It’s just been found guilty of misleading Australian consumers, its rivals say it aids ticket scalping “on an industrial scale”, and it is accused of leading people to overpay to see their favourite bands or sporting teams.
But ticket reseller Viagogo says it is “misunderstood” and its competitors are using “scare tactics” to frighten customers. If it didn’t exist, prices might even go up, it’s claimed.
“If it wasn’t for us, most fans wouldn’t have a chance to go to high-demand events because the odds are stacked against them. We give them that one last chance to make it to the event,” Viagogo managing director Cris Miller said.
Previously reticent to talk publicly, with regulators now breathing down its neck and an adverse court finding, Viagogo has launched a charm offensive.
Viagogo was found guilty in the Federal Court today of making false or misleading representations and engaging in conduct liable to mislead the public. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) had accused the site of creating a “false sense of urgency” and giving the appearance it was an “official” seller. The ACCC and NSW Fair Trading had warned customers against buying tickets from the firm.
Talking to news.com.au, Mr Miller said Viagogo had already changed some of the more controversial aspects of its site — it had stopped calling itself “official” — and was willing to go further.
“The ruling does not reflect our current ticketing platform and the many changes we have made. We are disappointed that the Chair of the Commission does not support the greater competition that Viagogo and other ticket resellers bring to the market which provides greater choice for Australians consumers,” he said.
But proposals to put price caps on resold tickets “simply don’t work”, he added.
The Swiss firm has shaken up ticketing since its Australian launch in 2013. Mr Miller characterised it as a “marketplace” that allows tickets to be freely bought and sold.
Others are less generous. Bands Gang of Youths, Peking Duk and comedian Kitty Flanagan have all urged punters to shun the site.
“Just say no to Viagogo,” Flanagan said last year. “If you’re going to pay that much money call me direct, I’ll come round to your house and do a show in your living room.”
‘LOVE TO HAVE A BETTER REPUTATION’
Mr Miller admitted Viagogo’s brand had been hurt by criticism.
“Of course we would love to have a better reputation. We’re misunderstood, and we need to do a better job of educating our customers and dispel myths about what it is we do.”
Its biggest rivals would prefer Viagogo to not exist at all. Chief operating officer of Ticketek owner TEG, Cameron Hoy, called Viagogo a “scourge on the live entertainment industry”.
“Viagogo is under scrutiny because fans and authorities have had enough of the rip-offs,” Mr Hoy told news.com.au.
“Viagogo facilitates resale scalping of tickets at an industrial scale, a practice that is rife with fraud, price gouging and leaves many fans heartbroken and out of pocket.”
But Mr Miller said it was sour grapes from established players that were “super opaque” about their own practices that were an “inherently unfair process”.
As little as 20 per cent of tickets for some high-demand events were sold on general release, he claimed, which only fuelled the resale market.
The rest, he said, were given to sponsors or wrapped up into VIP packages that can cost far more.
Ticketmaster said venues set the number of tickets available. Ticketek’s Mr Hoy didn’t answer questions about the level of tickets released. He said Viagogo’s comments were a “desperate attempt” to distract consumers from “their own deceptive and unethical business practices”.
CHEAPER TICKETS ALSO ON VIAGOGO
Mr Miller denied Viagogo was the go-to website of scalpers, saying many of its sellers were simply people who bought a ticket and now couldn’t attend.
“It doesn’t encourage anything other than having a safe and secure transaction.”
Mr Miller also slammed those venues that blocked people with valid tickets, bought on Viagogo, from getting in.
“It’s scare tactics to say your tickets aren’t valid. In what other industry does someone pay for a product and then they can’t do with it what they like?” he said.
He pointed out big players, like Ticketmaster and Ticketek, both have their own resale sites yet baulk at Viagogo’s.
There are complaints Viagogo is choc full of fraudulent tickets. Mr Miller said only around 1 per cent of tickets turned out to be dodgy, and they refunded customers or replaced the ticket if that occurred.
He admitted some tickets were very expensive on Viagogo but said that was around 6 per cent of the total number available and the price was set by sellers. Often, the priciest tickets don’t sell because they are priced too high.
Indeed, many tickets were cheaper than other websites. “It happens more often than it’s reported,” Mr Miller said.
Then there’s the fees. News.com.au searched for two tickets for Fleetwood Mac in Sydney this August.
Ticket prices were broadly similar between Ticketek and Viagogo, but the latter added GST and fees of around $80, or a third of the ticket price. On Ticketek the fees were $6.90.
What’s more, the full thud of Viagogo’s fees wasn’t revealed until much of the way through the booking process.
The ACCC has warned of so-called “drip pricing” where extra costs are steadily added to an online order.
Viagogo said its fees varied and covered access to its platform, a 24-hour customer service team and a new ticket or refund should a problem arise. It claimed its rivals sometimes had higher fees.
During its ACCC court case Viagogo’s solicitor dismissed disgruntled customers who said they were unaware they were on Viagogo’s site rather than an official ticketing firm as “exceptionally careless,” The Daily Telegraphreported.
FALSE SENSE OF URGENCY
But it’s easy to find yourself on Viagogo without knowing it. It spends heavily on Google, coming high in search results for popular events. Click these links and the Viagogo logo is often absent from the page you land on.
Viagogo didn’t explain why its logo was missing. But there is a prominent disclaimer stating the page is a “secondary marketplace for tickets”.
Mr Miller said if you searched for airline tickets you wouldn’t assume the first link was the airline’s site.
Another criticism has been the site’s many prompts saying tickets are selling out which the ACCC said created “a false sense of urgency”. A countdown clock incessantly ticks down ramping up the anxiety. But if you time out, it simply resets to give you more time.
Again the company says it’s made changes. Small print now explains when the site says “less than 2 per cent of tickets left for this event”, it means less than 2 per cent of the tickets for that event are available on Viagogo.
“We’ll continue to make changes and look at what our customers tell us,” Mr Miller said.
But Mr Miller said it was a “sector-wide issue” in ticketing, and Viagogo would make further site modifications if competitors had to.
The company was looking at one key change though. In other countries it now forces sellers to disclose the original purchase price of a ticket.
Could that happen in Australia? “Yes, that’s the plan,” Mr Miller told news.com.au.
Viagogo would be open to the banning of bots and computer software that automatically scooped up swathes of tickets before fans got their hands on them.
PRICES WILL GO UP
But the firm was against price caps, including proposals that resold tickets should be no more than 10 per cent above the original price.
“Price caps in other countries simply don’t work, they are misguided,” Mr Miller said.
“You should give the buyer a choice. You should be able to pay whatever you feel comfortable with in a safe and secure environment.”
If sellers were prevented from charging what they thought the market could bear on Viagogo, sellers would go elsewhere, he said.
“To the streets, Gumtree or Facebook. There would be no protections, no transparency of prices, and when you don’t have transparency over pricing, prices will ultimately go up,” Mr Miller said.
“We didn’t create the market; it was always there. We just put order to the market.”