Cracking Down on Scalpers, Google Changes Rules to Curb Deception in Ticket Sales

Concert Tickets
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Resale sites must show more transparency according to new AdWords guidelines.

After years of complaints from venues and show operators about deceptive search results for fans trying to buy concert tickets, Google is making changes to how resellers advertise with the search giant. The new rules ban a number of deceptive practices and require greater transparency from independent broker sites and large marketplaces like StubHub and Viagogo.

On Wednesday (Feb. 7), the search giant implemented a new set of rules announced last year governing how ticket resellers and professional scalpers advertise on Google's AdWords platform. Ticket brokers now must complete a certification program and agree to a number of transparency requirements about how tickets are procured, priced and marketed to boost their search engine results through paid advertising and keyword buying on AdWords.

Under the new guidelines, resellers cannot imply or lead customers to think their site is the primary point of sale for tickets. One common complaint to consumer groups and the Federal Trade Commission is that scalpers purchase deceptive URLs like RogerWatersTickets.com or CoachellaTickets.com, and then bid on keywords to boost their position on Google's search result page. When a consumer would search for tickets on sites like Google, they'd have to navigate through listings from brokers that looked legitimate in order to find the primary ticketing site.

That's no longer allowed, and Google is requiring resellers to disclose, near the top of their site, that tickets can be found at a lower price by buying them through the official box office. To comply with the rule, Stubhub and Viagogo now tell consumers "prices may be higher or lower than face value" at the top of their site. 

Other rules for certification are that resell sites must also provide the total cost for tickets, including fees and taxes, before requiring payment information, and beginning in March, must disclose the value of the tickets being sold. In order to be certified by Google, resellers must submit an application to show compliance with the rules -- it typically takes a week to get certified, a source at Google tells Billboard.

"This updated policy is a result of our own research," explains Google senior director for trust and safety David Graff on the on the search engine's blog, later writing, "we remain dedicated to ensuring that the ads our users see are helpful, relevant and trustworthy. "

The changes have earned mostly positive reviews, with Broadway League President Charlotte St. Martin saying, "We strongly support requiring brokers who advertise Broadway tickets on its platform to disclose when they are unaffiliated with an official box-office.” 

The U.K.-based FanFair Alliance, an anti-scalping coalition of music managers and ticketing companies, issued a statement applauding "Google’s proactive involvement to bring further transparency to the ticket resale market" and called the certification system "a big step forward" that's "already achieving positive impacts, with the largest secondary platforms now providing clearer disclosure on their own websites about the true nature of their business."

The statement pushed Google to go further and force more disclosure on sites like StubHub and Viagogo, writing, "the largest resale sites still fail to make clear that they are secondary platforms, listing secondhand tickets. Given their continued prominence on search pages, the implication remains that these are authorised primary sellers or ‘official sites’. That is simply not the case. Until their ad messaging is amended, we suspect UK ticket buyers will continue to be misled."

The majority of StubHub's business is secondary ticket sales, but the company does provide primary ticket sales for teams like the Philadelphia 76ers. 

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