The war against ticket touts

Published 18 January 2012

A recent Court of Appeal decision could deter rugby fans from trying to resell tickets at more than face value on the internet.

Last month the Court of Appeal ruled, in Rugby Football Union v Viagogo Limited, that the ticketing website Viagogo must provide the Rugby Football Union (RFU) with the names and addresses of anyone that had sold tickets on its website for the 2010 Autumn Internationals and the 2011 Six Nations at more than face value, in order to enable the RFU to take action against them.

Viagogo is a secondary ticketing website on which people may resell tickets online for sporting, music and other events.   Although the resale of football tickets is prohibited under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 unless authorised by the 'organiser' of matches (Viagogo is currently authorised by a number of Premier football and rugby clubs to sell secondary tickets for games), there is no such prohibition against the resale of tickets for rugby matches.  However, the RFU argued that it prices its tickets so that they are affordable in accordance with its aim to promote and develop rugby, denying itself of large profits in the process.  The RFU argued that there would be little point in this if the tickets could be resold at inflated prices.

The Court of Appeal decided that the High Court was correct to grant the RFU a so-called Norwich Pharmacal order, which required Viagogo to identify persons advertising and selling the rugby tickets for more than face value.  A Norwich Pharmacal order can be made against a third party that has, through no fault of its own, facilitated a wrongdoing.  The purpose of the order is typically to identify wrongdoers - in this case, the persons advertising and selling the tickets. 

The High Court had decided that those re-selling the tickets had committed a wrongdoing in that they:

  • had a contract with the RFU, and had breached its terms (i.e. the RFU's ticket distribution conditions), which forbid the resale of tickets at more than face value; and
  • were liable in tort.  As the ticket distribution conditions give the RFU the right to refuse entry to anyone possessing a ticket sold at more than face value, such ticket holders were trespassers.  The ticket sellers were jointly liable for their trespass.

It also decided that Viagogo was involved in the wrongdoing, as it had allowed the tickets to be advertised on its website at inflated prices.

The Court of Appeal agreed with this reasoning and concluded that the decision to grant the Norwich Pharmacal Order was correct, as it was the only realistic means of discovering the identity of those advertising and selling the tickets.  Disclosing the identity of those involved was also found to be in line with the Data Protection Act 1998, as it was proportionate in the circumstances.

In a separate crackdown against ticket touts, the Sale of Tickets (Sporting and Cultural Events) Bill is expected to have its second reading debate on 20 January 2012 in the House of Commons.  This Private Members' Bill, brought by Sharon Hodgson MP, aims to tackle ticket touting by allowing event organisers to prevent the unauthorised resale of their tickets at more than 10 per cent above face value.

For sports law enquiries, please contact Jamie Horner, Partner at Ashfords LLP on 01392 333993 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..