Jane and Shane Johnson wanted to see more live music, so when they heard American musician Rodriguez was touring Australia, they jumped online and searched for tickets using Google.
Jane bought tickets through the first search result, which she says looked official and appeared like other ticket sites she had used before.
“Having bought tickets in the past, it just seemed like what you did,” she told ABC’s The Business.
The couple, who live in Tasmania, flew to Perth to visit family and attend the concert. They were dressed and ready to go when the mood turned from excitement to disappointment.
“I was just checking what the parking arrangements were at the venue and I went online, and it was only then that I saw the whole concert tour had been cancelled,” Shane said.
“We hadn’t received any notification at all that the concert had been cancelled, we were on our way.”
Resale website faces complaints and regulatory action
The website the Johnsons had used was Viagogo – a ticket reselling platform that is the subject of multiple international legal actions, thousands of online consumer complaints, events industry backlash and recently, calls from UK politicians to boycott the site.
This week, Viagogo executives were in Australia to meet with politicians in Canberra and, in particular, lobby against Labor’s proposed cap on resale prices.
Many of the customer complaints posted in online review forums and dedicated Facebook groups centre on people not being aware they are buying from a reseller, rather than the official ticket provider.
Viagogo managing director Cris Miller denied the company trades on consumer ignorance and asserted that just 1 per cent of customers encounter problems.
“Every single page on the site outlines that we’re actually a marketplace, we’ve made that very clear on the top of each page,” he said.
It is far from the only complaint against Viagogo.
In 2017, the ACCC took the Switzerland-based company to court, alleging it failed to disclose “significant and unavoidable” booking fees upfront and misled consumers about the scarcity of tickets, using pop-ups claiming events were about to sell out.
Mr Miller said the company has added disclaimers and updated its website in an attempt to address the regulator’s concerns.
“We do provide a clear understanding of all the fees that are within the transaction prior to any customer actually purchasing the tickets and so we make it very, very clear about how much they’re going to be spending,” he said.
When The Business went onto Viagogo this week, the price of a ticket was shown on the second screen after clicking through from a Google search, but the additional booking fee – in this case, $45 on a purchase of two $134 tickets – was not shown until the sixth page.
However, Mr Miller maintained that the company is confident its fees are clearly disclosed.
“The feedback that we’re getting from our own customer call centre, that the fees are prominent, you are able to see them, again you have a review page to see everything you’re going to get charged for,” he said.
Viagogo slams industry ‘scare tactics’
Viagogo has not only clashed with consumers and regulators but has also faced a backlash from the entertainment industry.
Veteran music promoter Michael Gudinski, who founded Mushroom Records and Frontier Touring, has been a vocal critic of Viagogo.
“It’s not just music, it is the Australian Open tennis, the grand final,” he said.
Mr Gudinski promoted the tour of British musician Ed Sheeran, who is just one of the international artists who has banned tickets purchased through Viagogo from entering his shows.
Viagogo’s Cris Miller said event organisers “spread propaganda” and use “scare tactics”.
“Just because an artist says the tickets aren’t going to be valid doesn’t mean that that’s necessarily the case, they’re doing that primarily for competitive reasons.”
Mr Gudinski denied competition was the driver and said he was angry about fans being sold tickets that were invalid when they turned up to the venue.
“There’s got to be a fair way of fans being able to get rid of a ticket, if there’s a family death, a family problem, it’s a flood, there’s something, but Viagogo is certainly the answer to nothing,” he said.
Price caps in several states as Labor proposes policy
Labor has proposed a cap on the price of resold tickets, at no more than 10 per cent above their original price.
“We understand the spirit behind what the proposition is, but I think from our experience, whether it be in the US, the UK or other territories, price caps generally don’t work,” said Mr Miller.
“What you’ll see is customers will actually go elsewhere, they’ll go back to the streets, they’ll go to other online forums such as Facebook Marketplace, Twitter.”
Several state governments have introduced anti-scalping laws, including Western Australia and Victoria.
In New South Wales, laws in effect from June last year mean a 10 per cent price cap applies if the original ticket issuer restricts resale.
Under the law, if an issuer wants to allow tickets to be resold through its own resale platform, it cannot restrict resales on other platforms and the cap will not apply, avoiding original sellers having a resale monopoly.
“Some promoters don’t mind if their tickets are resold, in some cases they actually like the idea that demand is out there and the prices go up, and that shows how popular the event is,” said NSW Fair Trading commissioner Rose Webb.
A search of Viagogo’s website this week showed tickets to events in NSW priced well above the cap are still on sale.
“We’re a platform and we just manage the transaction between the two, we don’t actually know the face values in the majority of case,” said Mr Miller, noting that Viagogo requires sellers to input their costs when listing a ticket.
However, Ms Webb said it is not just the individual reselling the ticket who is responsible for complying.
“It’s anyone who is advertising the ticket or hosting a publication of the ticket price that’s also liable under our laws,” she said.
Back in Tasmania after the cancelled concert in Perth, Shane and Jane Johnson applied to Viagogo for a refund. They were instructed to mail the tickets to Ireland by five days time, a deadline they had never been informed of.
They sent the tickets registered mail and waited for a response but heard nothing. When they logged back on to Viagogo, it said their enquiry had expired.
“Their process is so opaque and full of hurdles that it’s just designed to make you give up,” said Shane.
After attempts to contact Viagogo failed, Jane has now contacted her credit card provider to pursue a refund.
Ms Webb said customers who cannot resolve problems with the company they bought tickets from can complain to Fair Trading.