Joe Hall catches up with London-formed firm ahead of this year’s Rugby World Cup
For years, it was a humiliating ritual many a sport fan would suffer. Ticketless and desperate, your only hope of getting a cherished seat for the match was a shifty-eyed bloke near the stadium asking you to give up a week’s wage in return.
But at this year’s Rugby World Cup, secondary ticket website viagogo hopes to offer an alternative.
Since launching nearly a decade ago in London, viagogo has grown into the world’s largest ticket marketplace, offering consumers in more than 60 countries the chance to buy and sell tickets to the world’s most indemand sport and entertainment events.
The frenzied nature of fanatical followers can often send those prices spiraling to headline-grabbing levels, not least for the forthcoming Rugby World Cup where tickets posted for four-figure prices tested the commitment of disappointed fans left empty handed by the official ballot.
“Rugby fans are coming to us as the only other way to get a ticket now is to pay a huge amount through the hospitality option,” says viagogo’s head of communications Oliver Wheeler, who insists the online marketplace remains one of the few remaining places fans can snag an affordable and secure deal.
“I think if you wanted to go to the final now and got hospitality tickets they range from something like £3,500 to £5,500,” Wheeler told City A.M.
“What comes with that bundle is quite often tickets to other games that you may or may not be able to attend and some kind of catering option, whereas if you wanted to buy a ticket through us it’s a smidge over £1,000.
“So you can pay your £3,500 and get your final tickets and a prawn sandwich or you can come to us and pay £1,200 – and that’s why people use our service. The average ticket price for the Rugby World Cup [on viagogo] at the moment is £270.”
And it’s not just individual consumers who viagogo say are increasingly seeing a benefit in the platform. In 2013 the company signed a three year deal with the Scottish Rugby Union, its first ever official partnership with a governing body in sport.
The Scottish Rugby Union, which had been searching for an official platform for its supporters to buy and sell tickets, extended the deal last November when its director of commercial operations Dominic McKay described the first year of its partnership as “extremely beneficial” to fans.
Using its global international presence, viagogo has sold Murrayfield tickets to Scottish expats as far afield as Singapore, Malaysia, Bulgaria, Bermuda and Japan.
Head of business development at viagogo Steve Roest says ticket fraud has been “virtually eradicated” at Scotland games where there are “virtually no issues at the gate anymore”. It was a similar story at this year’s Hong Kong Sevens, he says, following the partnership struck with the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU) last year.
“The HKRFU chief executive is on record as saying that we have reduced the number of dodgy unauthorized websites selling tickets and the major problem of people on the street being hassled by hustlers outside the front of the stadium,” said Roest. “We have had a significant impact and it’s just year one.
“Anecdotally, we know that the union itself received a huge number of recommendations and emails of thanks for introducing this service and the positive results that it had.”
Yet viagogo’s relationship with rugby has not always been so cosy. England’s Rugby Football Union (RFU) in particular has taken umbrage with customers paying above face value for Twickenham tickets and a recent amendment to the Consumer Rights Bill allowing organisations to cancel tickets for their events they believe are being sold at vastly inflated prices was heralded as a victory for the RFU.
Yet viagogo also sounded equally happy with legislation which it says shares its similar goal of reducing fraud.
“We’d actually been working with the government for about a year prior to those regulations coming into force,” says Wheeler.
“So far we’re encouraged that the government’s been very clear on its position: to improve the websites to allow people to make an informed choice, that prices should be set by supply and demand in the secondary ticketing market, and that legislation needs to be proven to be fair to cancel a ticket that was resold and not just because you want to cancel it.
“I think it was [Tory peer] Baroness Neville Rolfe who said they would take a dim view of any rights owners abusing the new regulations.”
With ticket prices expected to keep rising until England kick off the tournament against Fiji in 67 days’ time, that could soon be put to the test.