogo or similar sites like Stubhub, Seatwave or GetMeIn at some point. They’re essentially secondary ticketing marketplaces where users can sell on tickets they are not going to use. Viagogo, however, is arguably the most infamous in the UK thanks to its controversial history.

The company has had an eventful couple of years. It has tangled with UK consumer watchdogs, MPs, campaign groups and even had its Google advertising account suspended. All before it announced the recent big-money end of year signing. The controversy only increases the uncertainty for fans looking to get their hands on the hottest tickets in town, so just what has Viagogo been up to and should you be doing business with it.

Overseas football
Watching games abroad can be expensive

The Viagogo story

Most people on the lookout for tickets will know that they are likely to have to pay a bit more on the second-hand market. One of the main complaints about Viagogo though was that it hit fans with sky-high delivery fees once they had already selected their tickets and added them to their online basket. This practice of ‘drip pricing’ attracted the attention of the campaign group FanFair Alliance. In 2018 they were then successful in pressuring the Advertising Standard Authority to force Viagogo to make their fees transparent and prices consistent throughout the buying journey.

As this was happening the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) was also paying close attention to Viagogo’s handy work. In 2017 they launched enforcement action against 4 of the best-known resale marketplaces – Viagogo, Stubhub, Seatwave, and GetMeIn – for failure to comply with UK consumer protection law. According to the CMA Viagogo was the only one of the 4 not to act.

A year later the CMA issued a court order against the company for its lack of action and continued non-compliance. Viagogo promised action but again failed to deliver. Then in March of this year, the CMA announced that it would be taking legal action. The charges leveled against the company were a lack of transparency for its online transactions. It was accused of not providing accurate information on availability to push users into making purchases quickly, not clearly stating that secondary tickets are not always accepted at venues and didn’t always guarantee entry as well as not providing clear enough information about location and numbers of seats.

People were beginning to stand up and take notice of the company and the practices on its website. The marketplace was seen by many as a haven for professional touts using bots to harvest tickets from official sources and then sell on for big profits. In July Google suspended the companies advertising account saying that they wanted to ensure honesty and transparency for their users. Viagogo’s site visits fell from 15m in June to 4.5m in August.

Campaign groups hailed the decision as a major victory in the battle against secondary ticketing but Viagogo soon fought back. The CMA dropped their case against the company in September and said that they had taken huge steps in improving the user experience on their website. According to the watchdog users now had all of the key information they needed before deciding to part with their hard-earned money. The rest was up to them. Then in November, Viagogo announced it had bought one of its chief rivals, Stubhub. Within days their Google advertising account seemed to have been restored.

Fans watching a game
Many fans will still be happy to use resale sites

What next for fans?

While there is a lot of noise around the secondary ticket industry the CMA’s assessment is essentially correct. Fans looking to buy tickets for games abroad should have all the information they need to decide if they are willing to hand over some extra cash for the tickets they want. By and large, the site is now upfront with its prices. Their service is also generally reliable although in 2017 they were accused of offering previous customers (some who’d bought tickets 9 or 10 years previous) an opportunity to win £100 in a prize draw if they wrote a favourable review on TrustPilot.

The decision on whether to use the site now becomes more of an ethical dilemma as Viagogo appears to have satisfied the relevant authorities. For many people, online marketplaces like Viagogo’s are facilitating the practice of online ticket touting. In recent months several touts have been caught and sentenced after having used resale to sell tickets they’ve acquired, although this also asks questions of initial sales processes and how they are managed.

The 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act makes it illegal for a person without authorisation from a football club to sell or dispose of a ticket to a third party in England or Wales. Sites like Viagogo are clever not to draw attention to themselves by advertising tickets for games in the UK. Just like smaller companies that do, however, they are not based in England or Wales. This means they have potentially found a loophole in an act that came into place way before the online ticketing revolution.

In 2018 the Guardian found that Milan fans had bought tickets for their Europa League game at Arsenal through Viagogo meaning the non-UK version of the site may be selling UK tickets. I also know of people that bought England tickets for Euro 2016 through the .com version of Viagogo. There do seem to be ways around the legislation for fans willing to look hard enough, under the rock of secondary ticketing.

Ticketmaster’s shutdown of its resale sites GetMeIn and Seatwave last year following enforcement action from the CMA shows that there is some re-organising going on in the resale industry, no doubt caused by the increase in pressure from campaign groups and MPs. More UK clubs are also trying to distance themselves from these sites by operating their resale platforms that offer secondary tickets at face value. Hopefully this means more clarity for fans looking to get to games, but for now, using sites like Viagogo and paying a bit more is a decision left up to fans themselves. And one that many will be willing to take.