Jan 25, 2023 - News

Senators grill Ticketmaster after Taylor Swift tour debacle

U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn speaking.

U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and her colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled Ticketmaster Tuesday in a hearing called in the wake of the Taylor Swift ticket sales debacle.

  • U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) says Ticketmaster had managed to unify a bitterly divided Congress.

Why it matters: Ticketmaster and its parent company Live Nation sell tickets to concerts, promote concerts and operate concert venues. Furor from Swift fans who missed out on tickets to her U.S. tour spurred the meeting, and senators expressed a willingness to increase regulations on Live Nation.

  • Some even said it may be time to break up the corporate behemoth because of its outsized influence on the concert industry.

State of play: Ticketmaster has blamed software bots and unprecedented demand for the forced suspension of ticket sales for Swift's tour. Ticketmaster president and chief financial officer Joe Berchtold apologized to Swift and her fans, but defended what he called the company's artist-first approach.

  • He also downplayed anti-competitive issues created by Ticketmaster and Live Nation's roles in the concert industry. Ticketmaster has approximately a 70% share of the ticketing industry. Plus, the company owns a secondhand ticketing company.

Yes, but: Executives from other music companies disagreed with Berchtold.

  • "As long as Live Nation remains both the dominant concert promoter and ticketer of major venues in the U.S., the industry will continue to lack competition and struggle," Jack Groetzinger of SeatGeek, one of Ticketmaster's few competitors, said during the hearing.

Of note: Blackburn called Ticketmaster to task for not pursuing legal action under the federal BOTS Act, which she helped pass in 2016. There's been just one instance of federal enforcement of the law, which makes the use of bot software for scalpers to buy tickets illegal.

  • Blackburn said it is "unbelievable" that utility companies, banks, credit card companies and payment processing companies have figured out how to combat bot attacks, but Ticketmaster has not.

Zoom in: Ticketmaster and Live Nation's clout is especially felt in Nashville, where the company owns the summer concert festival Bonnaroo, operates Ascend Amphitheater and maintains promotional partnerships at a slate of clubs, such as The Basement East, Marathon Music Works and Brooklyn Bowl.

  • Singer-songwriter Clyde Lawrence testified that his band, Lawrence, doesn't know the fees that will be added on to tickets to its shows until the moment tickets go on sale. In some cases, those fees are in the range of 80% of the ticket costs, he said.

What's next: Several senators, including Blackburn, indicated they'll be pursuing legislation related to the concert industry.

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar predicted in her opening remarks "more cases and investigations" by the Department of Justice into the matter.
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