Comparing how U2's upcoming concerts are presented on Viagogo UK and Viagogo NZ shows how the ticket reseller can be whipped into shape, an industry activist says.
After threats and cajoling from Britain's Competition and Markets Authority, Viagogo UK now shows fees upfront, plus the original price of a ticket and the identity of a seller - elements that help make it obvious that it's a resale site
Adam Webb, who manages the UK's FanFair Alliance "campaign against exploitative secondary ticketing," tells the Herald that people "I strongly recommend that New Zealand audiences search for tickets using Viagogo.co.uk. The differences are substantial." (See screen grabs below.)
Viagogo has strongly denied accusations by regulators, including NZ's Commerce Commission in a statement of claim to the High Court, that it makes any misrepresentations.
"On the back of some relentless campaigning, and because of actions taken by UK regulators and legislators, including a court order served by our Competition and Markets Authority, Viagogo has been forced to stop drip pricing when marketing tickets to UK customers - even if those shows are happening on the other side of the world," Webb says.
"The site is also, after years of resistance, having to comply with UK consumer protection legislation, which means providing basic information - such as a ticket's original face value, seat locations and even the identities of 'traders' - Viagogo's term for a tout." (Though it's notable that in Webb's UK example that the reseller has an official-sounding name - "Ticketgroup").
"It still has some way to go, but this kind of information is needlessly and routinely denied to New Zealand ticket buyers, greatly increasing their chances of falling foul of Viagogo's sharp practices," Webb says.
In his opinion, "A big stick is all this company understands."
Some might see Webb as schilling for a ticketing industry that fears a disruptive competitor (as Viagogo styles itself), but the differences between Viagogo UK an Viagogo NZ are notable, regardless, in the context of the ongoing debate about drip pricing.
Here, in a statement of claim to the High Court, which alleges breaches of the Fair Trading Act, the Commerce Commission has highlighted what it calls the "drip-pricing" on Viagogo's NZ site - or fees only disclosed late in the sale process at a point when the buyer is being bombarded with ticket scarcity messages.
In its statement of claim, the ComCom sites eight examples of Viagogo NZ fees, which inflate the price of a ticket by 29 per cent to 42 per cent.
In a Herald interview yesterday, Viagogo's US-based MD Cris Miller said his company's standard fee was 25 per cent, but that this could be increased by local taxes or currency exchange costs.
The ComCom says it has received an "unprecedented" 1034 complaints from Kiwis who have bought a ticket via Viagogo, extending the site's lead as the most complained-about service provider operating in NZ.
A number of customers who have contacted the Herald said they did not realise Viagogo was a reseller, or that the option to buy cheaper tickets through an official agent existed. Many were also surprised to learn they had bought a ticket for an NZ event from a seller in Eastern Europe - and angered to not learn about foreign exchange fees until they saw their bank statement.
Miller said Viagogo had changed its presentation to make it more obvious it was a reseller. The Commerce Commission argues the changes have not gone far enough.
The Viagogo MD did also note that his company discloses fees upfront in the UK, but said the key element was that the same rules applied to all ticket sellers in any given market.
Miller also stood by his company's ticket guarantee in the face of NZ Rugby yesterday reinforcing its stance that it was not obliged to accept a ticket sold through Viagogo or any other resale site.
The MD said he wanted to sit down with the Commerce Commission and work through the issues. A spokesman for the regulator said Miller had not told the ComCom he would be in the country.
Miller conceded that his company had been hard to contact in the past when customers had issues with a ticket, but said it had recently increased its number of support staff in Asia-Pacific from 25 to 50.
The Viagogo MD was in NZ to meet with Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi and MBIE officials as the government mulls a possible price cap on re-sold tickets. Miller argues for a free resale market and says similar price caps have been abandoned overseas after proving impractical.
The Major Events Management Act (2007) rules out the practice in specific cases, including Lions tours and World Cup games.
The ComCom has accused Viagogo of selling reselling tickets for the 2017 Lions tour of NZ. Miller said sales on Viagogo's "peer-to-peer" platform are between independent buyers and sellers, adding, "We don't do any of the policing because we're managing a significant number of events around the world."
In April, the Commerce Commission tried to get an interim injunction against various alleged misrepresentations on Viagogo's NZ site. It was knocked back on a technicality around serving. But the High Court recently agreed to the ComCom's request for an appeal, with a hearing set for August 29.
Read more on Viagogo's spat with the Commerce Commission and Miller's NZ visit here.