Competition watchdog clears Viagogo-Stubhub merger

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Aaron Kyle Behrens of Ghostland Observatory performs for StubHub showcase at SXSWImage source, Getty Images

Ticketing site Viagogo has been cleared to go ahead with its £3bn acquisition of rival StubHub.

The online ticket giant had promised to sell off StubHub's international wing to allay competition concerns.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it had approved Digital Fuel Capital as a suitable new owner for the international wing of StubHub.

Viagogo can now buy StubHub's North American business.

Viagogo vice president of business development Cris Miller said: "We are pleased to confirm a buyer for StubHub International has been approved by the UK Competition and Markets Authority.

"This brings to an end the investigation into the much-anticipated merger of Viagogo and StubHub North America, which is now cleared to proceed.

"We appreciate the CMA's role in bringing the merger to this conclusion, and we look forward to sharing more details about the integration of the two businesses with our loyal customers and partners very soon."

Digital Fuel Capital is a private equity company based in Massachusetts.

The $4bn (£2.9bn) merger between Viagogo and StubHub has been held up amid competition concerns from the UK regulator.

The CMA has been looking into the deal since December 2019, a month after it was announced.

In October last year the watchdog blocked the deal provisionally after saying it could substantially lessen competition in the ticket resale sector.

Between them the two companies have 90% of the UK's secondary ticketing market.

Months later Viagogo offered to sell part of StubHub if the merger got approval.

In April this year the CMA said it would accept this if it approved a buyer.

Covid complication

Now Viagogo faces another challenge. The industry looks very different today than when the two businesses first agreed the deal.

Live events were closed in much of the world for large parts of the coronavirus pandemic, putting strain on ticket-sellers.

Mr Miller said: "As the live events industry emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, robust competition in the ticketing market is needed more than ever and Viagogo will continue to take its essential role in the live events industry very seriously.

"Viagogo and StubHub will always remain committed to working with regulators, while providing safe and secure platforms for people to buy and sell tickets to events all over the world."

In August the CMA called for tougher rules for the ticket resale industry, including legislation to allow a swifter clampdown on touts.

In the UK, Viagogo and StubHub are the two main providers of secondary ticketing platforms. Together, they have a combined market share of more than 90%.

The CMA had feared the deal would mean a "substantial reduction in competition" in the UK secondary ticketing market.

FanFair Alliance, a UK campaign group that opposes online ticket touting,has misgivings about the merger of the two services.

"Good luck to Digital Fuel Capital," said FanFair Alliance spokesman Adam Webb. "For their sake, I hope they didn't pay very much."

He stressed that the decision to sell off Stubhub's business outside North America "has car crash written all over it".

"As well as reviving a distressed brand, what appears to be a team of US investment bankers with a portfolio of coffee and bathroom businesses will now be required to operate StubHub International as a direct competitor to Viagogo," he said.