Congress Turns Up Heat on Ticketmaster Over Swift, Other Ticket Fiascos

A Senate subcommittee is subpoenaing Live Nation/Ticketmaster for documentation it says the company has failed to produce. The subpoena arrived on Tuesday after months of investigations into disastrous incidents that sent ticket prices soaring for Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen and other concerts.

In other words, don’t mess with Swifties, the BeyHive or Bruce tramps.

Key context

  • Live Nation Entertainment dominates event ticketing and promotion. The company was formed by the 2010 merger of Live Nation (an event promoter) and Ticketmaster (a ticketing company). In a letter to the Department of Justice, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) cited data that found 60% of the event ticketing market is controlled by Live Nation, including 80 of the top 100 arenas in the country.  

  • In November 2022, tickets for Taylor Swift’s long-awaited Eras tour went on a multitiered presale. Ticketmaster prematurely outsold its inventory, effectively canceling its public sale. At the same time, resellers who snagged tickets posted them for tens of thousands of dollars. The debacle induced angry Swifties to file a class-action lawsuit accusing Ticketmaster of a multitude of offenses, including fraud, misrepresentation and antitrust violations. 

  •  In the subcommittee letter, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Edward Markety (D-Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) wrote, “Because of Live Nation’s market dominance, artists, venues, and consumers simply have no choice but to use the platform notwithstanding its flaws and failures. The Swift presale is the latest and highest profile illustration of the monopolistic harms, but the harm was not even limited to her events.”

  • Swift wasn’t the first high-profile ticketing disaster. In August 2022, Bruce Springsteen tickets climbed as high as $5,000 for U.S. shows due to Ticketmaster’s “dynamic pricing” policy, which prices tickets in real time depending on demand.

  • In February, Ticketmaster took a different approach to sales for Beyonce’s highly anticipated Renaissance Tour. It used the Verified Fan program, which requires registration and a lottery system. Its intent is to sift out resellers. But ticket prices still surged, including more than a hundred dollars for “listening only” tickets. 

  • Live Nation Entertainment is under congressional investigation. Back in January, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings specifically on the Swift incident. By February, it recommended that the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division investigate Live Nation Entertainment over monopoly concerns. Months of inquiry followed without results sufficient for the PSI. Hence the subpoena.  

What the Senate subcommittee is arguing

  • Blumenthal, who chairs the PSI, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, “Live Nation has egregiously stonewalled my Subcommittee’s inquiry into its abusive consumer practices—making the subpoena necessary.” 

  • Blumenthal added, “American consumers deserve fair ticket prices, without hidden fees or predatory charges. And the American public deserves to know how Ticketmaster’s unfair practices may be enabled by its misuse of monopoly power.” 

How Ticketmaster is responding

  • Live Nation Entertainment released a statement on Tuesday saying it expected the subpoena but has cooperated with the investigation, claiming it has produced documents in every question raised by the subcommittee. 

  • However, Live Nation Entertainment says some of the information requested “is highly sensitive client information about artists, venues and others” that Live Nation works with, such as tour revenue data.

  • The company claims it also told the subcommittee that it would produce documentation with confidentiality protections, which the subcommittee has denied.  

  • The statement said, “Our limit in this process—that the Subcommittee Chair has chosen to call stonewalling—is simply that we value our artist relationships and the interests of other stakeholders we work with too much to betray their trust by turning over their information without adequate protections.”

What this means

  • The investigation into Live Nation Entertainment’s business practices is moving forward. The subcommittee once again urged the DOJ to “vigorously investigate” competition in the event ticketing market.  

  • According to the subcommittee letter to the DOJ, if the investigation shows that Live Nation did in fact abuse its position as the dominant player in the market, it urges the DOJ to consider breaking up the Live Nation/Ticketmaster company. 

  • The subcommittee wrote in the letter that breaking up the company “may be the only way to truly protect consumers, artists, and venue operators and to restore competition in the ticketing market.”  

What to look out for next

  • A subpoena requires Live Nation Entertainment to provide documents requested by the Senate subcommittee.

  • Meanwhile the Biden Administration has had its eye on junk fees for more than a year. The White House has called on Congress to take action to prohibit excessive ticketing fees.

  • On June 15, a group of event ticketing and travel companies — including Live Nation/Ticketmaster — pledged to commit to “all-in” pricing. That means consumers will see total costs up front, including fees, rather than getting a surprise at checkout.

Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images via Getty Images

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