Viagogo CEO Eric Baker Tells Us How He’s Making Ticket Scamming A Thing Of The Past

Dealing with scalpers, dodgy guys on eBay and even dodgier guys on Gumtree could be a thing of the past for local concert-goers, as European resale marketplace giant viagogo has just launched operations in Australia.

The viagogo method is pretty simple – a seller posts their unwanted tickets at a price they set themselves, and once purchased, the transaction isn’t finalised and the money doesn’t change hands until the buyer confirms the tickets arrived in time, were legit, and they were able to use them to attend the event they bought them for.

Viagogo have every right to have tickets on themselves (sorry), as a Q Magazine article posted on the US viagogo site estimated the company’s turnover at £50 million back in 2007 – “a figure its owner doesn’t dispute” – and since then the company has expanded to nearly fifty international markets.

We spoke to viagogo CEO Eric Baker about the history of the company, their expansion to Australia and the future of buying tickets.

But first, remember this old chestnut?

So what was the genesis of your idea? What was the impetus of wanting to invest in curbing people scamming tickets? I’m a huge event-goer myself —lots of sports, music, entertainment—years ago I was living in Boston and my girlfriend wanted to go and see The Lion King which was a big show that had just opened up on Broadway in New York, and I went to get tickets and had to buy tickets from a scalper – it was a really unpleasant experience. Fortunately those tickets worked, but it sort of hit me that there should be a better way in the day and age of the internet to create a better platform for people, and that’s what we do,: guaranteeing every sale so at least when you buy a ticket, you know you’re going to get in, you know you’re going to get in on time, you know it’s going to be a real ticket to go to the event. It’s really just something I think I myself as an event goer would have really appreciated and wanted, and I thought that it would solve a problem for a lot of other people.

For people that might not know, could you explain the premise of the service? Viagogo is the world’s largest ticket marketplace, so it doesn’t deal with the primary issue of the tickets, but after someone has bought a ticket and they can no longer use it or their plans have changed and a buyer is trying to buy a ticket after they’ve sold out at the box office, we’re able to let them buy and sell. But unlike eBay where it’s just sort of take your chances, we register every seller and we track the tickets to every buyer and we don’t pay the seller until after the event has happened without a problem. And we guarantee that the buyer will get their ticket and if there are any problems we get them a replacement ticket to make sure they can go to the show or sporting event.

How many markets is this active in already?
So the website has been localised for almost fifty markets, really all across western Europe and now we’re opening up to markets all around the world, and we’re really excited about making a push in to Australia as our first leap in to Asia Pacific.

Is there evidence that viagogo has curbed the instances of ticket scamming? Basically most of these scams, as you can see from our research, people go to these auction sites like eBay and Gumtree, and in the UK for example, eBay recently shut down its ticket site  – so sort of admitting that you’re not providing the safe secure guarantee then you really shouldn’t be allowing people to trade tickets. So as a result, when people actually see an alternative, there’s no reason to take your chances, you know, in the street or with a shady scalper. As a result, we bring fraud down.

Do you have any horror stories that you’ve heard over developing this, of people getting ripped off and exploited by scalpers?  Unfortunately there’s a number of instances that we see when we enter a market, there’s some great Australian case studies — as I recall there was one married couple and it was a big deal for them to go and see ABBA, and they were buying tickets and unfortunately those tickets never showed up. There’s other examples of young folks who are trying to buy tickets for music festivals, and they got tickets that were fraudulent, and lost hundreds of dollars – and more importantly, they lost the opportunity to see the event they wanted to see.  It’s really heartbreaking when you hear about these things going on, and we’re just trying to get people safe ticketing here —we’re certainly not saving the world— but it’s nice to feel that in this small dimension we’re trying to prevent people from getting scammed.

Obviously the events in the market where you have high penetration of service are aware of you as a service, do you ever work closely with those events? What were your considerations from the event’s perspective as opposed to the consumer’s perspective?
The events often are aware that there is fraud and there are problems – when a consumer buys on a place like eBay, and they get scammed, and then they show up at the gates start blaming the event. And that’s not fair to the event because the event didn’t tell them to go buy tickets from on eBay, so we’re trying to eliminate those pesky people from in front of the arena or have problems, and that’s a good thing. And I think oftentimes even though people can buy tickets for any event on viagogo whether we have a partnership or not, we do often partner with the event owners for them to market the service for that reason. And we have almost one hundred partners across the world and those partners range from the French Open Tennis, Manchester City, Chelsea Football Club; on the music side we’ve partnered with everyone from Madonna to the Isle of Wight Festival. We’re clearly happy to work with them but the key common thing is that it certainly should be everyone’s imperative to eliminate fraud. And that’s good for everybody in the chain and it ends up being a win-win.

When do you expect to go live into the Australian market? What can we expect from the service in the future? We really went out with a beta test in Australia, starting in January to start letting people buy and sell tickets which has really gone great and has been a big success – one of our most successful market launches in the pre-launch phase.  And now we’re really publicising it, so we think there will be a really big push  – there’s obviously events like Springsteen and the Ashes and others, and we’ll be announcing some partnerships later this week in the sports phase, which should be very exciting. So I think you’ll see more and more partnerships, more announcements; hopefully what we’ll see less of is fraud and scams going on people logging in to eBay and Gumtree and being taken advantage of – that’s what we’ll being seeing less of.

Is there kind of a system whereby vendors can accumulate goodwill through successful ticket sales that have been accountable and true? Well with eBay they have feedback system with a rating; but with us we hold everyone to the standard that you must deliver the ticket, it has to work every time and we’re also monitoring anybody and have a very low tolerance for anybody who isn’t playing by the rules or delivering good tickets. They’ll get instant feedback from us and I guess we’ll send them back on their way to Gumtree.

Is there room for the consumer themselves to rip off the vendor?
With the seller we’re guaranteeing that you’re going to get paid; unlike Gumtree where you might give someone a cheque or promise payment and it bounces, we’re guaranteeing that won’t happen. So if the vendor does what they said would do and they deliver the tickets, you will get paid.

And what’s your vision for
viagogo for the next five years?
We really just want to continue rolling it out into international markets. People love going to events everywhere and anywhere there’s fraud like we’ve seen here in Australia in the past, we think we can revolutionised the way Australians are buying and selling tickets – now when they want to go to an event that’s sold out, no longer do they have to go to some person on the street, they can come to viagogo.

Thanks for your time, we wholeheartedly support anything that curbs ticket scalping and think you’re on to a winning idea.

Earlier this week the NSW Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts outlined plans for legislation designed to crack down on scalping and ticket resale sites, issuing fines for tickets being sold way above face value, and enable event organisers to cancel scalped tickets.

Viagogo issued this statement in response to the plans:

The ticketing legislation Minister Roberts has proposed won’t work and will simply increase fraud by pushing people back to the black market.
We know from our experiences around the world that legislation, while well intentioned, is not the answer. Regulations on the sale of ticket do not protect consumers. Instead, they will send NSW back to the Wild West where people had to take their chances buying from shady people in pubs, car parks and outside venues.
The terms and conditions of a ticket, which are at the centre of the government’s proposals, do not protect the fans. Terms and conditions protect the promoter and primary ticket seller – for example, the terms and conditions outline that it’s the primary sellers right to substitute or cancel artists if they choose, and their right to withhold a refund or exchange. So while you might buy tickets for a Bruce Springsteen concert, you could end up watching The Muppets, or nothing at all.
These proposals are particularly surprising as we have just had a successful launch in Australia where the benefits of our service were universally applauded and even received a commendation from Minister Roberts himself. Consumer protection is at the heart of our business, and we believe that it’s most important that fans have safe, secure and guaranteed access to tickets. We also believe that once you have bought a ticket, it is up to you what you do with it – and eight out of ten Australians agree with us.
The facts are: ticket resale was legal yesterday, is legal today and we are confident that it will still be legal tomorrow, and we will continue to offer fans a service that provides safe, secure and guaranteed access to tickets.