Secondary ticketing: CMA secures court order against Viagogo to stop engaging in unfair consumer practices
What steps are the CMA taking to crack down on the secondary ticket markets?
For some time now, the CMA has been looking hard at secondary ticket sellers in an effort to ensure that all entities within the market comply with consumer protection laws. Voluntary commitments were given by three of the largest secondary ticketing websites, StubHub, GETMEIN! and Seatwave (owned by Ticketmaster). All three formally committed to new measures in April 2018 in order to make more information available to consumers on their websites.
Given Viagogo’s reluctance to voluntarily agree to make such commitments, the CMA pursued High Court proceedings to obtain an order to force Viagogo to comply with its demands. A contested application was due to be heard in the High Court in November 2018, but Viagogo acceded to the CMA’s requirements and an order was drawn requiring Viagogo and the other resellers to overhaul their practices by 17 January 2019.
The order of 27 November 2018 required Viagogo to:
- include information about whether there is a risk that the ticket buyer will be turned away at the door, which seat in the venue they will get and the identity of the seller if it is a business (to allow consumers to benefit from enhanced legal rights when purchasing from a business)
- make changes to its processes to prevent customers from being misled by messages about the availability and popularity of tickets
- make it easier for customers to obtain a refund when things go wrong and to avoid the risk of consumers’ claims being rejected unfairly
- ensure certain customers who had previously made claims under Viagogo’s guarantee, but didn’t get their money back, will receive refunds if they were in fact entitled to them.
In addition to these requirements, the CMA also published an open letter to event organisers, setting out the information required to be disclosed to ticket resellers in order to allow them to meet their obligations under consumer protection laws. It also reminded the event organisers of their own obligations to treat consumers fairly.
On 5 March 2019, the CMA released a further statement to announce that Viagogo had not complied with the order of 27 November, requiring them to make the above changes before 17 January 2019. It said that it is now preparing to take further legal action to ask the court to find Viagogo in contempt. If found in contempt, the company could be subject to fines or have their assets seized by the court. Additionally, its directors could find themselves subject to criminal liability.
Why is this important?
This decision highlights the importance of considering the effect of a lack of information, and misinformation, for consumers. Businesses should be mindful of compliance with consumer law and cooperation with regulatory authorities when investigations are taking place.
Any practical tips?
The other ticket resellers have largely been able to stay out of the press by early commitment to make changes for the benefit of the consumer market. Viagogo, on the other hand, have suffered immeasurable damage from bad publicity, not to mention the mounting legal costs and threat of financial and criminal sanction currently hanging over their heads from their failure to comply with the Order. It goes without saying that, if you find yourself subject to a court Order, you must take all steps to ensure compliance within the deadlines set.