Ticketmaster Comes Under Fire in Senate Hearing

By Paige Duane

Three months ago when the presale tickets for Taylor Swift’s ‘The Eras’ tour became available for purchase, fans everywhere experienced delays, glitches, and technological errors. The event is widely regarded as a catastrophe, with the website crashing before the west coast presale even began. 

Swift took to twitter to address the outrage. “Well. It goes without saying that I’m extremely protective of my fans. We’ve been doing this for decades together and over the years, I’ve brought so many elements of my career in house. I’ve done this SPECIFICALLY to improve the quality of my fans’ experience by doing it myself with my team who care as much about my fans as I do,” she wrote, “It’s really difficult for me to trust an outside entity with these relationships and loyalties, and excruciating for me to just watch mistakes happen with no recourse.”

The incident caused such an outcry that it drew the attention of the government. On January 24, Congress held a hearing for Ticketmaster for the breaking of antitrust laws. The company came under serious fire from politicians. Throughout the three-hour senate hearing, senators grilled the Live Nation company on its dominance in the ticket selling industry.

“I want to congratulate and thank you for an absolutely stunning achievement,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal told Live Nation CFO, Joe Berchtold. “You have brought together Republicans and Democrats in an absolutely unified cause.”

In his testimony, Berchtold blamed the incident primarily on bot traffic. According to him, the Ticketmaster website was “hit with three times the amount of bot traffic than we had ever experienced” during the “unprecedented demand for Taylor Swift tickets.” Allegedly, the abnormally high bot traffic “led to a terrible consumer experience” for ticket buyers.

More broadly, Berchtold defended the high prices and number of tickets up for sale. “In most cases, venues set service and ticketing fees,” the CFO told the senate.

Jack Groetzinger, CEO of SeatGeek, argued against the practices of Live Nation. Many venue owners “fear losing Live Nation concerts if they don’t use Ticketmaster”, he alleged. 

“Live Nation controls the most popular entertainers in the world, routes most of the large tours, operates the ticketing systems and even owns many of the venues,” he informed the Senate. “This power over the entire live entertainment industry allows Live Nation to maintain its monopolistic influence over the primary ticketing market.”

Clyde Lawrence, a singer-songwriter on the witness panel, continued to criticize the company on behalf of its performer clients.  “Since both our pay and theirs is a share of the show’s profits, we should be true partners aligned in our incentives — keep costs low while ensuring the best fan experience,” he argued. “But with Live Nation not only acting as the promoter but also the owner and operator of the venue, it seriously complicates these incentives.”

As of now, lawmakers are considering many possible solutions to deal with the monopoly. Several senators suggested restricting the ability to transfer tickets, however Groetzinger argued that this might further assert Ticketmaster’s dominance.

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