'Industrial-scale ticket scalping.' Senators grill Ticketmaster over Taylor Swift concert fiasco

WASHINGTON – The Taylor Swift ticket debacle took center stage during a Senate hearing Tuesday, which examined the lack of competition within the ticketing industry and grilled Ticketmaster executive following the company's mishandling of the music superstar's concert tickets.

Swift fans were furious after Ticketmaster canceled its November general public ticket sale for Swift's highly anticipated new tour. Several days of turbulence during the verified fan presale resulted in hundreds of thousands of snubbed fans who never got tickets.

Joe Berchtold, the president and CFO of Ticketmaster's parent company Live Nation Entertainment, defended his company, testifying that "industrial-scale ticket scalping" and an unprecedented number of bots were responsible for the large-scale problems.

Taylor Swift poses for photographers upon arrival at the European MTV Awards 2022 in Dusseldorf, Germany, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022.
Taylor Swift poses for photographers upon arrival at the European MTV Awards 2022 in Dusseldorf, Germany, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022.

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More: Taylor Swift Ticketmaster debacle ramps up federal concerns, fans about tour tickets

"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."

Swift was not at the hearing.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., the chairwoman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust and Consumer Rights, previously criticized the company in a letter to the company's President and CEO Michael Rapino.

Klobuchar was especially critical of Rapino, who assured lawmakers during a 2009 hearing that he was "confident" the merger would result in an "easy-access, one-stop platform" to deliver tickets.

"It appears that your confidence was misplaced," Klobuchar wrote.

Amy Edwards and Parker Harrison demonstrate against the live entertainment ticket industry outside the U.S. Capitol January 24, 2023 in Washington, DC. The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing this morning to explore whether the merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster has stifled competition and harmed the consumer marketplace.
Amy Edwards and Parker Harrison demonstrate against the live entertainment ticket industry outside the U.S. Capitol January 24, 2023 in Washington, DC. The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing this morning to explore whether the merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster has stifled competition and harmed the consumer marketplace.

What did Senators say about the Ticketmaster controversy?

  • The hearing kicked off with opening statements from Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Dick Durbin, incoming Ranking Member Sen. Lindsey Graham, Klobuchar and Lee, all expressing their concern over Ticketmaster’s control of the ticketing market.

  • Senators grilled Berchtold over Ticketmaster's mishandling of Swift's concert tickets, the company's overall ticketing practices and control in the market.

  • Jerry Mickelson, the CEO and President of JAM Productions, challenged Berchtold's claim that bots were to blame in the Swift ticketing crash. Mickelson told the committee that “you can't blame bots for what happened to Taylor Swift. There’s more to that story that you’re not hearing.”

  • Several senators, including Tennessee Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn, also challenged Ticketmaster's defense of bots.

  • SeatGeek CEO Jack Groetzinger testified that there is not only a lack of “robust competition” in live entertainment, which harms consumers, but also venues fear losing Live Nation events if the venues chose to not use Ticketmaster for ticketing. Groetzinger closed his opening statement by saying that the only way to restore the industry is to break up Ticketmaster and Live Nation.

  • Groetzinger also explained the threat of retaliation from Live Nation, citing a New York Time article about Brooklyn’s Barclays Center decision to part ways with SeatGeek for an alternative deal with Ticketmaster during a line of questioning about Live Nation’s marketplace power to punish venues for using competitors.

  • Klobuchar concluded that “clearly there isn’t transparency” in ticketing pricing. That followed a line of questioning into who sets the final ticket prices and fees after singer-songwriter Clyde Lawrence told the committee that he doesn’t know who is responsible for the additional fees.

Springsteen, Garth Brooks have slammed Ticketmaster practices

Criticism of Ticketmaster's ticket-selling practices and lack of competition is not new. But it reached a crescendo last year after the mishandling of Swift's upcoming Eras tour. The snafu resulted in major delays and errors in queues to purchase tickets.

Other music star fans and musicians, including Bruce Springsteen, Foo Fighters and Garth Brooks, have long criticized Ticketmaster's practices. Among the biggest gripes: dynamic pricing, which adjusts pricing based on consumer demand, resulting in some fans being unable to purchase tickets.

The company's monopoly in the entertainment industry has faced immense scrutiny dating back to its merger with Live Nation Entertainment in 2010, which eliminated Live Nation as its competitor.

Prior to the merger, Live Nation controlled 16.5% of the ticketing market, which cut into Ticketmaster's previous 82.9% share of the ticketing market and left them with 66.4%, according to the Justice Department's amended complaint over the merger.

What has Swift said?

Swift issued a scathing statement following Ticketmaster's cancellation of future ticket sales, highlighting that she specifically asked the company if they could handle the demand for tickets to her shows.

"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," Swift stated. "It's truly amazing that 2.4 million people got tickets, but it really pisses me off that a lot of them feel like they went through several bear attacks to get them."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ticketmaster exec testifies to Senate on Taylor Swift ticket sales