Viagogo caught flagrantly pre-selling tickets

Turns out you can pay too much for a once-in-a-lifetime game.

Dugald Docherty waited a lifetime to see FC Barcelona take on Real Madrid. The pensioner from Adelaide took to Google and clicked on the ranking "official site". That site was reseller Viagogo.

The ticket was expensive. After surcharges and fees were added, the price to see his two favourite teams square off was $2201.

Viagogo Australia takes a cut from each ticket sold, which can be as high as 28%.

"To be attending this game is extremely important to me," Dugald told a Viagogo customer representative in August 2016.

"For many years I have watched both Barcelona and Real Madrid on TV, and consider them the best two clubs in the world.

"For a 71 year old, this is the chance of a lifetime."

But in November 2016, his health took a turn and doctors disallowed him from travelling overseas.

The game was still five months away, and so he emailed Viagogo asking for a refund. They responded three emails later.

"We cannot cancel or exchange the sale as we've guaranteed the seller their payment," a customer representative replied in chat transcripts seen by CHOICE.

"The best solution I can offer you is to re-list them."

Dugald complied amenably, but Viagogo's website was plagued by technical glitches and would not let him re-list the ticket.

"He felt stupid because he felt he was duped by them...He was really proud of himself that he bought this ticket."

He would try and fail again and again for four months, each time being denied by the Viagogo website. Closer to game day, he would find out why.

The email transcripts reveal Dugald's polite and tempered manner gave into desperation and frustration. After all, $2200 is a lot of money, particularly for a pensioner.

"I urgently need to sell this ticket, but am becoming very frustrated at not being able to list it...Could you please provide me with the necessary steps needed to list my ticket?" Dugald wrote in December 2016.

"Please be honest with me," he pleaded the month after.

Eventually he had to enlist the help of his daughter and caregiver, Tracey Docherty. She tells CHOICE it was "taking a huge toll" on her father, as he lost faith in Viagogo and its guarantee to honour transactions.

"He got very depressed. He wasn't sleeping. He felt stupid because he felt he was duped by them...He was really proud of himself that he bought this ticket."

The fruitless to-and-fro with Viagogo tired Tracey and, by March 2017, she decided to cut the middleman out by contacting Real Madrid directly.

A company representative responded with startling revelations, starting with the price of the ticket.

The Viagogo "service charge" alone was $512, but the most expensive ticket was $442.

The Viagogo ticket Dugald purchased cost $2201, following the conversion of currency and the addition of Viagogo surcharges.

The Viagogo "service charge" alone was $512, but the most expensive ticket sold by the genuine Real Madrid partner was $442 – in total. Viagogo was gouging the ticket price by $1759.

Odds are Dugald would've been at a substantial loss even if he had the opportunity to relist the ticket.

But it wouldn't have mattered, because emails from Real Madrid's representative reveal the ticket would've been rejected.

"Viagogo does not have license nor authorisation to sell our tickets...Unfortunately, we see at the gates many people denied access every match, with tickets provided by Viagogo," wrote the representative.

"We recommend to ask for the refunds and take legal actions."

The representative confirmed the Viagogo ticket was not authentic because it didn't exist. Tickets would only go on sale the week before a match; not eight months earlier, which is when Dugald made his purchase.

Tracey responded by reporting Viagogo to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), as well as the consumer bodies in the UK, the US and Switzerland, all of which are countries investigating the business sales practices of Viagogo.

She sent a final, stern email to Viagogo less than three weeks before the game was scheduled.

"The ticket you sold to us does not exist and never has existed, so you cannot sell something you do not have. That is fraud," she says.

"We demand you return to us...the full amount of the ticket."

The gig was up. Two days later on 7 April, Viagogo refunded the cost of the ticket.

In spite of getting a refund, Tracey is adamant Viagogo "needs to be stopped".

"I would love to see them de-listed by Google as the top listing when searching for tickets for anything, anywhere, because then more people will not fall victim to them and suffer like my dad did."

Whether you're a fan or an industry insider, we want to hear about your experience with online ticket sales – visit our Ticked Off campaign page.

A representative from Google says "all ads go through an approval process using the AdWords advertising policies".

"Users can lodge complaints if they believe an advertiser breaches these policies and all complaints are investigated," says the representative. "Ads that violate our terms and conditions we will be removed."

Tracey and Dugald account for the best-case scenario when it comes to dealing with ticket resellers. Their case is one of hundreds that has been shared with CHOICE since we published the findings of our investigation a couple of months ago.

The findings were turned over to the ACCC.

Dugald was never able to see FC Barcelona take on Real Madrid. It was meant to be the trip of a lifetime.

Updated, 17 May: Added commentary from Google.