Thursday 18 July 2019

Irish attitude to tech firms 'concerning' - Viagogo boss

Ticket-seller stalls new investment over legislation, writes Fearghal O'Connor

Richard Bruton. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Richard Bruton. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Ireland is not the same welcoming country for the tech industry that controversial ticket reseller Viagogo found in 2014, according to its global chief executive Cris Miller.

Back then Minister Richard Bruton cut the ribbon on its IDA-backed customer service centre at the long-empty former Flextronics plant at Plassey in Limerick.

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Now the company is stalling on a new €10m investment at the centre that could create 100 jobs by moving into a ready-to-go extension that almost doubles the size of its existing office because it fears proposed new legislation to ban above-cost ticket reselling here could potentially criminalise its staff.

"Ireland in 2014, the landscape, was much different to what it is today. So you have to consider your investments," said Miller.

Ireland's attitude to the wider tech scene has "become more concerning", he said.

"The temperature around technology businesses and their welcomeness here I think has shifted considerably, especially new technology," said Miller, who said he was unclear why this was the case particularly given the threat of Brexit.

"From our point of view it seems unfortunate and it has been a very quick shift. Everything is on the table and we'll just have to evaluate our options," he said.

The company has already invested about €20m in its Irish operation since 2014 in both capital investment and wage payments and expects it could invest a similar amount if the new jobs go ahead.

But at least some of the perceived cold shoulder for Viagogo has come about because ticket reselling has continued to create controversy, sparking a political push for new legislation.

Critics - particularly event organisers and ticket-sellers - claim that online resellers such as Viagogo are little better than fancy ticket touts and not much different to hated so-called scalpers on the street outside any high-profile concert or sporting event.

Viagogo has begun a process of lobbying Irish politicians to 'educate' them on how it operates and on how others in the marketplace look to 'demonise' the disruptive tech company.

"I would say first that the criticism is focused primarily on their own frustration at the fact that we are disruptive to the marketplace," said Miller.

"It's a new industry and we have put a lot of safety and security around it but the resale market itself has existed as long as live events. It's an emotional product. People have a real affinity to these live events and the vast majority - 99pc - of transactions take place without a hitch."

The distribution of tickets in general is "a pretty unfair system" because it is a limited good and an expiring asset, said Miller. "You have something that is good for one night only," he said, adding that Viagogo has created a safe, well-regulated space for consumers to buy or sell tickets.

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