Viagogo might be the most complained-about company operating in New Zealand, but its New York-based managing director Cris Miller fought his corner during an interview with the Herald.
Miller is here to talk to Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi and MBIE officials as the government weighs changes to the rules around the resale or "scalping" of tickets, with a possible price-cap on resale prices in the offing - a move Viagogo opposes, saying similar laws have proved impractical and ultimately been rescinded in other countries.
Earlier this year, the Commerce Commission went to the High Court in a bid to win an injunction against ticket reseller Viagogo. The ComCom said Viagogo is breaching the Fair Trading Act 1986by making various representations about the price and availability of tickets, and that they are "guaranteed" to be valid, and sought an injunction against those representations.
The regulator got knocked back on a technicality around serving. The Commission is appealing the High Court's decision not to grant an interim injunction; an appeal hearing has been set for August 29). Beyond its bid for an injunction, the regulator ultimately wants to get Viagogo into court for a substantive hearing.
This afternoon, the ComCom updated that there is now an "unprecedented "1034 complaints on its books relating to Viagogo.
Miller said not all of those complaints involve invalid tickets.
His central argument is that sellers on Viagogo's peer-to-peer marketplace don't get paid unless a ticket is successfully redeemed, defined as no complaint being received within the five to eight days after an event before a seller is paid - so he says there is no commercial incentive for fraud.
"We wouldn't have been around for 10-plus years if we didn't have good fulfillment rates."
That's a strong argument, but the ComCom, plus buyers who have contacted the Herald, have raised questions about how the site presents itself, its ability to follow through on its guarantee, substantial fees that are not disclosed until late in the sales process, and foreign currency transaction costs, among other issues.
A common complaint of people who have contacted the Herald about Viagogo is that they did not realise it was a second-hand ticket site - essentially, a global Trade Me for sports event and concert tickets. Many assumed that since it appeared at the top of Google search results that it was the official ticket seller - and paid over-the-odds for scalped tickets when there were still tickets left at the official ticket seller.
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This afternoon, Viagogo is selling tickets for the All Blacks' August Bledisloe Cup test against Australia for $150 or more, for example, when the official site (Ticketmaster) still has tickets on sale from $94.50.
Miller says Viagogo has made changes to its design to make it more obvious its a resale site. He says further changes could potentially be made to head off a court date with the ComCom.
A spokesman for the Commission says the changes have not gone far enough.
Miller says Viagogo has also changed its communications around ticket scarcity. When his site makes a reference to the number of tickets left for an event, it is a reference to the number of tickets left on Viagogo, not the number left for an event overall, he said.
Another point the Commerce Commission has raised is Viagogo's ticket guarantee.
The regulator argues that Viagogo simply can't guarantee it could supply a comparable replacement ticket if, say, one bought via Viagogo proves invalid but an event has sold out in the meantime.
Another complication: a number of sports bodies, including NZ Rugby, include in their terms and conditions that they are not obliged to accept tickets resold via Viagogo or any other resale platform. Miller argues that, legally, they should, and that various organisations are trying to spread fear and doubt about disruptive technology. NZ Rugby stood by its stance when contacted by the Herald today.
Commerce Commission lawyers also said at the interim injunction hearing that tickets to the 2017 Irish and British Lions tour of NZ were sold through Viagogo.
While second-hand sales or "scalping" of tickets is not ordinarily illegal, the Major Events Management Act (2007) rules out the practice in specific cases, including Lions tours and World Cup games.
Miller said his company did not actively police such laws. He stressed Viagogo was a peer to peer market place. "It is independent sellers and buyers. We just manage the transaction behind the scenes. We don't do any of the policing because we're managing a significant number of events around the world. What we try to do is make sure the seller understands the local law, the local obligations and the local rules in place."
The ComCom has also complained about what it calls "drip pricing" or substantial Viagogo fees that are not disclosed until close to the end of the multi-step purchase process - when the customer is often under time-pressure with ticket scarcity messages.
Buyers have also complained to the Herald that tickets were represented on Viagogo in NZ dollars but the transaction was completed in a foreign currency, which further added to the cost.
In its statement of claim, the ComCom lists eight examples of fees applied to tickets sold via Viagogo, with fees inflating the price of a ticket by between 29 per cent to 42 percent.
Miller said Viagogo's baseline fee was 25 per cent, though foreign currency costs and local taxes could increase that figure.
Asked if Viagogo should be more upfront about its fees, Miller said his company was willing to consider it - but only if the same rules applied to all ticket sellers.
He said Viagogo disclosed all of its fees upfront for UK customers, but in the context that all-comers were obliged to do so.
NZ Rugby has complained that when it has tried to shepherd angry Viagogo ticket buyers through the process of complaining to the company about an invalid ticket, the Swiss-based company had proved non-responsive.
Miller said Viagogo's support had been "rocky" in the past and that three years of fast growth had seen his company's standard of service in some markets, including New Zealand suffer.
But he added that Viagogo had recently doubled numbers in its Asia-Pacific support team, which covers New Zealand, from 25 to 50.
"We know there have been times when we don't provide the best service in the world and we've got to get better at that. There's no room for error in our business.
"There are a lot of myths and misunderstandings about the business - and that's on us, we'll take responsibility for that. We didn't engage with the media before and haven't had conversations with regulators before, which is why I'm going around, market to market, and trying to learn as much as I can."
Miller said he wanted to sit down with the Commerce Commission to reach a settlement, but that it had not been possible to organise during his current trip. A spokesman for the ComCom said it was also open to a meeting. He noted the regulator had met with Viagogo's lawyers twice.
If a meeting does happen, Miller said "we're willing to listen and make changes where it's appropriate."
A spokesman for the Commerce Commission told the Herald soon after Miller's interview, "The Commission had no prior knowledge of the Viagogo representative's visit to New Zealand and we have not had a request to meet. If Viagogo wished to 'sit down' with us we would have been happy to do so."