SBJ/Sept. 2-8, 2013/Global Special Issue

How Viagogo is disrupting the ticketing business

There is no Viagogo Stadium or all-out blitz on sports talk radio to mirror StubHub’s recent entry into U.S. facility naming rights and successful branding through drive-time media. But Viagogo, through its own strategies, has quickly grown into a leading player in international secondary ticketing.

Formed seven years ago by Eric Baker, one of the co-founders of StubHub, Viagogo has had a simple premise: provide the same kind of safe, secure ticket resale that StubHub helped create in the United States. And in the intervening years, Baker has led an expansion in nearly 50 international markets, and is aligned with dozens of major European soccer teams and performing arts venues including Chelsea, Manchester City and Bayern Munich.

StubHub co-founder Eric Baker started Viagogo and has shaken up the international secondary ticketing market.
Photo by: Newscom
But striking those deals was anything but a simple, straightforward process. Secondary ticketing was, and in many territories still is, a far less developed concept than in the U.S. Some countries had outright made it illegal. And even where legal, hooliganism and fan violence toward rival supporters made ticket resale a highly complex affair.
Some deals still remain highly unpopular with fans, such as one Viagogo held with German soccer club Schalke 04 that was recently terminated after less than one year.

But while StubHub in the U.S. has pursued a more media and marketing-driven relationship with teams and leagues, Viagogo’s official pacts have often taken a step further. Viagogo for many clubs requires official registration for both buyers and sellers, and in some cases a supplemental membership into a team’s official fan club. And unlike the eBay-owned StubHub, which strongly abhors any sort of artificial price restrictions, Viagogo occasionally has allowed price ceilings and price floors. Deals between Viagogo and individual clubs are typically based around sharing of ticket sales revenue with additional sponsorship components.

“Resale has to work for both fans and rights holders,” Baker said. “We’ve seen situations in the States where resale has cannibalized the primary market for teams and there’s now a more adversarial relationship between primary and secondary. My business becomes more much defensible to anybody when I can find a proper middle ground. And we think by being fully cooperative with clubs, we can be more successful for everybody.”

Viagogo, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, now transacts more than a half-billion dollars’ worth of tickets
annually, translating to a healthy nine-figure business based on combined commission rates of 25 percent for each ticket sold. The company last year shifted its headquarters to central Europe after its formation in London. The move was the subject of heavy consumer and media debate over whether Viagogo was seeking to get out from under U.K. laws or simply reflecting the expansion of the European market, as the company said.

In recent years, other ticket outfits have also seen the immense promise and potential of European and Asian ticket resale and began to expand into territory occupied by Viagogo. U.K.-based Seatwave, Ticketmaster-affiliated Get Me In, and Baker’s own creation, StubHub, are among them.

StubHub in late 2011 began an aggressive entry into Europe, opening a London office and striking partnerships with English Premier League clubs Everton and Sunderland, among others. But Baker said his early lead has put Viagogo in a strong position.

“StubHub has built a phenomenal business in the U.S., but we’ve taken a very different approach, and think our performance speaks for itself,” Baker said. “Nobody’s come close to our footprint where we operate.”

But some industry observers believe the European ticket resale market is still not large or vibrant enough to support four major players, certainly not at recent growth rates, and believe a market shakeout is forthcoming.

“I can’t see how this possibly continues at the pace it has,” said Graham Burns, chairman of the U.K.-based Association of Secondary Ticket Agents. “There’s not enough scope in Europe to support four major players long-term.”

A meaningful move into the U.S. for Viagogo, however, remains a work in progress. A 2007 deal with the Cleveland Browns failed to generate much traction, Baker said, but he remains open to trying other stateside initiatives.

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