World Rugby accused of monopoly over World Cup tickets

WORLD RUGBY has been accused of ‘anti-competitive’ control of next year’s Rugby World Cup ticketing market, by the scalping platform which is reselling tickets at greatly inflated rates.

In an extraordinary attack, Viagogo has told The Pitch that RWC 2023 organizers were restricting access to fans in an attempt to control the market.

The ticket resale website has also defended its pricing of Ireland tickets, following an investigation by The Pitch published last month, in which admissions for Ireland’s opening Pool B game in Bordeaux against Romania were priced at up to 14 times above value.

Viagogo admitted that some prices were “eye-catching”, with €28 Cat 1 tickets selling for €410 and €116 Cat 4 tickets jumping to more than €1,300 in value.

The site has insisted that tickets were also available for approximately €60, and that there is always price inflation in the immediate aftermath of highly sought-after tickets going on sale, with prices flattening in time.

However, its most interesting comments are around what it sees as an effective monopoly of ticketing by World Rugby, alleging it holds damaging and coercive control of the marketplace.

“We believe passionately in the benefits of multi-channel ticket distribution because it provides fans with greater choice, flexibility, and healthy competition,” it said in a statement.

“Efforts by event organizers to restrict such a system, particularly by placing purchasing and resale restrictions on certain secondary platforms, amount to a transparent attempt to control the market.

“This harms consumers by reducing their options and limiting their access to a vibrant, competitive market.”

Viagogo believes that consumers and fans are better served to have choice and flexibility and should have the option to purchase from a service which they favor, or through multi-channel ticket distribution platforms.

It claims that services such as it are regulated secondary marketplaces and is particularly incensed with World Rugby’s comments, in our investigation, that customers who buy tickets through unofficial channels risk seeing them cancelled.

Such comments, Viagogo says, “are intended to restrict this choice and flexibility for ticket holders and interested buyers”.

By reducing the marketplace competition it claims that such a practice is known to drive up prices, which we did see at an astonishing rate on the Viagogo site on September 13, once tickets sold out on the World Rugby portal.

However, it is confusing that the platform accuses World Rugby of trying to promote its own single channel ticketing redistribution system, which demonstrates it is not ideologically against resale.

World Rugby’s control of WRC tickets is nothing new in sport, although in football UEFA distributes tickets through its member federations for sale to fans for Euro tournaments.

That has its own problems as we saw with FAI ticketing in the past, where tickets were handed out to fans based on preference by the Association itself.

The Pitch has never used Viagogo to attempt to purchase tickets – except in the case of our investigation into Ireland v Romania – but is there some merit in what it says?

Match tickets for big sporting events should be made available to as wide an audience as possible, but only after those most deserving and most loyal attendees are looked after first.

What is indefensible is the hugely inflated prices advertised on Viagogo, which it could control if it so desired.

“As we’d expect for a major tournament, some tickets for Ireland’s opener against Romania are being listed at eye-catching prices but this is not the entire story,” explained Viagogo.

“The average price a fan is paying for tickets on Viagogo is €172 and fans have even purchased tickets as low as €61.

“We recommend fans monitor prices closely and wait for the excitement surrounding World Rugby’s most recent ticketing phase to dissipate and for prices to level out.”

Viagogo said that any fans who had purchased tickets from the company would be fully refunded if supporters “cannot get into the event” or are stopped from entering Stade de Bordeaux for the Romania opener on September 9 next year.

World Rugby’s spokesperson Dominic Rumbles has warned that supporters who purchased passes from third-party sites or through unofficial means may have their admissions canceled and that the organization would “take action where possible”.

“Fans are reminded that these tickets (from third-party sellers) could be cancelled,” he said.

Viagogo responded: “We guarantee your money back if you cannot get into the event.” It also stated that the site does not purchase tickets itself from primary sellers, rather it operates a marketplace for users to sell their tickets.

Government examines land purchase deal at Tipperary Racecourse

THE Government organization which runs racing in Ireland has said it has been in contact with Horse Racing Ireland over the controversial land purchase at Tipperary Racecourse.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has said it has not ringfenced funds for the redevelopment of the Limerick Junction track, which still needs up to €20m in further funding to turn it into an all-weather circuit, according to local sources.

Tipperary Racecourse has declined to comment on the issue which the Dail Public Accounts Committee (PAC) declared a “financial calamity” at the racecourse over the purchase of the 12 acres, which it said was up to three times its true value.

The land was purchased at a cost of €10,000 per acre in 2019, but is now valued at €25,000 an acre — two-and-a-half times an increase, rather than the State three-fold inflation.

The land purchased was then used in a land swap with a neighboring landowner.

However a local source with considerable operational and political knowledge of the situation said that the land purchase was “a completely normal property transaction”.

“If you have a piece of land and it’s a certain market value, and you then have someone who really wants to buy that land, no matter what, then of course you raise the price,” said the insider.

“What you now have is a situation where because of all of the controversy around an insinuation by the PAC that somehow something is underhand, then you are going to have implications.”

Those key implications are that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) and its Minister Charlie McConalogue are now examining the issue again.

It’s understood that a further €19m is needed for the redevelopment which has yet to be budgeted by the Department.

In a statement to The Pitch, the Department said: “DAFM has engaged with HRI on the land purchase at Tipperary Racecourse and will continue to do so.

“HRI has submitted a proposal to DAFM regarding the development of a second all-weather racetrack which is being considered as per the requirements of the Public Spending Code (PSC).

“No exchequer funds have or had been ringfenced for this proposal.”

European Rugby’s free-to-air plan could prove a masterstroke

IT’S RARE that a sports organization shares out coverage of its premier competition to free-to-air platforms, from its headline broadcast partner.

But for the European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), such a move will benefit the game as part of the organisation’s aggressive growth strategy ahead of the World Cup in America in 2031.

By announcing RTÉ, along with ITV and Welsh channel S4C, will all get one match per each round of the Heineken Champions Cup, as well as the final itself, it opens up rugby to an audience, some of whom may never have seen a live European game.

The multi-year partnership, which runs to the end of the 2023/24 season, will still be ‘owned’ by BT Sport but increased access to free-to-air audiences will benefit everyone.

The one detail missing from the EPCR is what games will be shown on RTÉ per round of matches, but you can assume that the experiment is useless unless it features the home provinces, as it will with Welsh teams on S4C.

Either way, more top-quality sport for a larger audience only means more interest.

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