If there’s one thing the polarized body of the U.S. Congress can agree on, it’s that Ticketmaster sucks. After a spectacular failure of Live Nation Ticketmaster’s sale systems during presale for Taylor Swift’s upcoming tour, the company was under the microscope of a Senate hearing today.
In the hearing, cheekily titled “That’s the Ticket: Promoting Competition and Protecting Consumers in Live Entertainment,” Live Nation Entertainment President and CFO Joe Berchtold testified that the company has done nothing but improve the artist-fan relationship since Live Nation and Ticketmaster merged in 2010. Berchtold further claimed that Ticketmaster does not set prices, does not decide how many tickets go on sale, and does not set service fees, and that Ticketmaster wasn’t the enemy in the outages during The Eras Tour, it was just those damn bots.
“Pricing and distribution strategies are determined by the artists and their teams. Service fees, even if they’re called ticketing fees, are retained mainly by the venues,” testified Berchtold. “We knew bots would attack [Taylor Swift’s] Onsale and planned accordingly. We were then hit with three times the amount of bot traffic that we’d ever experienced, and for the first time in 400 Verified Fan Onsales, they came after our Verified Fan password servers as well.”
Clyde Lawrence and Jordan Cohen of the band Lawrence testified about their first-hand experiences with Live Nation, saying the company often serves as the concert promoter, the venue owners, and the ticketing company. Since any profit from a concert should be shared between the performers and the promoter, venue, and ticketing company, but since Live Nation has such a large share of the behind the scenes machinations, artists frequently walk away with crumbs. Likewise, Lawrence explained that Live Nation Ticketmaster will frequently charge artists fees through the company’s subsidiaries—like a “facility fee” for something as small as clean towels—while also charging fans fees for ticket purchases that could be up to 80% of the individual ticket price.
“We truly do not see Live Nation as the enemy. They’re just the largest player in a game that feels stacked against us as artists and often our fans as well,” Lawrence said.
Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota and Republican Senator Mike Lee from Utah led the charge as chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust and Consumer Rights. The uproar from politicians in regard to Live Nation Ticketmaster has been surprisingly bipartisan with Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez expressing her support in breaking up the ticket monolith, and right-wing Senator Josh Hawley told the New Republic: “In terms of their monopoly power, I’m concerned about it.”
“Live Nation is so powerful, that it doesn’t even need to exert pressure, it doesn’t need to threaten, because people just fall in line,” said Klobuchar in her opening remarks.
The hearing follows an absolutely disastrous performance from Ticketmaster in trying to host the sale of tickets to Taylor Swift’s upcoming The Eras Tour. During the tour’s presale, thousands of users reported outages on Ticketmaster’s website while trying to purchase tickets. When Swifties were finally able to login, they found that tickets were either wildly expensive or gone all together. Swift responded her discontent on Instagram, stating “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 they could.”
Website outages and bots are only a small slice of the overarching issue with Live Nation Ticketmaster’s massive footprint on the live event industry. While The Eras Tour presale left many Swifties upset and empty-handed, it did bring monopoly concerns regarding Live Nation Ticketmaster to lawmakers.