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. 
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 complaintsand I am happy to provide these to the Committeewere
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
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,
Mr McGowan: In respect of the
two issues you raise therefirstly, 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
Protection Act obligations, particularly when no-one has actually
done anything to break the law. We take privacy very seriously.
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 sitefor 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 heardand
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 earlierwe 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
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. 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
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
Mr Cohen: I think so, absolutely.
Q116 Paul Farrelly: And you again,
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. Seetickets.com 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
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?