Ticketmaster Hearing

FILE - Taylor Swift poses in the press room with awards at the American Music Awards on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Senators are expected to grill Ticketmaster Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, about its spectacular breakdown last year during a sale of Taylor Swift concert tickets. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

Senators grilled Ticketmaster, Tuesday, questioning whether the company’s dominance in the ticketing industry led to its spectacular breakdown, last year, during a sale of Taylor Swift concert tickets.

Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee also debated possible action, including making tickets non-transferable to cut down on scalping and requiring more transparency in ticket fees. Some suggested it may also be necessary to split Ticketmaster and Beverly Hills, Calif.,-based concert promoter Live Nation, which merged, in 2010.

“The fact of the matter is, Live Nation/Ticketmaster is the 800-pound gorilla here,” US Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat said. “This whole concert ticket system is a mess, a monopolistic mess.”

Ticketmaster is the world’s largest ticket seller, processing 500 million tickets, each year, in more than 30 countries. Around 70% of tickets for major concert venues in the US are sold through Ticketmaster, according to data in a federal lawsuit filed by consumers, last year.

In mid-November, Ticketmaster’s site crashed during a presale event for Swift’s upcoming stadium tour. The company said its site was overwhelmed by both fans and attacks from bots, which were posing as consumers in order to scoop up tickets and sell them on secondary sites. Thousands of people lost tickets after waiting for hours in an online queue.

Live Nation’s President and Chief Financial Officer Joe Berchtold apologized to fans and to Swift, on Tuesday, and said the company knows it must do better. Berchtold said Ticketmaster has spent $1 billion over the last decade trying to improve its security and stop bots.

“We need to do better and will do better,” he said.

But lawmakers were skeptical. Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said plenty of others, including banks and power companies, are also frequent targets of bots but don’t suffer service meltdowns.

“They have figured it out but you guys haven’t? This is unbelievable,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of people who are very unhappy with the way this has been approached.”

Senators also took aim at Ticketmaster’s fees. US Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, recalled piling into a friend’s car in high school to go to concerts by Led Zeppelin, The Cars and Aerosmith. These days, she said, ticket prices have gotten so high that shows are too expensive for many fans. Klobuchar said ticket fees now average 27% of the ticket cost and can climb as high as 75%.

Berchtold insisted that Ticketmaster doesn’t set prices or service fees for tickets or decide how many tickets will go on sale. Service fees are set by venues, he said. Live Nation only owns around 5% of US venues, he said.

But competitors, like Seat Geek CEO Jack Groetzinger, said even if Live Nation doesn’t own a venue, it prevents competition by signing multi-year contracts with arenas and concert halls to provide ticketing services. If those venues don’t agree to use Ticketmaster, Live Nation may withhold acts. That makes it tough for competitors to disrupt the market.

“The only way to restore competition is to break up Ticketmaster and Live Nation,” Groetzinger said.

Clyde Lawrence, a singer-songwriter with the New York-based pop group Lawrence, said it also hurts artists when Live Nation owns or has contracts with venues, because bands have little ability to negotiate a deal or choose a different ticket seller.

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