Will Viagogo, StubHub and Touts put festival fans at risk?

Stubhub and Viagogo vow to follow covid track and trace rules… until tickets are ‘resold.’

25 April 2021 | Rob Davies and Laura Snapes | The Guardian (original link)

Efforts to make summer music festivals Covid safe are being undermined by “parasitic” ticket touts and resale sites such as Viagogo and StubHub, leading music industry figures have warned.

A Guardian investigation found that dozens of professional touts have snapped up tickets for eagerly awaited festivals and are demanding massively inflated prices from fans desperate to see artists such as Stormzy, Nile Rodgers and Fatboy Slim.

Event organisers and music industry figures condemned a practice they said not only exploited pent-up appetite for the first festival season since 2019 but would also impede the tracing of fans in the event of coronavirus outbreaks.

Festival firms are required to retain attendees’ details for 21 days as part of government efforts to prevent coronavirus outbreaks but industry figures warned the greed of resale firms and touts would make it much harder to comply.

A spokesperson for Field Day festival said there was “no doubt” that touts targeting fans through sites such as Viagogo and StubHub, where tickets sometimes change hands multiple times, would hinder accurate record-keeping.

Festival Republic, the firm behind events such as Leeds, Reading, Wireless and Latitude, agreed with the assessment.

Fans waiting for Diplo on the main stage at Field Day festival in London in 2019. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Despite accusations of being at fault for the difficulty faced by event organisers, StubHub said it was “the venue’s obligation and responsibility” to record attendees’ details. Viagogo said it would “always work closely and comply with authorities to assist in their efforts to identify potential exposure to the coronavirus.”

The Guardian analysed listings on the websites – both owned by US billionaire Eric Baker – for tickets to festivals including Parklife, TRNSMT, Wireless, Creamfields, Field Day, Leeds and Reading.

More than 100, likely to be a small fraction of the true supply cornered by touts, were on sale for a combined value of nearly £65,000.

Events targeted by touts include Creamfields, where one was asking for more than £800 for a ticket with a face value of £100.

The listings include tickets for Wireless festival advertised by Andrew Newman, first exposed by the Observer in 2016 as one of Britain’s most powerful touts. Newman declined to comment.

“The last thing the industry needs right now is touts charging exorbitant prices just as the live industry is trying to get back on its feet,” said UK Music’s chief executive, Jamie Njoku-Goodwin.

Other sellers included unknown companies based in Canada, Australia, the US and Spain, many with just a PO Box address for contact.

The Guardian made contact with one seller in Germany whose details were published on Viagogo but who claimed to have no knowledge of ticket trading.

All of the companies were marked as professional “traders”, defined as someone who sells more than 100 per year and whose contact details must be disclosed under the terms of a court order secured by the consumer regulator in 2019.

The Guardian also found evidence of resale sites apparently failing to comply with other terms of the same court order.

Where events do not permit resale, websites offering tickets are supposed to warn buyers that they may be refused entry.

Field Day said its terms and conditions explicitly prohibited resale, yet the Viagogo website does not mention this to buyers. Listings for four other festivals that prohibit resale also did not appear to warn that fans might be turned away. Viagogo said its listings were compliant with the court order.

Eric Baker, founder and chief executive of Viagogo. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe/for the Guardian

Annabella Coldrick, the chief executive of the Music Managers’ Forum said: “What we need is a safe return to live music but we’ve got parasitic touts ripping people off and potentially causing safety issues.”

The Labour MP Sharon Hodgson said it was time for the government to step up action to prevent touting.

“The fact that ticket touts are not only ripping off genuine fans but putting the safety of everyone attending an event at risk is shameful,” she said. “This is an opportune moment for the government to tackle secondary ticketing [resale], to make events Covid secure and protect fans from being ripped off.”

Hodgson chairs a group of MPs hoping to use the government’s legislative agenda, expected next month in the Queen’s speech, to address ticket touting.

A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said: “Fans must be able to buy tickets at fair and reasonable prices. We are committed to cracking down on unacceptable behaviour and to go after those who flout the law or abuse the ticketing market.”

The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) said it had also seen evidence of touts practising a fraud known as “speculative selling”.

This is where touts advertise tickets they don’t actually have and try to fulfil the order by sourcing tickets once they already have sales in the bag.

Two touts were jailed last year for four counts of fraud, including for speculative selling and for misrepresenting their identities to buy more tickets than they were allowed to.

Peter Hunter and David Smith’s multimillion-pound ticket business was exposed by the Observer four years earlier.

Viagogo and StubHub are in the midst of a troubled £3bn merger that sparked intervention from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which ordered the sale of StubHub’s UK business.

The two firms control 90% of the UK for-profit resale market.


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