Senate Grills Live Nation President Over Taylor Swift Ticket Fiasco

The post Senate Grills Live Nation President Over Taylor Swift Ticket Fiasco appeared first on Consequence.

Following Ticketmaster’s botched handling of Taylor Swift’s “The Eras Tour,” Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) held a January 24th hearing on whether the ticket giant and its parent company, Live Nation, have contributed to a lack of competition in the ticketing industry.

The Judiciary Committee titled the hearing “That’s the Ticket: Promoting Competition and Protecting Consumers in Live Entertainment.” Testifying on behalf of Ticketmaster was Joe Berchtold, the President and CFO of Live Nation Entertainment. The Judiciary Committee also heard from several Live Nation competitors, including Jack Groetzinger, CEO of SeatGeek, and Jerry Mickelson, the CEO and President of Chicago-based JAM Productions, as well as representatives of think tanks, nonprofits, and Clyde Lawrence of the band Lawrence.

Ticketmaster was heavily criticized for canceling general on-sale of Swift’s massive tour in November following unprecedented demand during the pre-sale. Those attempting to buy tickets were met with slow service, frustrating error messages, and lengthy delays.

In her opening remarks, Klobuchar said we know “All too well” the effect that monopolies have on markets, citing the five-to-seven-year exclusive deals venues sometimes sign with Live Nation, which she said work to cut out competition: “This is the definition of monopoly.” She also noted a study on Ticketmaster service fees, which came to the conclusion that “for some tickets [service fees are] as high as 75% of face value.”

Meanwhile, Senator Lee engaged in some friendly cross-party sniping with another Swift quote, saying that with Klobuchar hogging the gavel, “She’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers.” He also wondered if the 2010 merger between Ticketmaster and Live Nation should have been allowed, and whether the company took sufficient remedies to make sure it would not become a monopoly.

During his testimony, Bechtold claimed that Live Nation does not set service fees, ticket prices, or the number of tickets available. When it came to Swift’s tour, he blamed bots for Ticketmaster’s struggles. “There was unprecedented demand for Taylor Swift tickets,” he read from prepared notes. “We were then hit with three times the amount of bot traffic than we had ever experienced, and for the first time in 400 Verified Fan onsales they came after our Verified Fan access code servers. While the bots failed to penetrate our systems or acquire any tickets, the attack requires us to slow down and even pause our sales. This is what led to a terrible consumer experience that we deeply regret. As we said after the onsale, and I reiterate today, we apologize to the many disappointed fans as well as to Ms. Swift.”

When pressed on service fees, Bechtold said that those prices are set by the venue. After being reminded that Live Nation often owns the venue, he deflected, saying they only own about 5% of all venues. After Senator Klobuchar returned to the theme later, he said that venue fees are in line with market rates and needed for venue upkeep.

Bechtold also rejected the idea that Ticketmaster retaliates against artists who attempt to tour without them, and sparred with Klobuchar over whether Live Nation’s market share is closer to 80%, as the senator suggested, or as he asserted, more like 50%-60%.

For his part, Groetzinger of SeatGeek called on Congress to break up Ticketmaster: “As long as Live Nation remains both the dominant live promoter and ticketer,” he claimed consumers would struggle, adding that Ticketmaster was known to retaliate against venues and artists who worked with competitors. Mickelson of JAM Productions recalled his 2010 testimony before congress, when he argued that the Live Nation-Ticketmaster merger should not be allowed. He said that over the past decade-plus, the company had achieved a monopoly, which he called “vertical integration on steroids.”

At the time of the ticket sale, Swift said the experience “really pisses me off,” though she did not agree to testify during the hearing. Also absent from the Senate floor were longtime Ticketmaster critics such as Pearl Jam and newer agitators like Zach Bryan. Lawrence are a veteran soul pop group, and Clyde Lawrence wrote a high-profile op-ed in the New York Times, but the fact that no one from music’s superstar class agreed to testify could be seen as further evidence of Ticketmaster’s power in the field.

Antitrust violations are notoriously difficult to prove, and it is unlikely that any substantive changes will result from the hearing. But Live Nation and Ticketmaster’s legal woes are not over; a group of Swift fans are suing the company over the pre-sale for “The Eras Tour.” Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti has also announced that he’s investigating potential antitrust violations.

Senate Grills Live Nation President Over Taylor Swift Ticket Fiasco
Wren Graves

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