UK FanFair Alliance Calls Out Google For Taking Viagogo Ad Money

FanFair Alliance, the U.K.’s leading body in the fight against commercial ticket resellers in breach of consumer law, has called out Google for its lackluster approach to fulfilling a promise made at the end of last year.

FanFair Alliance
– FanFair Alliance
Leader in the fight against non-compliant ticket resale

In November, Google announced it would ban ticketing agencies from using its AdWords service, should they fail to comply with certain requirements, including making it clear to customers that they were indeed a secondary marketplace and not the primary point of sale.

Research conducted by FanFair Alliance in June showed that despite the availability of face-value tickets for non-sold out shows, in 98 percent of occasions either Viagogo, StubHub or Get Me In! were still paying to top Google search – “and without any obvious disclosure that they were listing ‘second hand’ tickets,” according to the alliance.

Searching for tickets to a random selection of 100 live music events, including Ed Sheeran, Roger Waters, Justin Timberlake, The Rolling Stones, Superorganism, The Proms, Wiz Khalifa, Tony Hadley and Krept & Konan, Viagogo topped Google results on 52 occasions, and was in the top two results on 80 occasions.
“StubHub topped Google results on 41 occasions, and were in the top two results on 58 occasions. Get Me In! topped Google results on five occasions, and were in the top two results on 19 occasions,” the research results read.

FanFair Alliance highlights Viagogo in particular, as it is the commercial resale site that’s operating in breach of both U.K. consumer law and a ruling by the country’s Advertising Standards Authority on misleading pricing. Viagogo is the only resale site in the U.K. that hasn’t responded to requests for information by the country’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), and is now facing enforcement action by CMA.

“For Google to continue profiting from a law-breaking enterprise seems untenable,” a FanFair statement reads.

FanFair Alliance
– FanFair Alliance
Research conducted in 2017 to prove a point: Viagogo pays to be on top, and Google accepts

FanFair Alliance asks why secondary platforms are still not making it clear in their search advertising that they are resale sites: “Google’s ticket resale guidelines have brought greater market transparency, but they could be more effective. At present, secondary sites are required to make a disclosure on their website – but not, crucially, in their actual advertising. Without such disclosures, and when these adverts are situated at the top of the search page, there is a strong implication to consumers that resale sites are primary vendors.”

FanFair also holds Ticketmaster and StubHub accountable for “needlessly encouraging fans towards touted tickets.”

“Our findings highlight numerous examples of Ticketmaster prioritising Get Me In! on Google search when face value tickets are available at Ticketmaster-controlled box offices. Similarly, we see StubHub systematically directing consumers towards touted tickets when their venue partners – such as The O2 and The SSE Arena, Wembley – still have face value inventory,” the alliance writes.

According to FanFair’s campaign manager Adam Webb, bad practices could easily be ended by actions from three US-based companies: “Firstly, Google. We have a situation where one of the world’s most trusted brands is providing life support to one of the worst. Viagogo is a company that systematically breaks U.K. consumer protection laws, that ignores ASA rulings, that undermines the U.K.’s creative economy and causes harm to U.K. consumers. When even the Culture Minister is advocating a boycott, then surely it’s time for Google to permanently remove this law-breaking site from its advertising networks?

“And secondly, we need Ticketmaster and StubHub to seriously up their game. Both have the wherewithal to act with greater transparency, to make clear in their search advertising that they operate resale platforms, and to stop misdirecting fans away from face value tickets at either their own or their partners’ box offices.

“None of this is rocket science. None of it should require regulatory intervention. Just simple and sensible changes, that would benefit consumers and make it easier for them to buy a ticket.”

To be certified by Google, an event ticket reseller must not imply that they are a primary marketplace, prominently disclose themselves as a ticket reseller/secondary marketplace, prominently disclose that prices may be above face value, provide the total and breakup of the price across fees and taxes before requiring payment information, and, since March 2018, prominently provide the face value of the tickets being sold in the same currency.

When Pollstar reached out to Google’s U.K. press office, to find out how non-compliant resale sites could still feature so prominently in its search results, it was directed to Google’s latest statement on the matter, which dates back to February. It states, “Effective today [Feb. 7], we are tightening our standards and will require all event ticket resellers to be [AdWords] certified and to radically increase their transparency. This will give users more clarity on the vendor reselling the tickets and the total cost of those tickets, including any associated fees.”

The post states, “this updated policy is a result of our own research as well as the insights and feedback we gathered from users, advertisers, partners and third-party industry groups. To allow advertisers time to prepare for this change, we issued a change to our AdWords policy page in November 2017.”