Competition watchdog increases pressure on Viagogo-StubHub deal | Business

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Britain’s competition watchdog has stepped up its investigation into plans to buy StubHub’s $ 4 billion (£ 3.2 billion) takeover from rival website Viagogo, adding to the misery of a signed deal. weeks before the coronavirus ends theater, music and sport.The Competition and Markets Authority has expressed concern that a combination of two companies that share 80% of the ticket resale market will drive up prices and reduce consumer choice.

He has given Viagogo five days to propose “clear” measures to allay his concerns, or he will move on to an in-depth investigation of phase two, an escalation which could lead to the freezing of the agreement.

The $ 4 billion deal brought together two companies that faced outcry from MPs, activists and the public for their business practices, including forming alliances with powerful ticket vendors.

Although the two avoided serious sanctions in the UK, the CMA’s intervention adds to the pressure on two companies that were shaken by the impact on the Covid-19 live events.

Viagogo founder and boss Eric Baker said in February that he believed the virus was isolated in Asia.

The spread of the pandemic since then has meant that the takeover, funded in part by the Walton family behind Walmart, has been called “the worst deal ever” by Forbes magazine.

StubHub, which dominates the US market, is believed to be in financial difficulty due to the pandemic and has been criticized for denying refunds to fans who purchased tickets for canceled events, instead offering them credit.

The two companies are by far the main players in the resale of banknotes in the UK, the key factor in triggering the CMA investigation, but they have also fallen under the regulator’s hands before.

The CMA has previously threatened Viagogo with legal action for misleading consumers, dropping its lawsuit after the firm agreed to redesign its website.

Viagogo has also been criticized for taking advantage of charity events such as a concert by comedian Peter Kay and charging huge markups for tickets to see Michelle Obama, even when resale was not allowed.

The website went to war with Ed Sheeran, launching a lawsuit against his promotion company Kilimanjaro Live after the pop star banned fans who bought through the company from entering his concerts.

The firm lodged a complaint in Germany shortly before it was blown up on its behavior by the deputies of the restricted committee of the culture and declared that the legal proceedings meant that it could not attend the session of evidence any more .

But the Guardian understands that it has since abandoned the claim and is now being sued for legal costs by Kilimanjaro Live.

StubHub has also been charged with deceiving ticket buyers, while the Guardian revealed earlier this year that the company is selling millions of pounds of tickets to soccer games, even though reselling a soccer ticket is illegal in England.

However, the CMA investigation only looks at the extent to which the $ 4 billion takeover would affect competition.

Viagogo said, “As we have done throughout this process, we will continue to work diligently with the CMA as we review the transaction.

“We remain committed to the belief that combining the two companies is a good decision for customers around the world. ”

FanFair Alliance, a campaign group backed by music personalities, including PJ Harvey and Little Mix executives, said that Viagogo’s record should not allow it to gain even more power in the music market. tickets.

“Viagogo remains a very controversial business,” said spokesman Adam Webb.

“The company has widely flouted consumer protection law in the UK and is still under investigation in many other countries.

“Such an enterprise, which has claimed thousands of victims, should not be allowed to monopolize profit-making ‘secondary ticketing’.

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“This result would raise serious competition concerns in the UK and threaten to reverse hard-won reforms to prevent abuse in this market.”

If Baker’s purchase of StubHub goes as planned, it will bring together two companies he founded under the same umbrella, creating a ticket resale giant.

The entrepreneur co-founded StubHub, before leaving the company in the middle of a dispute with his business partner Jeff Fluhr, who then sold the business to eBay. Baker moved to London, where he created Viagogo as a European competitor.

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