Legislators are ready to grill the top leaders of the event ticketing industry on Tuesday after Ticketmaster’s inability to process orders for Taylor Swift’s upcoming tour left millions of fans unable to buy tickets or without their ticket even after purchase.
Joe Berchtold, president and chief financial officer of Ticketmaster’s parent company, Live Nation Entertainment, is scheduled to testify before a Senate committee on Tuesday, two months after the Swift box office fiasco reignited public scrutiny of the industry. Jack Groetzinger, CEO of ticketing platform SeatGeek, is also due to testify at the hearing.
Tickets for Swift’s new five-month Eras Tour – which kicks off March 17 and will include 52 concerts at multiple stadiums across the United States – went on sale on Ticketmaster in mid-November. High demand rumbled at the ticketing site, infuriating fans who couldn’t get tickets. Customers complained about Ticketmaster not loading, saying the platform wouldn’t let them access tickets even if they had a presale code for verified fans.
Unable to resolve the issues, Ticketmaster later canceled Swift’s concert ticket sales to the general public, citing “extraordinarily high demands on the ticketing systems and insufficient remaining ticket inventory to meet this demand”.
As fury grew among the legions of die-hard Swifties, Swift herself weighed in on the fiasco. “It goes without saying that I am extremely protective of my fans,” Swift wrote on Instagram in November. “It’s really hard for me to trust an outside entity with those connections and loyalties, and excruciating for me to just watch mistakes happen without recourse.”
Accordingly, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled Tuesday’s hearing, titled “That’s the Ticket: Promoting Competition and Protecting Consumers in Live Entertainment” to examine the lack of competition in the entertainment industry. Ticketing.
“The problems within the US ticketing industry became painfully evident when the Ticketmaster website failed hundreds of thousands of fans hoping to buy tickets for Taylor Swift’s new tour, but these problems are not not new,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who sits on the committee. in a statement about the hearing. “We will look at how consolidation in the live entertainment and ticketing industries is hurting customers and performers. Without competition to incentivize better services and fair prices, we all suffer the consequences. »
in his prepared opening remarks, Berchtold attributed the box office headache to Ticketmaster being “hit by three times more bot traffic than we’ve ever experienced” amid “unprecedented demand of Taylor Swift tickets”. The bot’s activity “forced us to slow down and even suspend our sales. This led to a terrible consumer experience that we deeply regret.
“As we said after the sale, and I repeat today, we apologize to the many disappointed fans as well as to Ms. Swift,” he said in his opening speech. . Berchtold also noted some things the service could have done differently “in hindsight,” including “spreading sales over a longer period of time and doing a better job of setting fan expectations for getting tickets.”
In addition to the executives, the panel said witnesses at the hearing will include Jerry Mickelson, CEO of Jam Productions, one of the largest producers of live entertainment, and singer-songwriter Clyde Lawrence.
Lawrence, who has composed music for films including the Disney+ holiday comedy “Noelle,” wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times in December titled “Taylor Swift’s Live Nation Debacle Is Just the Beginning,” in which he slammed Live Nation for allegedly being a monopoly and detrimental to artists.
“Whether or not it meets the legal definition of a monopoly, Live Nation’s control over the live music ecosystem is staggering,” he wrote.
Review of Ticketmaster Dominance goes back decadesbut the Swift ticketing incident has once again turned this issue into a table discussion in many homes.
Concert promoter Live Nation and ticketing company Ticketmaster, two of the largest companies in the concert business, announced their merger in 2009. The deal at the time raised concerns, including from the US Department of Justice , as to the creation of a quasi-monopoly in the industry.
The Justice Department allowed the Live Nation-Ticketmaster merger to proceed despite a 2010 court filing in the case that raised objections to the merger. In the filing, the Justice Department said Ticketmaster’s share among major concert venues exceeded 80%.
Ticketmaster disputes that market share estimate and says it has at most just over 30% of the concert market, according to comments on NPR recently by Berchtold.
As furious fans scrambled to browse the Swift post confusion, their collective anger caught the attention of lawmakers.
Members of Congress used the debacle to criticize Ticketmaster’s control over the live music industry, saying that because Ticketmaster dominates so strongly, it has no reason to make things better for the millions of customers who have no other choice.
“Ticketmaster’s power in the core ticket market insulates it from the competitive pressures that typically drive companies to innovate and improve their services,” Klobuchar, who chairs the antitrust subcommittee, wrote in an open letter to the CEO of Ticketmaster. Ticketmaster in November. “It can lead to the kinds of dramatic service outages we’ve seen this week, where consumers are the ones paying the price.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal echoed Klobuchar’s concerns. He tweeted at the time that the tour “is a perfect example of how the Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger hurts consumers by creating a near monopoly.”
In December, lawmakers from the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino, demanding a briefing on what went wrong and what steps the company was taking to fix the issues.
“The recent ticket presale process for Taylor Swift’s upcoming Eras Tour – during which millions of fans faced delays, lockouts and competition from aggressive scammers, scalpers and bots – raises concerns. concerns about potential unfair and deceptive practices faced by consumers and viewers,” the committee wrote in its letter.
The committee noted that it had previously raised concerns about industry business practices and said it wanted to meet with Rapino to discuss how the company handles tickets for concerts and major tours. He also wants answers on how Ticketmaster plans to improve in the future.
Brian A. Marks, a lecturer in the economics and business analysis department at the University of New Haven’s Pompea College of Business, said he wished Swift had made a appearance at the hearing.
“This hearing seems to be focused on Swift and what happened with the ticket sales. We also have to remember that Taylor Swift and her team negotiated a contract with Ticketmaster for the sale of her concert ticket,” said Marks said.
“Will Congress want to review this contract? For me, what happened with the Swift concert tickets was not necessarily the result of Ticketmaster being the dominant player in the industry,” he said. Artists, and especially big artists like Swift, “are free to go elsewhere,” he said. “That point may be missed in the hearing tomorrow.”
– CNN’s Frank Pallotta, Chris Isidore and David Goldman contributed to this story