Elizabeth Warren on How Ticketmaster Harms Artists, Venues, and You

Ticketmaster and its parent company, Live Nation, are having a moment — a bad moment. Years of bullying both artists and venues, while price-gouging customers, has caught up with this corporate giant. The Justice Department has filed a long-overdue antitrust lawsuit for its predatory practices — and cheers can be heard from all parts of the live performance world.

First, a note about how we got here. Ticketmaster is merely a middleman — the ticket seller — but it is stunningly powerful because it has enormous control over vast swaths of the ticketing market. Because it’s combined with Live Nation, the nation’s largest concert promoter, Ticketmaster is in a position to squeeze everyone else in the live entertainment business — and that’s exactly what they do.

Ticketmaster grew the way many near-monopolies have grown: It bought out the competition. After years of rollups, there were two giants left standing in the live events business: Live Nation and Ticketmaster. In 2009, they decided to merge. It didn’t take a genius to see that the one resulting company would dominate the live events industry. The Department of Justice saw the problem, but instead of blocking the merger outright, it put guardrails in place with a consent decree that prohibited the company from forcing venues to use its ticketing services. After the deal was finalized, Ticketmaster jumped those guardrails, expanding both its power and its profits.

In its filing last month, DOJ noted that Live Nation controls more than half of all concert promotions at major U.S. concert venues, as well as 80 percent of ticket sales for major concert venues. That market dominance gives it the power to freeze out competitors — and Live Nation has not been shy about using this power. As DOJ alleges, it threatens venues that work with other ticket issuers and blocks venues from using multiple ticket sites, and it tells artists that they will be barred from using prime venues unless they agree to use Live Nation’s own promotion services. Stories circulate about artists and venues that have discovered too late that Ticketmaster can crush a planned tour or one-off event — stories that keep everyone else in line.

This monopoly power also robs the audience. The corporation charges what DOJ calls a “Ticketmaster Tax,” made up of tacked-on fees including “service,” “handling,” “payment processing,” and “facility” fees. Today, Ticketmaster’s fees amount to almost a third of a ticket’s face value — and Live Nation sucks billions more out of the live entertainment market with its bundled services that venues and artists are forced to use. On top of that, there’s no denying that Ticketmaster just does not work well. Public criticism spiked after Ticketmaster’s disastrous mishandling of Taylor Swift ticketing in 2022, but it dates back to the 2010 merger and long before. Chances are you or someone you know has had a Ticketmaster horror story. But without competition, audiences have nowhere else to turn.

Of course, Ticketmaster and its parent company are not about to give up their almost $23 billion in revenue without a fight. Instead of pulling back on predatory practices, the company’s execs turned to Congress to try to buy their way out of accountability. Since 2016, the company has increased its lobbying army tenfold, spending millions lobbying Washington. Recognizing the increasing seriousness of the criticism it faced, Live Nation invested in a gold-plated lobbying effort, including two former members of Congress and dozens of registered lobbyists. Live Nation’s political action committee has been spreading money around, making $110,000 in federal political contributions since 2021, including $20,000 to policymakers who serve on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where legislation that would target predatory ticketing practices is pending.

To restore competition, DOJ’s antitrust division led by Jonathan Kanter and 30 state attorneys general, both Republicans and Democrats, are seeking to break up Live Nation-Ticketmaster. Doing so would allow space for several competing ticketing outfits, meaning artists and venues would be free to strike different deals and ticket prices could go down.

With the Biden administration, Congress, and the states actively cracking down on junk fees and predatory contracts, this isn’t a great time to run a business that is built on them. This may be the moment that Ticketmaster’s lock on live entertainment is broken, and performers and venues can reach their audiences directly. By enforcing the antitrust laws, the Justice Department may add a little fresh competition to an industry that has been under the thumb of a single corporate giant for too long.

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