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Viagogreat, or Viagoplease? - Reading FC's partnership with Viagogo

Several months ago Reading announced a partnership with ticket exchange website Viagogo. The initial reaction was mixed, with some fans happy that there was finally an authorised ticket resale service and others disappointed that the club had leased out the service to a third party that charged both buyer and seller. With relegation imminent, its probably going to become a non-issue but I thought I'd take some time to reflect on the pros and cons of this year's deal.

Jeff J Mitchell

First of all here's the basics, taken from the club's own press release.

Once Season Ticket Holders list their seats for sale on the viagogo website, they will receive anything from matchday face value to double the value of their matchday ticket, less a transaction fee.

There is no limit to the amount of games they can choose to sell - however there is no guarantee that their seat will be bought for any game.

After the seat has been sold the Season Ticket Holder will see the game immediately removed from their season ticket and the buyer receives a paper ticket (or if they are a member it will be loaded directly onto their member card) - whilst the seller will receive the money on the day of the match.

As part of this initiative, the club will also make a small amount of South Stand match tickets available for sale on the viagogo website, once tickets go to General Sale.

On the surface it's a deal that should benefit all parties.

  • From the fans' point of view season ticket holders are now able to sell tickets to games they can't go to legally, which helps them recoup the cost from missing a game.
  • Being able to sell those seats helps to fill the stadium and gives fans who otherwise can't get a ticket, the chance to see the game.
  • Importantly, it's secure and linked to the club's own ticket selling systems, which give fans confidence that their details are safe.
  • From the club's point of view, it gives more causal and neutral fans who are unfamiliar with the club's own ticketing system another outlet to get tickets from and it also takes away the financial burden of running the system and dealing with any subsequent problems.
  • From Viagogo's point of view, it makes money from fans for providing a service and also generates direct profit from selling the seats that the club has allocated to them.

All of those things are pretty good, after all it can help the punter, the club and help sustain another business.

Sadly it's not all positive and here's a few problems that have worried me from a fan's point of view.

  • It can be seen as a dressed up form of touting.

    The basic principal of touting is buying a ticket and then selling it on for a profit. In essence, this is what Viagogo enables you to do. For example, tickets were on sale at £90 for the Manchester United game, double the actual value of the ticket at the ticket office. Throw in Viagogo's admin fee and it cost the buyer around £100 to watch a game of football... something unheard of for the Madejski Stadium.
  • Why is it legal for Viagogo to do what fans can't do on their own?

    One of the key differences between touting and Viagogo is that Viagogo is legal, touting isn't. If I stood outside the Mad Stad trying to flog a ticket to you, I could be arrested and you could have your ticket cancelled before you got into the ground. Even if I sold it to you for face value or even below, it's technically illegal. However, a third party company operating online and charging admin fees to both sides is perfectly fine in the eyes of the law. As Football Supporters Federation chairman Malcolm Clarke told the BBC.

"We think it cannot be right that Viagogo are allowed to do something through the internet which, if a fan did outside the ground for exactly the same price, would be a criminal offence and which could lead to a football banning order."

  • Reading/Viagogo allow fans to list at twice the price whereas other clubs don't.

    Again as discussed in a 5-Live investigation back in December, other clubs such as Chelsea have chosen to limit listing prices to face value, whereas Reading allow you to charge up to double the face value. Even Manchester City limit it to 50% above face value.
  • This could encourage individuals to buy or retain season tickets purely to sell on for a profit.

    This is something that could have been easily restricted but wasn't. As detailed in the press release, there's no limit to the number of games you can list, so theoretically you could just go ahead and list all 19 home games. Obviously you run the risk that some don't sell out but the money you'd make on the bigger games in the Premier League would almost certainly cover the few that don't sell. If Reading get back to the Premier League (or by some miracle stay up) this could then encourage people to buy season tickets purely to sell them on. Again, nothing illegal there but it would be a shame to see genuine fans who want season tickets denied by people who are only buying them to make money. Even if season tickets didn't sell out, it would still mean fewer tickets on general sale for bigger games. A good way to combat this would be to limit the resale to say five or six games a season. If you're missing more then that then you have to ask why you've bought a season ticket in the first place but even if you missed 10, the five or six you did sell would cover the cost of missing those 10.
  • It can lead to more away fans in the home end.

    As more tickets go to the general population, so increases the chances of fans from opposition teams picking them up. This isn't exactly something new and it's something that other fans could do when tickets went to general sale anyway. However, with more tickets available in all areas of the ground, it's led to occasional problems of away fans getting into shall we say, very 'home' areas of the ground, like Y25 and Y26. Of course everybody has the right to see a football game in peace and not be hassled but it could lead to safety issues if away fans get into less friendly areas. Thankfully nothing major has happened so far so credit to the club whose stewards have done a decent job diffusing the smaller incidents that have taken place.
  • Admin fees.

    Viagogo currently makes around £10+ for a ticket, charging the seller 10% and the buyer 15%. I've got nothing against the company for charging a fee, after all its got to make a profit, but why is it a percentage of the value and not a flat fee? Is it more expensive to handle the transaction for a United game as opposed to a QPR game?! I don't think so, which brings me onto the next point....
  • Why didn't the club take this in house?

    This has to be the biggest problem for me and one which the club hasn't really commented on. With the current deal, Reading still have to cancel the game from the seller's member card and then issue a paper ticket to the buyer. If they are going through such admin already why can they not just run the re-sale business themselves? They have a ticket selling website and a manned phone line already so I can't imagine it would take too much to extend the service to resale. The benefits of taking it in house would be fewer admin fees and more control over who they're sold too and help prevent any potential touting by stricter limits on pricing. However I'll concede that without exact technical knowledge, I've no idea how much that would have cost. Even so, even if it purely broke even, it would have been a much better scenario from the fans, if not the club's point of view.
We asked the club for their view of the partnership so far this season and here's what they had to say.

"We put ViaGogo in place with the idea of helping our supporters in the Premier League and we are pleased with how the system has worked to our fans' benefit.

There are two sides to the benefit for supporters - firstly to season ticket holders who have sold their seats and received money back, and secondly to fans who had access to tickets that would otherwise have been unavailable. Rather than going unused, many tickets have been bought by Reading fans, which can only be good in both the short and long term - the stadium is full and more people are engaged with the club.

Ticket sales this season have been excellent - indeed better than our last season in the Premier League - so it's important that we keep the doors to Madejski Stadium open in as many ways as possible. In addition for the first time our season ticket holders have received money back on their outlay, so we are pleased with how the Viagogo offering has progressed."

Reading FC Spokesperson - 18/4/13

So it's easy to see both sides of this debate, one which has been rumbling across various internet forums and on Twitter ever since the partnership was announced.

Here's some of your feedback.

Personally I'm all for a ticket re-sale scheme, but maybe not under these particular rules.

As somebody who works varied and unusual shifts, I can't get to every single home game and the ability to sell the odd ticket is a great option that didn't exist legally before. I've even used Viagogo myself, selling my ticket (at face value) for the Swansea game and making £30 in the process. Reading didn't have to run a ticket re-sale scheme and it's undoubted that more fans have seen games this season then they would have ordinarily under the old rules.

Sadly I just feel that this particular partnership with Viagogo isn't quite the best fans could have hoped for and can't help but feel the club has opted to go for a profit rather than doing something purely to help it's fanbase. I suppose you can't blame a business for trying to do that but it's just another sad sign of how monetised football has become.

Again, it's up to each fan to choose how much they list tickets for and while personally I listed at the lowest possible amount, others go for maximum profit. Fair enough, you've bought a season ticket and somebody is prepared to pay that price so you're both happy. However, I'd just ask that if the roles were reversed would you want a fellow fan selling you a ticket at face value, or charging you double? If Chelsea limit tickets to face value, why didn't Reading Football Club?

Likewise, why did the club elect to go for a ticket reselling site that charges quite hefty admin fees rather than keep it in house? I'm not a technical expert but I still fail to believe it was beyond the realms of financial prudence for the club to bring this under their usual ticketing rules and website.

In the end you've got to take the rough with the smooth here and I suppose that having some form of ticket exchange is better than not having one at all. While paying admin fees are frustrating, you can still get some reasonably priced tickets for games that you previously wouldn't have seen.

It's unlikely that the service will have any real value if we do get relegated, unless perhaps a big side like Villa or Newcastle come down with us or we're in a promotion race late on. Despite that, I'd still like the club to take on board some of the feedback from fans and if you've got any feedback on the system then please drop your comments in the section below.