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By Chris Cooke | Published on Wednesday 23 November 2022
Two members of the US Senate’s Judiciary Subcommittee On Competition Policy, Antitrust And Consumer Rights have announced a hearing to “examine the lack of competition in the ticketing industry”. It follows last week’s issues on the Ticketmaster platform around the sale of tickets for next year’s Taylor Swift tour.
Senator Amy Klobuchar – who chairs that committee – was already a critic of Live Nation and its Ticketmaster subsidiary prior to last week’s Swift-related dramas. Back in March she and fellow senator Richard Blumenthal called on the US Department Of Justice to investigate the American ticketing market and Ticketmaster’s role in it.
Previously, back in 2019, both senators called on the DoJ to investigate the consent decree that regulates how Ticketmaster interacts with the wider Live Nation business.
That consent decree was put in place when Live Nation and Ticketmaster merged in 2010 to overcome some of the competition concerns that merger raised. It was originally meant to expire in 2020, but was renewed because on ongoing concerns and criticisms, including those highlighted by Klobuchar and Blumenthal.
Then last week – after Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan system struggled to keep up with the demand for Swift tickets, resulting in lots of angry fans and a pretty pissed off Swift – Klobuchar wrote to Live Nation chief Michael Rapino asking questions about his ticketing company’s systems and procedures.
It’s debatable whether Ticketmaster being part of Live Nation – and the combined Live Nation / Ticketmaster being so dominant in the US live sector – actually caused any of last week’s issues around the sale of Swift tickets. Had tickets been available via many different ticketing agents then maybe the unprecedented demand could have been dealt with by multiple platforms. Though that would have likely created a different set of issues for Swift’s eager fans.
Maybe if the ticketing business was more competitive Ticketmaster would invest more in its technologies and systems making it better positioned to cope with such unprecedented demand for tickets. Though Ticketmaster has evolved its technology a lot in recent years, partly in response to various ticketing start-ups, partly to better compete with the secondary ticketing market, and partly because of the data and other commercial benefits that mobile ticketing can offer.
Either way, all the online outrage around the sale of tickets for Swift’s tour has put the spotlight back on the various existing grievances about the US ticketing market in general and Ticketmaster in particular.
Announcing the new hearing on the ticketing market – alongside fellow subcommittee member Mike Lee – Klobuchar stated: “Last week, the competition problem in ticketing markets was made painfully obvious when Ticketmaster’s website failed hundreds of thousands of fans hoping to purchase concert tickets”.
“The high fees, site disruptions and cancellations that customers experienced shows how Ticketmaster’s dominant market position means the company does not face any pressure to continually innovate and improve”, she added.
“That’s why we will hold a hearing on how consolidation in the live entertainment and ticketing industry harms customers and artists alike”, she went on. “When there is no competition to incentivise better services and fair prices, we all suffer the consequences”.
“American consumers deserve the benefit of competition in every market, from grocery chains to concert venues,” Lee added. “I look forward to exercising our subcommittee’s oversight authority to ensure that anticompetitive mergers and exclusionary conduct are not crippling an entertainment industry already struggling to recover from pandemic lockdowns”.
The new scrutiny of Ticketmaster and ticketing in Congress will be welcomed by the coalition of artist, lobbying and consumer rights groups that recently launched a campaign calling on the DoJ to reinvestigate Ticketmaster, and even possibly reverse that big Live Nation/Tickemaster merger from 2010.