StubHub forced to add warning that resold tickets might be invalid

Competition regulator warned ticket resale company its website was ‘misleading’ customers

The competition regulator has forced ticket reselling company StubHub to add warnings on its website that the tickets it offers might be invalid.

StubHub had been threatened with court action by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which found that the company was using “misleading” messages on its site and failing to give customers important information about what they were buying.

The CMA on Wednesday said it was satisfied that adequate changes had now been made to StubHub’s site. These included a warning that “tickets bought on the UK site may not get them into an event” and including the address of “business sellers”, industry jargon for professional touts.

Other changes include the removal of spurious messages claiming tickets were scarcer than they actually were. StubHub also agreed to add accurate information about where buyers will be sitting and remove advertisements for overseas events that may not have complied with UK law.

However, the CMA’s action against StubHub was criticised as “risible” by Reg Walker, a UK ticketing security expert who works with primary ticket sellers and events venues. Walker said the CMA should have pursued court action against StubHub and rivals such as Viagogo over their attitude to consumer rights.

“These companies have summarily been allowed to fleece consumers for years and years,” Walker said. “[Consumers] are not receiving any protection under consumer protection law. They’re essentially being thrown under the bus.”

A CMA spokesperson responded to the criticism, saying: “We have secured changes to StubHub’s UK site to address our concerns and, as these are formal undertakings, we can continue to hold them to account for their compliance.

“We also achieved this without a lengthy court process. If fresh information emerges that suggests StubHub is not meeting its obligations, the CMA will not hesitate to take further action – through the courts if necessary.”

The UK’s secondary ticketing industry, which allows people to resell tickets bought from venues, artists, or the “primary” ticket firms they work with, has attracted repeated attention from regulators concerned that websites are flouting consumer protection laws. The CMA previously forced similar changes on Viagogo, which is awaiting approval to complete a $4bn (£3.1bn) takeover of StubHub, its erstwhile rival.

Viagogo and StubHub completed the tie-up in February, shortly before the coronavirus pandemic shut down large parts of the global events industry. However, the CMA is carrying out a detailed phase two investigation into whether the deal will result in higher fees or reduced service for consumers.

The CMA will next month hold hearings on the merger, with a final decision not expected until early December.

StubHub, the US market leader, was owned by auction website eBay before the merger. Viagogo is a Geneva-headquartered rival established by ousted StubHub co-founder Eric Baker to replicate the success of the primarily US-focused business he built in Europe.

The CMA on Wednesday also warned secondary ticketing companies that it could take action on their attitude to cancellations and refunds related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“If it emerges that consumer protection law is being broken, the CMA will consider whether further action might be necessary to address these issues,” the CMA’s statement said.

The secondary ticketing industry has also attracted the condemnation of MPs and artists such as Ed Sheeran who have clashed with touts adding large markups to ticket prices. Two ticket touts were found guilty of fraud in February in the UK after a Guardian investigation into the use of multiple identities and bots to buy and sell tickets.

A StubHub spokeswoman said: “We are pleased that the CMA has confirmed that StubHub has addressed the CMA’s concerns. We have worked closely with the CMA to evolve our site in the best interest of our customers.

“As a fan-first marketplace, StubHub has always cooperated closely with regulators and will continue to do so, appreciating the dynamic regulatory environment in which we operate.”

Contributor

Jasper Jolly

The GuardianTramp

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