LONDON —Italy’s communications regulator has fined Viagogo 23.5 million euros ($24.8 million) for selling tickets to concerts by rock and pop stars like Maneskin, Pearl Jam and Dua Lipa at vastly inflated rates, thereby violating the country’s strict rules around the resale of concert tickets.
Following a board meeting on June 23, Autorità per le Garanzie nelle Comunicazioni (AGCOM), a government regulator that oversees Italy’s telecommunications, audio visual and publishing industries, also ordered the secondary ticketing company to remove all “illegal content” listed on its platform within seven days.
The fine follows an investigation by AGCOM and Italy’s financial crime enforcement agency, the Guardia di Finanza, which looked at tickets for 131 events listed on www.viagogo.it. As well as listings for Maneskin, Pearl Jam and Dua Lipa, the probe found that Viagogo advertised tickets at increased prices on the site for shows by Vasco Rossi, Sting, Green Day, Placebo, Cesare Cremonini, Paolo Conte and Andrea Bocelli.
Viagogo listed tickets for those shows at prices up to six or seven times higher than face value, says AGCOM. That runs afoul of Italy’s strict ticketing laws, which state that only authorized vendors are allowed to sell tickets.
In instances where Italian consumers are in possession of unwanted tickets, they are only permitted to sell them on an occasional basis at a price that is “equal to or lower than the nominal price.” AGCOM has not provided details about when the concerts were scheduled to take place or when its investigation was carried out.
In a statement published June 24, translated into English by Billboard, AGCOM says “secondary ticketing has the effect of inflating ticket prices” and exists at “the detriment of the community of artists, event organizers and of primary retailers.”
“This is of particular relevance at an important moment for the resumption of the live events sector, after the forced interruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the regulator says.
Responding to the ruling, a spokesperson for Viagogo tells Billboard that they “respect the decision of the AGCOM, however we are surprised by this fine.”
The company points to a referral made in April by Italy’s Consiglio di Stato (Council of State) to the Court of Justice of the European Union, asking the court to decide whether the laws restricting the commercial resale of tickets in Italy are compatible with the principles of EU law.
“Viagogo trusts that these pending proceedings will confirm it is not responsible for the allegations raised by the AGCOM and all fines will be annulled,” the spokesperson says.
Over the past five years, Italian authorities have been cracking down on the touting of tickets for rock and pop concerts. In 2017, the country passed the first of several pieces of legislation prohibiting the use of automated bots to harvest tickets and banned the commercial resale of live music and entertainment tickets for commercial proposes or for above face value.
Last year, an Italian court rejected Viagogo’s appeal to a separate 3.7 million euro fine issued by AGCOM in 2020. In that instance, AGCOM took action against Viagogo for selling tickets for 37 events at inflated prices between March and July of 2019.
The Regional Administrative Court of Lazio rejected Viagogo’s argument that it a “passive hosting provider” connecting resellers with potential buyers and is therefore exempt from liability under Italian law. The issue of whether Viagogo can be termed as an “active” or “passive” hosting provider is one of the issues that the EU Court of Justice has now been asked to determine.
Outside of Europe, last month the Federal Court of Australia dismissed an appeal from Viagogo against a $7 million penalty issued by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission in 2020 for misleading Australian ticket buyers about hidden fees and its claim to be an official ticketing site.
Viagogo has also encountered difficulties in the United Kingdom. In February of 2021, the Competition and Markets Authority ordered the company to offload its StubHub business outside of North America to complete its $4 billion acquisition, after an investigation found Viagogo was engaging in anti-competitive practices.
Adam Webb, campaign manager for U.K.-based anti-ticket touting organization FanFair Alliance, called the fine by Italian regulators “another body blow to Viagogo’s tarnished and outdated business model. No matter where they operate, this company shows an almost pathological inability to obey the law.”
Legislation across Europe, at both a national and EU basis, “is catching up with ticket scalping,” says Sam Shemtob, director of the Face-value European Alliance for Ticketing (FEAT), welcoming AGCOM’s strong stance against Viagogo.
“If other enforcement authorities follow Italy’s example,” says Shemtob, “the hope of a functional ticket resale market, with scalping largely relegated to the history books, could become a reality.”