UK watchdog threatens ticket resale sites with court action

The CMA suspects some second-hand ticket sites are breaking the law.

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Mauricio Santana via Getty Images
Mauricio Santana via Getty Images

The UK's competition watchdog has fired another warning shot against secondary ticketing websites. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is partway through an investigation and says it has "widespread concerns" about the information sites are providing customers before they press purchase. All of them should provide details about their seats, the person they are buying the tickets from, and any restrictions that could deny them access to the event. Some websites are complying, however the regulator has also "gathered evidence which it considers reveal breaches of the law." It's now asking websites to clean up their act or face legal action.

"We will use the full range of our powers to get the right outcome for these sites' customers – including taking action through the courts if needed," Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA said in a statement.

The regulator opened its current investigation in December 2016. It then expanded the scope to include additional issues about pressure selling — whether sites mislead customers about the popularity and availability of tickets — reported difficulties in obtaining refunds, and speculative selling, where sites and scalpers advertise tickets that they don't already own.

The work is an extension of a prior investigation launched by the Office of Fair Trading in July 2012. That was also concerned with secondary ticketing sites and forced four of the largest companies — Get Me In, Seatwave, StubHub and Viagogo — to make significant changes for the CMA. These included information about entry restrictions, whether seats listed together were actually located together, hidden charges, and contact details should customers have any problems getting in. The CMA then opened a "compliance review" in March 2015 to ensure the companies had delivered on their promises. It found that all but one had followed through.

The review, however, revealed some "wider concerns" that triggered another, still ongoing investigation. In August, the CMA reportedly raided the offices of StubHub and Viagogo. Today, the regulator said it will be acting on one website's failure "to comply fully with formal commitments it had previously given." It didn't name the company, however, or confirm that it was the same one highlighted during the compliance review.

Ticket scalping isn't new. The advent of the internet and the popularity of secondary ticketing sites have escalated the problem, however. Scalpers buy tickets to concerts, stand-up comedy and sporting events knowing they can be resold easily online. Sometimes these tickets are sold more than once, boosting the scalper's profits and denying unsuspecting customers entry. Legislators have tried to take action — the Digital Economy Bill, for instance, made ticket-buying bots illegal in the UK.

Still, the problem persists. That's why the CMA is threatening legal action today; it might be required for ticket resale websites to finally take the issue seriously and crack down on scalpers abusing their platforms.

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