FIFA Files Criminal Complaint Against Viagogo Over World Cup Tickets

World Cup 2018
AP Photo/ Pavel Golovkin
– World Cup 2018
A flag with the logo of the World Cup 2018 on display with the St. Basil

Just days from kicking off the World Cup in Russia, International soccer governing body FIFA has filed a criminal complaint against resale ticketing platform Viagogo in a crackdown on unauthorized ticket resales.
FIFA said on June 5 it has joined other parties filing criminal complaints against alleged “opaque and deceptive business conduct” on the secondary market. 
The legal action filed on Monday was “based on a breach of the law on unfair competition against Viagogo AG with the public prosecutor’s office in Geneva,” FIFA said in a statement. Viagogo is based in Switzerland.
“FIFA’s ultimate objective in the fight against the secondary ticket market is to prioritize the safety and security of fans and enforce a fair 2018 FIFA World Cup ticketing pricing scheme,” it said.
“Prices are set by sellers and may be lower or higher than face value. Prices exclude booking and delivery fees,” Viagogo notes on its World Cup sales page.
This year’s World Cup takes place in 12 stadiums in Russia June 14 to July 15. 
FIFA’s efforts to crack down on unauthorized ticket sellers requires World Cup host nations to enact new laws. Scalpers were arrested in Johannesburg and Rio de Janeiro at the past two tournaments.
The latest legal step followed work with UEFA and the consumer protection agency for Switzerland’s French-speaking region to coordinate action against unauthorized platforms.
In January, FIFA said it obtained an injunction in a Hamburg court to ban World Cup ticket sales through Viagogo’s German website. The court agreed that Viagogo “was leading potential ticket buyers to believe that it had valid and deliverable tickets for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, although this was not the case.”
“Any violation of the injunction by the company would be punishable by a fine of up to 250,000 euros ($292,000) or imprisonment for up to six months,” FIFA said in January.
While based in Switzerland, Viagogo also offers tickets for events in the U.S., and advertises concerts by artists including BTS, Pink, Pearl Jam, U2, The Rolling Stones and others on its homepage. In 2017, the UK Competition and Markets Authority raided the London offices of both Viagogo and StubHub, after both companies refused to submit information about their respective businesses.
Viagogo was also the target of a lawsuit by two comedians from Germany and Austria for selling overpriced tickets to their shows. 
And just in April, Italian antitrust agency AGCM fined Viagogo €1 million ($1.2 million) for failing to comply with demands made a year ago. 
Back in April 2017, the AGCM found that Viagogo was misleading customers by not making the original ticket price as well as their allocated seats transparent. The authorities ordered Viagogo to rectify the situation by indicating the face value price as well as seat number.
Viagogo responded, saying it would comply, but since then, numerous new complaints by consumers and consumer associations have been submitted. AGCM consequently imposed a fine of €1 million on the ticket resale company.
Meanwhile in Spain, the provincial prosecutor’s office in Valencia has opened an investigation into Viagogo’s business practices, suspecting possible abusive behavior against consumers. Countless ticket buyers had complained about Viagogo’s ticket prices for U2’s September concert in Madrid.
“The Prosecutor’s Office of Valencia has received several complaints made by ticket buyers last January, after the tickets were sold out in a few minutes and the only possibility of accessing one ticket was paying resale prices ranging from €285 to €1,500,” 20 Minutos reported.
Viagogo may soon end up in a tight spot: New Zealand, too, has launched an investigation against the ticket reseller. The country’s fair-trading regulator, the Commerce Commission, says it has received 223 complaints in relation to recent Bruno Mars shows and upcoming dates from Celine Dion, Ed Sheeran, Shania Twain and sports events. 
The U.K. has been very active in the fight against secondary ticketing. It’s most recent crackdown was executed by the country’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which banned Viagogo from using the phrase “official site” and suggesting to customers they would be guaranteed entry to the venue “when there was in fact a reasonable risk that buyers might not be able to gain entry into an event.”