Live Nation/Ticketmaster have bipartisan barbecue in DC

Live Nation/Ticketmaster have bipartisan barbecue in DC

Live Nation/Ticketmaster have bipartisan barbecue in DC

It was only a matter of time before a politician awkwardly quoted Taylor Swift at Tuesday morning’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Ticketmaster, Live Nation and the US ticketing market.

“May I respectfully suggest that Ticketmaster should look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m the problem. That’s me,'” Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told Joe Berchtold, president and chief financial officer of Live Nation Entertainment, referring to the chorus on Swift’s #1 song “Anti-Hero.” “The reason is quite simple, you are ultimately responsible for the astronomically rising prices, the exorbitant hidden fees, the sold-out shows and the bots and scalpers.”

In November, Ticketmaster botched advance bookings for Swift’s upcoming stadium tour, prompting an outcry from the demoralized fans who remained ticketless, and soon after criticism from a number of politicians and a class-action lawsuit from angry Swifties. Tuesday’s hearing, chaired by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), showed bipartisan skepticism about the Live Nation/Ticketmaster conglomerate that dominates the live music market.

Critics claim that Live Nation, which merged with Ticketmaster in 2010, wields undue power over the concert industry. Live Nation is the country’s largest concert promoter, while Ticketmaster controls an estimated 80% of the ticketing market. The companies were allowed to merge under a Justice Department consent decree that forced Ticketmaster to license its software and prohibited retaliation against competitors.

Tuesday’s hearing, which included testimony from ticketing executives, independent promoters, antitrust experts and performers, examined the company’s alleged anticompetitive practices, high service fees and an inability to weed out automated scalpers from the ticket buying process. The aggressive questioning from both Democratic and Republican senators made it clear that Live Nation and Ticketmaster’s business model — and perhaps its future as individual companies — poses a real regulatory and legislative threat.

“Innovation in ticketing for live events has been stymied because Live Nation Entertainment Inc. controls the world’s most popular entertainers, the ticketing systems and even many of the venues,” said Jack Groetzinger, co-founder and chief executive officer of SeatGeek. a direct competitor to Ticketmaster. “This power over the entire live entertainment industry allows Live Nation to maintain its monopolistic hold on the primary ticketing market. As long as Live Nation remains both the dominant concert promoter and ticket provider to major venues in the United States, our industry will continue to struggle with the challenges it faces today.”

A young musician in a suit testifies before a congressional committee.

Clyde Lawrence of the band Lawrence testifies during Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

(Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Clyde Lawrence, lead singer of New York soul-pop band Lawrence, said, “Since we started touring, we’ve found that certain aspects of the live music industry feel a little one-sided deal-making.”

Live Nation’s “horizontal and vertical reach makes it difficult to create competition,” he continued. “Ticketing companies could bring significant innovations that allow for lower fees, greater transparency… and advances in dealing with the troubled secondary ticketing market… But it doesn’t matter how innovative these other ticketing companies are; If every Live Nation show has to be booked exclusively through Ticketmaster, they don’t stand a chance of making their mark.”

Kathleen Bradish of the American Antitrust Institute went even further.

“Live Nation/Ticketmaster is a monopoly,” she said, “and will act because it has tremendous incentive to foreclose competition.”

“Ticketmaster is under a lot of criticism,” admitted Berchtold in his opening speech. “But I can say with great confidence that Ticketmaster is technically a much better ticketing system today than it was in 2010. Its performance on large on-sales is the best in the industry, it has the best marketing prowess of any ticketing system and it is by far the leader in preventing fraud and getting tickets into the hands of real fans.”

During the three hours of testimony and questioning, almost every senator present had at least one angle to criticize the company.

“In 2018, thousands of people in Hawaii tried and failed to get tickets to Bruno Mars,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). “I heard Mr. Berchtold say they spent $1 billion after the merger to improve the Ticketmaster system. So I’m just wondering what kind of improvements to the Ticketmaster system are actually being pursued?

“I’m against being stupid, and the way the company handled the sale for Ms. Swift was a debacle,” said John Kennedy (R-La.). “Whoever was responsible should be fired.”

Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) expressed concerns that the company is not doing enough to combat bots or automated scalping. “They blamed bot attacks for the crash during Taylor Swift’s ticket sale. Ticket sellers seem to view bot attacks as normal to their operations,” Blackburn said. “This is an unacceptable situation.”

Two people hold signs protesting against the ticketing industry

Music fans protest against Ticketmaster in front of the US Capitol on Tuesday.

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Several speakers brought up the recent switchover at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, which switched back to Ticketmaster to a seven-year deal after ending a deal with SeatGeek. Some members of the panel suspected that Live Nation had retaliated with Barclay’s deal with SeatGeek by moving its concerts to competing venues.

“The Barclays Center has seen a significant decrease in the number of Live Nation concerts broadcast to this venue compared to historical averages,” Groetzinger said. “Management came to us and said we wanted to use Ticketmaster for concert tickets and we looked at it and couldn’t get the economics to work.”

“The DOJ pointed to a pervasive environment of fear of retaliation,” Bradish agreed. “And as a result, it shows that if a company has incentives to act a certain way, a consent decree won’t necessarily discourage them from doing so.”

The Department of Justice has an ongoing investigation into Live Nation’s practices.

“To the people who are fed up, I would say, if you’re angry and frustrated, continue with your criticism,” Blumenthal said. “You have the power to demand action and we should act with new laws. If the Justice Department finds a violation of the consent decree, rolling back the merger should be on the table.

“When the Justice Department finds facts that involve monopolistic and predatory abuses, there should be structural remedies,” he continued. “For example, the dissolution of the company.”

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