In the wake of the Taylor Swift ticket sales disaster that left scores of fans empty-handed or price-gouged, the Senate Judiciary Committee began questioning a series of witnesses on Tuesday to determine whether Live Nation, Ticketmaster’s parent company, wields a monopoly over the concert-going industry and should be dismantled.
“Let’s take the Taylor Swift fiasco as an example,” Jerry Mickelson, an independent concert promoter and the co-founder of Jam Productions, said at the hearing when asked why it’s so difficult for the average consumer to buy concert tickets.
“The fans had to sign up through a Verified Fan [service] to even buy a ticket,” Mickelson said. “Ticketmaster knew the demand was enormous, larger than most any other show. When they set the tickets up for sale, there’s two ways you can do that. Set the tickets up so that they are best available, which means that you’ll sell more tickets because the fans don’t have a choice, or pick-a-seat, where it slows the process down.
“The process, when it’s slowed down, increases the money that Ticketmaster makes because they make money on fees, and as the ticket prices go up due to dynamically priced tickets, Ticketmaster makes more,” Mickelson continued. “It’s to their advantage to slow the process down and do pick-a-seat, so that it created the frenzy that drove the prices up, and the higher the ticket price, the higher the fee. I think that it was driven by Ticketmaster’s bottom line in the Taylor Swift fiasco.”
Antitrust complaints against Ticketmaster have been going on long before the company cancelled its main sale for Swift tickets last year, resulting in hundreds of thousands of snubbed fans—Pearl Jam leveled a complaint against the company in 2004. And Ticketmaster’s monopoly in the concert industry has faced scrutiny dating back to its 2010 merger with Live Nation Entertainment, which stamped out Live Nation as its main competitor. But on Tuesday, Amy Klobuchar, the biggest pusher for antitrust legislation in the Senate, emphasized that Ticketmaster’s dominance gives it free rein to rule the industry without ever making its systems better.
Joe Berchtold, president and CFO of Live Nation Entertainment, began his address to members of the committee by stating that his company’s system is “best in class,” but went on to claim that the problems encountered by Swift fans when they were attempting to buy tickets were largely due to bot attacks.
“In hindsight there are several things we could have done better,” Berchtold said. “And let me be clear, Ticketmaster accepts its responsibility as being the first line in defense against bots in our industry.”
Sen. Marsha Blackburn expressed frustration that Live Nation evidently wasn’t handling bots with more skill. “This is unbelievable,” she said. “You ought to be able to get some good advice and figure this out.”
Other issues that were brought up during the hearing had to do with purchasing event tickets, such as massive hidden fees of up to 82 percent on top of ticket prices, as well as speculative ticket sales, in which resellers sell tickets that they technically don’t have yet to secondary buyers at hugely inflated sums.
Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal later scoffed at what he deemed to be Ticketmaster’s attempts to place the blame for the Eras Tour debacle on Swift herself, who was not present at the hearing.
“May I suggest, respectfully, that Ticketmaster ought to look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m the problem, it’s me,’” Blumenthal said, cheekily throwing in a lyrical reference to Swift’s latest chart-topping hit. “And the reason is quite simply that you are the ones ultimately responsible for the astronomically rising prices, the exorbitant hidden fees, the sold-out shows, the bots and scalpers.”