Ticketmaster’s Controversy

By: Eliyahu Solomon  |  February 16, 2023

By Eliyahu Solomon 

Of the many changes to our lives during the pandemic, one common lifestyle change was the temporary halt on live events, including sporting events, concerts, and plays. Following the gradual lifting of pandemic restrictions, ticket sales have increased as has demand, particularly for concerts. 

Live sports are played in nearly every major US and Canadian city on a nightly basis They have, at the very least, tens of events per season, per team.. Concerts are far more limited. Artists do not regularly perform and, when they do, can obviously only perform in one city at a time, rarely staying for more than one week. The stoppage of concerts during the pandemic has led a number of major artists to announce tours, and due to the popularity of these artists, tickets were, and continue to be, hard to come by and expensive. 

One artist, in particular, has shaken up the music industry due to her extensive popularity and adoring fans. That person is, of course, Taylor Swift. Swift, who in 2015 nearly singlehandedly changed how Apple Music pays its artists and in 2021 spearheaded an effort to control her own music, once again found herself in the spotlight when she announced her “Eras Tour” following the release of her album Midnights

On November 15, 2022, tickets went on sale for 1.5 million fans who had received a verified code from Ticketmaster, indicating that they were real and not bots. What followed could more or less be described as chaos as millions of people stormed the Ticketmaster website, including millions of bot accounts and fans who did not have early access codes. This caused countless glitches, including fans receiving error messages or sales not being completed, among a host of other issues. As a result, many fans left empty-handed, only to see those same tickets pop up on resale markets for nearly ten times the initial price. Enraged Swift fans (colloquially known as “Swifties”) flooded social media with upset tweets and TikToks showing their displeasure with Ticketmaster. Taylor Swift also voiced her extreme displeasure with the situation and politicians soon jumped on the bandwagon calling for an investigation into Ticketmaster and LiveNation (the company that owns Ticketmaster) for violating antitrust and cornering the ticketing market.

In the early ‘80s, the main way to purchase tickets was through ticket vendor companies. These vendors would set up contracts with stadiums, theaters, and music halls, and control all aspects of ticketing, making their profit solely off of that. What once was a cost for arenas now became a source of profit for them as instead of losing money on the ticketing business, it was instead sent out to these other companies. Ticketmaster, one of these companies, made the decision to move to Los Angeles from Phoenix in order to get closer to a larger source of entertainment. At that time, Ticketron was the primary ticket vendor for Southern California, but thanks to a Ticketmaster innovation, they soon easily took over many of the contracts owned by Ticketron. This innovation was the creation of service fees. While Ticketmaster chose to take a cut of the proceeds of tickets, these tacked-on service fees helped regain the cost of lost revenue. It also gave an incentive for arenas to switch to Ticketmaster as they would get a more significant cut of ticket sales while those who would face the brunt of the cost would be the fans of sports teams, concertgoers, and play enthusiasts. 

In 2010, Ticketmaster merged with Live Nation, an operator of concert venues, to form Live Nation Entertainment, bringing together the largest concert venue operator with the largest ticketing platform. Despite this, the Department of Justice’s antitrust division cleared the merger with a consent decree, forcing Ticketmaster to diverge some of its holdings to its primary competitors such as AEG. Even so, this has not prevented Ticketmaster from controlling over 70% of the ticketing market for live events and over 80% for concerts. What this essentially means is that if an artist wants to perform at a certain venue, there is almost a complete certainty that if it is a large venue then it is run through Ticketmaster and Live Nation. There are relatively fewer options, especially for the higher-end artists who receive a lot of demand and require higher capacity venues across the country,  

While this is not considered a monopoly, running a business that engages in anti-competitive behavior, is what Ticketmaster has been accused of. One example of shutting out the competition is in the case of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which moved from Ticketmaster to SeatGeek as its primary ticket broker. Less than 2 years later, the Barclays Center switched back to Ticketmaster, with some suggesting that this was due to Ticketmaster withholding events from SeatGeek as a backlash against them. 

Ticketmaster was also accused of violating the DOJ’s consent decree, yet has avoided complete government intervention. 

On Tuesday, January 24, 2023, the US Senate judiciary committee held a hearing with Ticketmaster and some of their other competitors, including SeatGeek and Jam Productions who testified against what they perceived as a violation of antitrust laws by Ticketmaster. The committee was largely unified, crossing party lines, in calling out Ticketmaster, and some senators even had lines referencing Taylor Swift songs throughout their testimonies. The message, however, was clear: Ticketmaster is in clear violation of antitrust laws and something must be done to reign them in. While Ticketmaster attempted to refute this conclusion, claiming that they are only in charge of around 5% of concert venues, the reality of a bipartisan effort to cut back on Ticketmaster’s hold over the ticketing industry may come to fruition in the near future. 

However, antitrust is a tricky and complex field to navigate, both in Congress and in the courts. Despite the Biden administration’s efforts to strengthen antitrust enforcement, many laws on the books currently go unenforced, with antitrust claims falling to their lowest points since the mid-90s. Such laws may be brought up by either side of the political spectrum to stop potential new legislation in its tracks, claiming that enforcement should be left to the court system. In contrast,  others would argue that this is proof that more laws are needed as the current system is not working. For the fans, however, the current system is one of frustration, overpricing, and stress, as costs to see their favorite artists or sports teams in person have skyrocketed and companies such as Ticketmaster do not seem to be going away any time soon.