Senators slam Live Nation for Ticketmaster’s dominance and Taylor Swift’s failed sale

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Amy Edwards demonstrates against the live entertainment ticketing industry outside the Capitol on January 24, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Drew Anger | Getty Images

The Senate Judiciary Committee struck down Concert Giant Live nation on Tuesday, a call for activists and artists to address the competition in the ticketing industry after a failed sale of Taylor Swift tickets in November.

Led by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who leads antitrust investigations for the commission, senators have blasted Live Nation’s chief financial officer Joe Berchtold over the company’s dominance in ticket sales. Industry witnesses described a monopoly-like control over venues, artists and consumers.

“Ticketmaster should look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m the problem, it’s me,'” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., playing Swift lyrics.

Blumenthal said both Republicans and Democrats agreed something had to be done. But the parties seemed to diverge on a path forward, with several Democrats seemingly open to drafting new legislation to address the issues, while R-Utah antitrust subcommittee Mike Lee blamed what he viewed as lax enforcement of existing laws.

Live Nation owns Ticketmaster, the world’s largest ticket seller representing approximately 70% of all tickets sold in the US. It also owns concert halls and promotes tours, leading many detractors to call its company a monopoly in the industry.

Live Nation, which merged with Ticketmaster in 2010, has long faced criticism over its size and power in the entertainment industry. Detractors intensified their complaints in November when tickets for Swift’s “Eras” tour went on sale, plagued by disruptions and slow queues.

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Live Nation would open sales to 1.5 million verified fans ahead of general public ticket sales. However, over 14 million users flocked to the site, including bots, leading to massive delays and lockouts on the site. In the end, 2 million tickets were sold during the presale and the public sale was cancelled, company representatives said.

“It’s an unbelievable statement to me that the leading ticketing company is incapable of dealing with bots,” Jerry Mickelson, CEO of Jam Productions, said at Tuesday’s hearing. “You can’t blame bots for what happened to Taylor Swift. There’s more to that story that you’re not hearing.”

Swift, who has worked to bring all the marketing in-house, publicly berated the company at the time for mishandling the sales process, albeit without naming it.

The Justice Department has opened an antitrust investigation into Live Nation’s practices, but the investigation predates Swift’s ticketing fiasco.

Live Nation Entertainment President and Chief Financial Officer Joe Berchtold and SeatGeek Chief Executive Officer Jack Groetzinger listen to Jam Productions Chief Executive Officer and President Jerry Mickelson during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled “That’s the Ticket: Promoting Competition and Protecting Consumers in Live Entertainment on Capitol Hill in Washington, USA, January 24, 2023.

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Kevin Lamarque| Reuters

Berchtold testified Tuesday that the company owns about 5% of U.S. locations and said Ticketmaster has lost, not gained, market share since its merger with Live Nation.

Clyde Lawrence, a singer and songwriter for the band Lawrence, called out Live Nation’s control over various aspects of the business, saying the company is ultimately “negotiating to pay for itself.”

Lawrence told lawmakers that if his band is playing at a Live Nation venue, they must use the company as a promoter and sell tickets through Ticketmaster. That often entails a higher initial cost and lower backend splits for the band than if they worked with an outside promoter, he said.

Lawrence also spoke of a lack of transparency in additional ticket costs, which he says average between 40% and 50% of the base ticket price. Berchtold said Tuesday that locations determine the reimbursement rate, but agreed his company could be more open about that information.

Berchtold also highlighted what he says is a growing problem of ticket scalping.

Tuesday’s hearing expands a bipartisan focus on antitrust actions by senators in recent years.

Late last year, lawmakers succeeded in passing a bill that would raise merger filing fees for large transactions, increasing funds for federal enforcers reviewing those deals. Klobuchar, who sponsored the bill, referred to that bill in her remarks Tuesday as a way to help those agencies challenge potentially anti-competitive deals.

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Yet Congress has so far failed to pass some of the more ambitious pieces of legislation that would create new guardrails for competitive practices, particularly in the tech space. Despite bipartisan support, it shows how difficult it can be to update or add to existing antitrust laws, which many lawmakers believe are not being adequately enforced by the courts as currently written.

The merger between LiveNation and Ticketmaster was approved by the DOJ under the Obama administration, with certain provisions that the newly merged company agreed to uphold, under what is known as a consent decree. It required LiveNation to meet certain requirements, such as not retaliating against concert venues that used another ticketing company, for a certain period of time.

In 2020, LiveNation and the Department of Justice agreed to update the consent decree and extend it through 2025, as the DOJ said the company was taking actions that the company said violated its prior agreement.

The current antitrust enforcement regime under the Biden administration has made it clear that it much favors structural remedies, or breaches, over behavioral solutions, such as decrees of consent.

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