Today, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has rejected a long-running complaint by FanFair Alliance that Google adverts employed by the secondary ticketing website Viagogo could mislead consumers.

The decision reverses a draft ruling sent to FanFair in June 2018, and can be seen here. We have submitted an appeal to the ASA’s Independent Reviewer, urging that today’s ruling is overturned.

Viagogo is currently being taken to court by the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) over long-standing concerns that the website breaks UK consumer protection laws. Those concerns are echoed across the world, with the site facing similar actions in Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, France, Germany, Spain and Italy, while it’s practices have been widely condemned by audiences, artists, regulators and politicians.

FanFair research has repeatedly highlighted the detrimental impact of Viagogo’s marketing practices – with the site paying to dominate Google search, but without making a clear disclosure it is a “resale” site. It is estimated that over 40% of Viagogo’s traffic comes directly from paid search.

A new snapshot survey of 100 members of the Victim of Viagogo Facebook Group, set up to help consumers who feel they were misled or mis-sold when buying tickets, reveals that:

  • 91% found Viagogo through Google search
  • 92% did not realise the Viagogo listing they clicked on was an advert
  • 90% did not know Viagogo was a resale site
  • 95% believe Viagogo’s Google adverts should make clear that it is a resale site

These findings are in line with separate consumer research undertaken by Which? and commissioned by FanFair Alliance. Both indicate that consumers are confused and feel misled by the advertising practices of secondary ticketing sites, and Viagogo in particular.

A 2016 independent report on the secondary ticketing sector, written by Professor Michael Waterson and commissioned by Government noted that “consumers are experiencing significant confusion regarding various aspects of the ticketing process. Not least are the problems of identifying and understanding differences between primary and secondary ticketing sites…”

Last month, FanFair Alliance, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ticket Abuse and Society of Ticket Agents & Retailers (STAR) sent a joint letter to Google executives, asking that the search engine enforce it’s own advertising guidelines and restrict Viagogo’s ability to pay for prominence. The letter was countersigned by MPs, as well as many of the major music, sports and theatre organisations.

Margot James MP, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, and Damian Collins MP, Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee, have both urged British consumers to avoid the site.

Adam Webb, Campaign Manager, FanFair Alliance:

“We are struggling to make sense of this decision. It defies all evidence and favours a controversial and potentially law-breaking Swiss website over the interests of British consumers. An ASA stamp of approval flies in the face of everything we know about Viagogo, and implies that the site and it’s marketing practices meet the regulator’s standard of being ‘legal, decent, honest and truthful’. We have already sent an appeal to the ASA’s Independent Reviewer urging that this ruling is overturned.” 

Sharon Hodgson MP, Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ticket Abuse:

“Throughout my many years of campaigning against the rogue secondary ticket market, I have heard time and time again of fans being misled and ripped off by Viagogo. It is time for serious action to be taken against them, but this statement from ASA is one step backwards at a time when we should be moving forwards with stronger enforcement for the sake of fans across the country.”

Jonathan Brown, CEO, Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR):

“FanFair’s research underpins widespread criticism that Viagogo’s ability to buy its way to the top of searches for tickets can lead to consumer confusion and potential harm. It is disappointing that the ASA has ignored the experiences of ticket buyers, as well as the many concerns raised by regulators, politicians and the industry over Viagogo’s practices. STAR supports FanFair’s appeal against this adjudication in the hope that it leads to a better resolution that actually works to protect consumers.”  

Annabella Coldrick, CEO, Music Managers Forum:

“Viagogo continues to list touted tickets against artists’ wishes and the terms and conditions set by them to ensure fair and fan-friendly resale. The site does not follow UK law and continuously misleads consumers searching for tickets online.This decision by the ASA is hugely disappointing and we now urgently await the CMA action and injunction to tackle Viagogo’s misleading practices.”

Claire Turnham, Founder, Victim of Viagogo Group

“We are totally shocked by the ASA’s u-turn. It’s clear that thousands are already being misled by Viagogo’s search advertising and deceptive practices. This decision ignores compelling evidence and will be disastrous for consumers – it gives Viagogo a green light to cause even more grief, misery and harm.”