A Taranaki oil company boss says he wildly overpaid for concert tickets sold via Viagogo. And, worse, he's not sure if they'll even be valid.
Independent Oilfield Inspection Services chief executive Ross McIsaac says a family member bought two tickets for Marlon Williams' February 19 concert in New Plymouth from Viagogo for $406 - billing them to his credit card - and only later realised that it was a resale or "scalping site" and that the official seller had tickets still available, priced from $59.85 to $71.80.
After receiving upwards of 587 complaints, the Commerce Commission took legal action against the Swiss-based Viagogo. The watchdog is seeking a restraint of trade - but its case, filed in August, won't be heard until February 6 at the earliest.
The commission alleges Viagogo made false and misleading claims, acting as an "official" concert ticket seller when it was not, labelling tickets as limited or about to sell out and claiming consumers were "guaranteed" to receive valid tickets to events.
McIsaac did receive the tickets by email and checked with event organisers who said they were original. But there was a twist. It was possible the same pair of tickets had been sold multiple times via Viagogo, he was told. If that was the case, only the first people to arrive with a printout of the tickets would be let in to see Marlon Williams. They advised him to arrive early.
McIsaac's complaint has common themes that have popped up regularly in complaints to the Commerce Commission. The family member thought Viagogo was the official ticket site because it came up first in a Google search (Viagogo is a heavy purchaser of Google search ads), and they missed Viagogo's messaging about being a second-hand platform amid various pop-ups that put them under time-pressure.
The oil company boss is in the process of trying to get his credit card transaction reversed.
He couldn't get any response from Viagogo.
Other complainants say they have found Viagogo non-responsive. The commission says its conflict resolution process - which calls for aggrieved customers to work through a Swiss court - is unreasonable.
A spokeswoman for Google said Viagogo follows its terms and conditions for ticket sellers, and that it did not comment on individual advertisers.
In its statement of claim to the High Court, the Commerce Commission alleges that Viagogo has made false representations about the scarcity of tickets of multiple occasions.
Its examples include the allegation that "Viagogo represented that only 97 tickets were left for a Michael Bolton concert, being only 5 per cent of tickets left for the venue, and that tickets were about to sell out. In fact, at the time those representations were made, there were at least 507 tickets available to that concert from an authorised ticketing agent, representing over 25 per cent of the venue's capacity."
In other case, "Viagogo represented that there was only "one ticket left" to a performance of Peter Pan Goes Wrong in November 2018, and that tickets were "likely to sell out soon". In fact, at the time those representations were made, there were at least 473 tickets available to that performance."
The regulator also alleges that Viagogo fails to disclose its fees, or how they are calculated, before a consumer begins a transaction.
It gives multiple examples of the financial impact of these alleged practices in its Statement of Claim.
They include, "For a ticket to a Bruno Mars concert offered at the initial price of $211.61, the defendant charged Viagogo Fees totalling $61.25 (bringing the total price of the ticket to $272.86, a 29 per cent increase from the initial price).
And: "For a ticket to an All Blacks match offered at the initial price of $342.63,
the defendant charged Viagogo fees totalling $102.28 (bringing the total
price of the ticket to $444.91, a 30 per cent increase from the initial price)."
Beyond alleged over-pricing, the commission says it has also had complaints from 79 consumers who say they received invalid tickets. In each case Viagogo did not fulfil its guarantee to replace the invalid tickets, it alleges.
Accusations against Viagogo have seen both ASB Classic organisers and New Zealand Cricket issue warnings against the ticket seller.
The Herald has also received multiple complaints from readers about Viagogo, from big-name music acts like Bruno Mars, Adele, Phil Collins and Norah Jones to A-list sports events involving the All Blacks and other top teams to local theatre productions.
The Herald has asked Viagogo for comment on McIsaac's experience.
The online ticket seller has not previously responded to questions about individual cases, but has sent the general comment that, "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."
[UPDATE: Viagogo's press office emailed, "Sellers on Viagogo are only paid for their tickets after the buyer has successfully gained entry to the event. If there are any issues with the tickets (e.g. they send invalid tickets), they will not be paid. These security measures ensure that fraudulent sellers do not operate on our marketplace, and that our buyers are protected." The ticket seller did not immediately respond to follow-up questions on the Commerce Commission's allegation that at least 79 people received invalid tickets, among other points.]
Beyond the case being heard in Auckland next week, 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.