At least they can all agree about Taylor Swift tickets: The “absolutely unified” cause for Republican and Democrat senators on Capitol Hill this week is fixing what’s wrong at Live Nation, whose executives are in the hot-seat more than a dozen years since its merger with Ticketmaster.
On Tuesday, a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing focused on prices, ticket scalping, and digital ticket technology began questioning Live Nation brass about what senators called “monopolistic” practices they say have been driving up ticket prices and affecting distribution since its 2010 merger with Ticketmaster. Of course, they detailed the ticket fiasco for Taylor Swift’s tour late last year that drew swift attention to the issue.
Critics say Live Nation, which controls the venues, has used Ticketmaster to control the concert industry, and did not invest in technology that could have handled issues like the huge demand for Swift tickets in November. The Swift ticket fiasco left millions of fans frustrated and angry, while scalpers used internet bots to gobble up huge blocks of tickets to resell to fans at inflated prices.
Live Nation with Ticketmaster has a stranglehold on ticket sales for the multi-billion-dollar live music industry as well as some professional sports, controlling 87 percent or more of ticket sales for concerts and leagues like the NFL and NBA.
The company presented more than 40,000 events worldwide in 2019 and reported 485 million tickets sold. It owns or controls more than 300 stadiums, arenas, and other venues, and hosted major festivals like Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and Governors Ball.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., called for the hearing, titled “That’s the Ticket: Promoting Competition and Protecting Consumers in Live Entertainment. She and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., requested the Justice Department to investigate monopolistic behavior by Live Nation and Ticketmaster.
Klobuchar told the committee that Congress needs to act to enforce a fair marketplace for entertainment events.
“Taylor Swift is just one example. Fans, artists and venues are facing real issues. Making sure fans get fair prices and better services, so it doesn’t cost so much to go see a band and remember it forever,” she said.
The hearing focused on “transferability” of tickets digitally, which allows “industrial scalping” by third parties who gouge fans trying to purchase tickets.
Swift released a statement supporting more scrutiny of Live Nation and Ticketmaster: “It’s really difficult for me to trust an outside entity with these relationships and loyalties, and excruciating for me to just watch mistakes happen with no recourse,” Swift said.
The Justice Dept. approved the 2010 Live Nation merger with Ticketmaster under a “consent decree,” which it extended to 2025. The Justice Dept. and the Senate are investigating whether the company has violated anti-monopoly terms of the decree.
Committee Chairman Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., started the hearing by saying the consent decree “does not appear to have been effective.”
Testifying before the committee, Joe Berchtold, president and chief financial officer for Live Nation, told the committee that he believes the concert industry now “is more competitive than ever.”
The senators weren’t buying his claim, and Klobuochar said action is needed to protect customers who just want to pay a fair price to see a concert.
“We are committed to doing something, and not just throwing popcorn,” she said.
Her Republican colleagues agreed.
“I’m not against ‘big’, per se. I’m against dumb,” Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, told Berchtold. “The way your company handled the ticket sales with Ms. Swift was a debacle.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, added, “I start from the principal that monopolies are bad.”
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, said Live Nation’s control of the concert scene “sounds like a data industrial complex.”
“You, in a monopoly, are forcing everyone to come into your ecosystem… This really worries me. I just don’t see how consumers win in this exchange,” Hawley said.
Blumenthal noted the bi-partisan unity.
“You have brought together Republicans and Democrats in an absolutely unified cause,” he told Berchtold.