As the Commerce Commission gears up for its February 5 courtroom showdown with Viagogo, more stories are coming out of the woodwork about the ticket-selling site’s alleged bad behaviour – which has seen some people allegedly overpay for tickets; tickets that in some instances allegedly never arrive from the high-rotate Google advertiser.
Herald subscriber and rugby fan Ian Henderson says, “My story is that in late April this year I was at Gibraltar airport awaiting a flight to London.
“I was on my iPad and looking for NZ v England rugby tickets on an NZRFU site and this led me to a ticket sales site which turned out to be not the official site, but you-know-who.”
Viagogo buys a large volume of ads on Google and its ads typically appear at the top of a search for tickets to any given event.
“I knew the tickets would be expensive but I was keen. I mistakenly thought I was buying two tickets for £800 [$1500] but it turns out that this was the per ticket price,” Henderson says.
“I was also bombarded by ‘hurry up’ messages because many other buyers were online and keen. Under pressure I pressed the ‘buy’ button as my flight started boarding,” Henderson says.
The Commerce Commission alleges that Viagogo’s various on-screen messages are not just a hard-sell.
Examples of the “scarcity representations” include on October 26, when Viagogo said there were “only 16 tickets left” for a performance of The Nutcracker in December, when there were at least 382 tickets available at the time, 40 per cent of capacity, the Commission alleges.
Henderson paid £800 per ticket.
He was gutted to later learn that their face value was about £140 each.
All up, Henderson spent just over $3000, then he could have got the same tickets through official channels for around $530.
He had had no idea he was actually on a resale site.
“As you can imagine I felt stupid,” he says.
The Commerce Commission took legal action against Viagogo after receiving 587 complaints (and counting) against the Swiss-based online trader.
The regulator has concerns about some consumers not realising they are on a resale site, and paying over-the-odds for tickets.
Some, like Henderson, at least received their tickets.
Others, allegedly, did not.
In court documents, the Commerce Commission alleges Viagago has made representations that it can guarantee the validity of tickets when it cannot – a breach of the Fair Trading Act.
In March, the Commerce Commission issued a public warning titled “Consumers need to seriously consider if buying from Viagogo is worth the risk,” noting it was investigating numerous alleged incidents of fake tickets being sold, or the same ticket being sold multiple times.
The regulator also noted complaints about hidden fees and misrepresented pricing and “consumers never receiving the tickets they purchased and being unable to get hold of Viagogo to receive a refund.”
It said Viagogo’s conflict resolution process – which calls for aggrieved customers to work through a Swiss court – was unreasonable.
Viagogo refuses to be served
The Commerce Commission’s application for an interim injunction for restraint of trade says Viagogo instructed solicitors in New Zealand but refused to be served with legal papers.
The regulator’s lawyers, Crown solicitors Meredith Connell, say “it is therefore in the interests of justice that the application be determined on a Pickwick basis,” – a practice whereby the respondent to an ex parte application is invited to appear at the hearing without the need to file written submissions.
Legal trouble elsewhere
Viagogo also faces court or enforcement action in Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain, the UK and Australia. It has been fined in Italy and sued by Fifa.
Organisers of the ASB Classic in Auckland issued a warning against buying tickets on Viagogo. The tennis tournament’s director, Karl Budge, alleged several punters had been sold fake tickets.
The Herald asked Viagogo to comment on Budge’s accusation, and how it could guarantee tickets sold on its site were authentic.
The company’s press office replied, “The tickets sold on Viagogo’s platform are genuine tickets that have been sold on by the original ticket purchaser in good faith. Event organisers sometimes make claims that they will deny entry to people who have purchased resold tickets. These types of entry restrictions are highly unfair and in our view, unenforceable and illegal. Therefore, as with all tickets on our platform, Viagogo customers should feel confident that they will gain entry to the event, and that is why we back every ticket with the Viagogo guarantee.”
Viagogo has not responded to questions about specific customers’ complaints, or the various allegations made by the Commerce Commission about specific sales.
A spokeswoman for Google said the company required advertisers to follow its terms and conditions. It did not comment on individual advertisers.