Ticketmaster Backlash: Senator Klobuchar Looks Into Possible Antitrust Breach After Taylor Swift Debacle

Senate Committee on the Judiciary business meeting, Washington, District of Columbia, USA - 08 Sep 2022

Taylor Swift has been known to break many chart records and change the game for music artists over the course of her career, but potentially taking down Ticketmaster could be her biggest move yet.

“Swifties” have been causing an uproar this week after being prevented from getting tickets to the hottest tour of the year during a presale option on Tuesday, Nov. 15. The “Eras” tour is the first for the singer since 2018. Amid allegations of unfair price gouging and monopolization, several lawmakers including Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar have begun taking a closer look at the ticketing company’s practices.

On Thursday, Nov. 17, Klobuchar issued an open letter to Ticketmaster CEO Michael Rapino that began with, “I write to express serious concerns about the state of competition in the ticketing industry and its harmful impact on consumers. Reports about system failures, increasing fees and complaints of conduct that violate the consent decree Ticketmaster is under suggest that Ticketmaster continues to abuse its market positions.”

Klobuchar added she has been “skeptical” since Ticketmaster merged with promoter giant Live Nation in 2010, producing one of the most powerful entertainment conglomerates in the industry. In her letter, the Senator questions if the combined company is adhering to an antitrust decree signed to at that time prohibiting it from “abusing its market position.” Her letter also presented a series of questions, responses to which she said she expects by Nov. 23.

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Rep. David Cicilline, chairman of the Antitrust Subcommittee, also expressed his concerns on Twitter this week, claiming (in part) “it’s no secret that Live Nation-Ticketmaster is an unchecked monopoly.”

Ticketmaster has not responded directly to Klobuchar as of press time, but on the afternoon of Nov. 17, they did announce the general on sale for tickets to Swift’s upcoming tour will not happen as of Friday, noting “there is an insufficient ticket inventory to meet high demand,” as reported by CNBC. Ticketmaster also claimed two million total tickets to Swift’s tour were sold in the presale, the largest one-day sale by any artist in its history.

Swift has a rabid fan base with 76 million followers on Facebook and 50 million subscribers on YouTube, as well as top album sales. She made history with the release of her latest album “Midnights” that claimed all Top 10 spots in the Billboard Hot 100 chart upon the album’s release in October.

Though the “demand/supply” reasoning from Ticketmaster has been questioned by people like Greg Maffei, CEO of Liberty Media and one of Live Nation’s premiere shareholders who has said bots (often used by scalpers) were at the heart of the problem in Tuesday’s presale. As Maffei alleged, only 1.5 million Swift fans were supposed to take part in the presale, but 14 million — including an overwhelming number of bots — were let in to scoop tickets. That led to a surge on the resale market where tickets are going for more than $20,000 each in New Jersey and $35,000 in Atlanta, according to CNN.

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Of course, this is not the first time Tickemaster has come under fire — not even the first time in 2022. The past few months have called into question the company’s “dynamic pricing” structures used to spike particularly popular tickets, which also sent prices for Bruce Springsteen’s 2023 jaunt skyrocketing.

There’s also the issue of the ticketing giant’s astronomical fees on purchases that have led to record profits. The Hollywood Reporter wrote about the company’s third-quarter 2022 earnings, noting that gross profits from fees alone came in at $7.3 billion, which is up 62% since 2019. NBC News even said fees can top 78% of the ticket price itself.

Ticketmaster’s policies on fee structures is something President Biden is trying to crack down on across all sectors, announcing on Oct. 26 that his administration would be going after “junk fees” that many in the entertainment industry tack onto prices for events, travel and hospitality, as reported by Vulture.

Of course, this is not the first time an artist-backed movement has tried to take down Ticketmaster. In 1994, Pearl Jam famously went to court after filing a suit with the U.S. Justice Department alleging antitrust breaches and decrying the company’s “virtually absolute monopoly on the distribution of tickets to concerts,” as recalled by CNN. The band since tried to book shows at concert halls that didn’t use Ticketmaster’s services. However, that has become harder as the years go by due to the company’s strong foothold in the market.

Thirty years later, and amid a flurry of complaints about the company, actions to take down the company have received renewed interest. Among them, the Break Up Ticketmaster Coalition made up of members of the Artist Rights Alliance, National Consumers League, Union of Musicians, Allied Workers and a number of other organizations are rallying behind a petition to get the Department of Justice to look into what they deem unlawful activity.

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“Despite promises of increased competition and consumer benefit, they now control 70% primary ticketing and live event venues market. They’re hiking up ticket prices, charging rip-off junk fees and exploiting artists, independent venues, and fans,” says a message on the Break Up Ticketmaster website. “The Department of Justice can reverse this merger and bring competition back to the industry. Help us demand that they do.”

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