Trouble for Ticketmaster

Ticketmaster has recently gained suspicion from the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), U.S. senators, and concert fans after the pre-sale of tickets to Taylor Swift’s ‘Eras tour’. The sale started November 15, 2022, with a reported two million tickets being sold that first day. However, the sale of Swift’s tickets was not the first one with Ticketmaster. With issues like Swift’s only growing larger for Ticketmaster and its parent company Live Nation Entertainment, the companies could be split.

Ticketmaster was founded in 1976 as a computerized ticketing company. They had also expanded and obtained rival companies immediately after their start, such as Tiketron, and quickly became the largest ticketing company in the world. In 2010, Live Nation and Ticketmaster had their merger approved despite strong opposition from the music industry, they became known as Live Nation Entertainment. The DOJ did have both parties sign a decree requiring the sale of parts of the business and forbade them from threatening concert venues with losing access to their tours if they used ticketing providers other than Ticketmaster. These terms were supposed to last for ten years until 2020, but an investigation in 2019 found that Live Nation Entertainment regularly violated the second requirement. Congress extended the terms to last for another five years, until 2025, and adjusted the language to clarify what the company was and wasn’t allowed to do. Senator Amy Klobuchar even said, “They’ve actually started buying arenas, but for the arenas that they don’t own, they tend to lock in on three- or five- or seven-year contracts, so that those arenas are boxed out of using competitors. So, picture this: there they are with the monopoly on the tickets, then they’ve got the promotion, then they’ve got the arenas.” Antitrust lawyer David Balto had testified before the U.S. Senate in 2009, stating that the merger would present “serious competitive concerns and could potentially lead to significantly higher prices.” Balto had also gone on to say, “When you’re a monopolist, you lead the easy life. You don’t have competitors biting at your heels to force you to run faster. And so you become sloven, lazy, and irresponsive to consumer demand, and all those things are true about Ticketmaster.”

Before Ticketmaster had merged with Live Nation, there had even been issues. In 1990, Pearl Jam clashed with Ticketmaster over ticket pricing and service fees. In 1994, members of Pearl Jam testified in front of congress after filing a complaint that Ticketmaster was monopolizing the market. The following year, the band worked hard to use other ticketing companies but failed. Their manager, Kelly Curtis, had made a statement to Washington Post, “I regret to say that it is impossible for a major rock group to put on a national tour under the current circumstances without Ticketmaster.” Klobuchar commented further, stating that “Taylor Swift is just one example; whether it’s Bruce Springsteen or BTS or Bad Bunny, or in the past Pearl Jam or the Pixies, fans, artists and venues are facing real issues with Live Nation.” in a January 23, 2023 hearing. Even fans trying to buy tickets to the Key West Jimmy Buffet concert were unhappy with Ticketmaster’s service.

Ticketmaster had a program for verified fans, giving them codes and ‘inviting’ them to pre-sales. Ticketmaster had gotten 3.5 billion system requests on November 15, 2022, the day ticket pre-sales started. This caused a widespread crash, leaving many with incomplete transactions. However, two million tickets were sold during that first day despite the system crashes. Penny Harrison had been attempting to buy tickets for her twin daughters Izzy and Alexa Harrison. The twins are dedicated fans, buying plenty of Swifts merchandise. Penny had spent hours trying to log on and buy tickets. “I signed on at 9:30 in the morning, and at 10:00 it kicked me out, and then you just sign back on again. So, by the time I got in, it was 4:30 in the afternoon,” noted Penny. When Penny did get the chance to buy the tickets, “Any time I would click on something and try to put it in the basket, it would say, ‘Somebody else got those tickets, try again.’ I kept clicking, ‘Somebody else got those tickets.’ I kept trying to sign on all night.” 

Jennifer Kinder filed a lawsuit against Ticketmaster stating, “We need to sue Ticketmaster.” The lawsuit accused Ticketmaster of fraud, misrepresentation, and antitrust violations. Over 300 fans joined the lawsuit, including Penny Harrison. “I don’t think that this is a lottery. It is a purposeful manipulation of a sale, in order to increase their profit. That’s really what this is about.” Kinder replied to a statement from Live Nation Entertainment. 

Many lawmakers in both parties criticized Ticketmaster, some even quoting Taylor Swift songs to do so. On November 17, 2022, 31 House Democrats signed a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, looking to remove the 2010 merger. The letter had said the merger “strangled competition for ticketing in the live entertainment marketplace.” The attorney generals of Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Nevada had also said they’d look into whether antitrust laws had been broken during Swift’s pre-sale. Senator Mike Lee and Senator Klobuchar said a hearing would be held by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on antitrust on the scarcity of competition within the ticketing industry. Klobuchar had even charged that Live Nation Entertainment was a monopoly due to its control over 70% of the big concert ticketing. This leaves fans and artists with nowhere else to go for the buying and selling of tickets.

President and Chief Financial Officer of Live Nation Entertainment, Joe Berchtold, blamed the issues on BOT attacks saying, “This is what led to a terrible consumer experience, which we deeply regret. We need to do better, and we will do better.” This statement, however, did not appease the senators, though Senator John Kennedy suggested a ban on the reselling of tickets, so scalpers wouldn’t be able to jack-up ticket prices. “Cap the price, cut out the bots, cut out the middle people.” was Kennedy’s suggestion. When Klobuchar questioned why Live Nation Entertainment hadn’t done more to reduce fees, Berchtold responded by saying, “The fees are set by the venues.” A singer-songwriter had disagreed saying, “We asked that question to the venues, and they say, ‘Not only do we not choose what it is, we don’t even know what it is, we can’t even tell you what it’s going to be.’” The company is still being investigated, however. 

On November 17, 2022, Live Nation Entertainment announced the cancellation of public ticket sales to Swift’s tour. This caused outrage among many fans, only fueling the already growing fire. Swift commented on the situation, “I’m not going to make excuses for anyone, because we asked them, multiple times, if they could handle this kind of demand, and we were assured that they could.” Swift did say she would look into the issue and how to improve anyway. Swift had also commented that the handling of the Era tour ticket sales, “really pisses me off.”

The 2010 merger between Ticketmaster and Live Nation has led to scarcity in the ticketing industry. Many fans are outraged by prices, service, and have even made allegations of antitrust violations. Senators have been looking into these allegations, and some have tried to work out a compromise, while others think the merger needs to be broken up. Although it is unclear what will come of Live Nation Entertainment, its issues only seem to grow. This could cause the separation of Ticketmaster and Live Nation.


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