Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)


26 JUNE 2007

  Q100  Helen Southworth: But you will be able to give us the information about the complaints?

  Mr McGowan: We are very happy to go and see what we have available. [41]

  Q101 Helen Southworth: How many complaints have you had of either fraud or unfairness?

  Mr Burns: I ran a very interesting series of advertisements in the Sunday Mirror and Daily Telegraph newspapers and it unearthed a plethora of complaints, because I had asked for a general "Has anybody had any bad experiences?" and I found that by far the largest volume of complaints—and I am happy to provide these to the Committee—were about primary sellers. That is not without surprise because they sell the greatest volume of tickets but one of the biggest complaints was the lack of ability to contact the primary seller in case anything went wrong. That would be Ticketmaster, Seetickets. I will happily forward these to you. One of the objectives of ASTA is to be a point of contact for the general public. Our telephones are always open; there is always somebody at the end of the telephone and you can contact us. Putting that aside, I did do quite a lot of research into the reasons for complaints, and they are wide and varied.

  Q102  Helen Southworth: Can I also ask about selling on of free tickets? Do people believe that it is fair to provide a platform for selling on free tickets? Quite often they have been provided at public expense for the public.

  Mr Baker: I can certainly answer: viagogo's point of view we put in our written submission. As I said, we believe that if someone has paid their hard-earned money for a ticket, it is theirs, they own it and it is their right to sell it on. However, in the instance that you highlight, if it is a free event, they have not paid their hard-earned money and this is a different type of example. We believe that, if you look at specific circumstances, for free events we think it is reasonable to have a restriction of not allowing people to sell on because they have not purchased something. We also think, in the interests of public safety, as it is with football. Those would be the two exceptions we see.

  Q103  Helen Southworth: So you do not carry them?

  Mr Baker: Correct.

  Mr Cohen: We do not carry tickets for free events either.

  Mr McGowan: This is one of the issues that the Government asked us to look at. This is something we are actively looking at but we cannot give you a detailed answer at this stage because we have to consult internally with our colleagues but it is something are actively looking at and something where there is a genuine debate to be had.

  Q104  Helen Southworth: When will we be able to get the response?

  Mr McGowan: We will give it to you as soon as possible. Obviously, we have to consult with colleagues in other marketplaces and also elsewhere in the company, but I am very happy to come back to the Committee in due course, when we have a definitive answer.

  Q105  Chairman: If you accept that if a promoter decides to give away free tickets then it is wrong for you to sell them, surely, a promoter is also entitled to decide to give away or to sell tickets at a low price, and, on the same logic, it is wrong for you to charge a huge mark-up on them, or for you to allow others to sell them at a vastly inflated price?

  Mr Baker: Respectfully, our position at viagogo is that once you have sold something to someone at any price, someone has purchased something with their hard-earned money, and whether it is £50, £5 or £100, that can be a lot of money to people. It was their money and they have decided to purchase something. If the promoters decided that they wanted to give the tickets to charity for free or to give them to certain people in a fan club and those tickets are free because they want that group of fans to be there, we think you have not taken any money and therein, in our opinion, lies the distinction.

  Q106  Chairman: Can I ask eBay specifically: you attended the DCMS summits, where I understand a statement of principles was agreed, but you were then asked by the Concert Promoters Association if you would do a number of things such as insisting that details of seat positions, of block numbers, rows, should be displayed, that you would supply details of known touts, and you refused to accept any of the requests put you, I understand.

  Mr McGowan: In respect of the two issues you raise there—firstly, in respect of details of our users, as we said at the time and have said to DCMS on numerous occasions, we cannot provide details of our users where that is in breach of our privacy policy and in breach of our Data Protection Act obligations, particularly when no-one has actually done anything to break the law. We take privacy very seriously. We cannot start breaching our privacy policy. In respect of seat numbers, our general position would be that we would love to have as much information and transparency available to consumers as is possible and as is commensurate with the effective operation of a secondary market. The difficulty with seat numbers is that then people use those seat numbers to void the tickets. To take a step back from all this, we would argue that someone has to have the right to be able to resell a ticket if they have bought it, particularly when they do not have the right to a refund. Therefore, if they have the right to resell it and people are cancelling those tickets on the basis of those seat numbers, that completely undermines the whole notion of a secondary market. If you accept that there should be a secondary market, that is the sort of thing we should be going against. What we do however provide is a lot of information on the site—for example, the face value. We have also changed to item specifics recently in response to the Ticket Touting Summit so that there is more information about the general section of the venue and also there is more information about whether there is a restricted view or not. So the short answer is we would love to have as much information as possible but if that information is then used to end the secondary market, that is where I think we have a problem.

  Q107  Chairman: Why do you not allow primary agents to advertise?

  Mr McGowan: Can I just deal with this? This was actually a very specific issue about banner advertising. We have absolutely no problem with primary agents selling and listing tickets on eBay. If they want to do that, we would welcome it; the more competition, the merrier. What they want to do is effectively put a banner up on the site which will drive traffic away from our site onto their site. It is like Tesco saying to Sainsbury's "We would really like to put a big banner right outside your shop which says `Come and shop at Tesco's.'" I think Sainsbury in that instance is entitled to say "Thanks but no thanks."

  Q108  Paul Farrelly: Just a very quick-fire round here. Firstly, to Mr Burns. Thank you very much for agreeing to send us a list of your members. How many members do you have?

  Mr Burns: Fifty-eight.

  Q109  Paul Farrelly: We have heard—and this is a question to your colleague Mr Titchener-Barrett, who, if I am not mistaken, called my colleague Alan Keen ignorant and one-eyed earlier—we have heard that the Secretary of State has expelled the Association of Secondary Ticket Agents from attendance at the second summit. Why do you think that was?

  Mr Burns: I am sorry. I am oblivious to that event.

  Q110  Paul Farrelly: Did you attend it?

  Mr Burns: I did not, no. I was one of the founder members of the Association in December 2005. I left the Association early last year and I have been brought back in again just recently.

  Mr Titchener-Barrett: I joined ASTA two months ago in its format as public relations so I was not privy to that.

  Q111  Paul Farrelly: We have had heard that evidence. If you wish in the follow-up to give us your version of events, that would be welcome.

  Mr Burns: I would be very grateful for that opportunity, yes. [42]Thank you very much.

  Q112 Paul Farrelly: To Mr Cohen and Mr Baker, I am very interested in how you set your sites up. We have heard of some sharp practices whereby people use very sophisticated methodology to extract the maximum number of tickets using the internet calling system. Do you collaborate in any way in setting yourselves up or in ongoing operations with that sort of activity?

  Mr Cohen: I do not how you would describe "collaborating". If the marketplace works well and people want to sell tickets, I guess you could accuse us of that, but our service is available to consumers who want to come in and sell tickets and abide by a code of conduct of how those tickets are listed and how they are sold and how they are delivered. It is very straightforward, I do not know of sophisticated systems and other conspiracy theories that people have, I have not seen any evidence of that and I am not aware of it.

  Q113  Paul Farrelly: You can understand "collaborate" in whichever way you like. It is plain English really: court, encourage, collude with?

  Mr Baker: I can only speak for viagogo. The quick answer is no. We are a marketplace. We do not take any inventory of these tickets, we do not concern ourselves with whatever mechanisms they may be, and we are not a member of an Association of Secondary Ticket Sellers because we are not a ticket reseller. We are simply a marketplace where all we are looking to do is make sure people in our marketplace play by the rules in a safe and secure fashion, so the short answer to your questions is no, we do not.

  Q114  Paul Farrelly: Mr Cohen, I understand the answer to my question is "Perhaps, maybe and yes, it is legitimate"?

  Mr Cohen: It is no, we do not collaborate. We are a marketplace.

  Q115  Paul Farrelly: So if you were to open up your history and books to anyone who wants to come and examine your operations, how you had established yourselves, they would find you squeaky clean and they would say it was tickets by accident?

  Mr Cohen: I think so, absolutely.

  Q116  Paul Farrelly: And you again, Mr Baker?

  Mr Baker: I know so.

  Q117  Paul Farrelly: A final question to eBay, you say in your evidence that you are just an exchange as well and actually when it comes to rights of resale or not that should be for the parties themselves to thrash out, but that is complete rubbish, is it not, because in Australia you sued a promoter who reserved the right to bar people who had re-sold their tickets from coming to events? The reality is that, unlike our Office of Fair Trading which is timid, you are aggressive in protecting your ability to trade, are you not?

  Mr McGowan: Firstly, in respect to your question about the marketplace: with our marketplace, and if you look at the stats our research shows that nine out of ten people had sold over the course of a year five tickets or less and 60% had sold just one, so that suggests to us that the sort of people who are selling tickets on eBay are individuals with spare tickets. To deal with the Australian question, there the issue is you have an event promoter saying, "We are not allowing resale, we are not allowing refunds, and we are going to cancel the ticket as well." We have a similar practice here in the UK. have pretty much the same policy, which is they do not allow refunds, they do not allow resale and then they say if you try to resell it they will cancel without compensation. That does not seem to be very fair to the consumer.

  Q118  Paul Farrelly: If you are an exchange why did you sue, why did you not let the parties sort it out?

  Mr McGowan: Because in this particular instance we wanted to stand up for the consumer.

  Mr Drake: And we were successful.

  Mr McGowan: And a court of law found in our favour.

  Q119  Paul Farrelly: So you are player not an exchange?

  Mr McGowan: We vigorously defend the rights of people to be able to resell their tickets because we believe in the secondary market. Just as other individuals here are vigorously in the game of trying to close up the secondary market, we are obviously vigorously defending the right of people to be able to resell tickets, and why should they not?

41    Back

42    Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 10 January 2008