Outrage from Taylor Swift fans over the collapse of Ticketmaster’s service on Tuesday shone a spotlight on a common and recurring criticism of the ticketing company: It has virtually no competition. For many shoppers, there’s no avoiding Ticketmaster if you want to attend an event.
Tuesday’s meltdown led lawmakers to unwind Live Nation, the country’s largest concert promoter and the parent company of Ticketmaster, which they say has a stranglehold on ticket sales for top events.
“The @Ticketmaster wait times and excessive fees are completely unacceptable, as seen with today’s @taylorswift13 tickets, and are a symptom of a wider problem. It’s no secret that Live Nation-Ticketmaster is an uncontrolled monopoly.” tweeted Rep. David Cicilline, currently chairman of the Antitrust Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Commission.
“I am reminded daily that Ticketmaster is a monopoly, its merger with LiveNation should never have been approved and they need to be reined in,” tweeted United States Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Some opposed to calls for antitrust actions against big tech companies also fired at Ticketmaster on Wednesday. NetChoice, a trade group backed by tech giants such as Amazon (AMZN), Google (GOOG) and Facebook holding company Meta (FB), said those calling for the breakup of big tech companies should instead focus on dismantling the Live Nation and Ticketmaster.
“Congress and the Federal Trade Commission have wasted their time and taxpayers’ money trying to radically change antitrust laws and filing meritless lawsuits against companies like Meta, which operate in highly competitive environments. Instead, the government should use existing laws and resources to protect consumers and investigate Ticketmaster’s anti-competitive practices in the concert market,” the group said.
Ticketmaster did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But complaints about the company’s monopoly power date back long, long before Tuesday’s ticket woes, when the platform appeared to freeze or freeze during presale purchases for Swift’s latest tour.
In 1994, when Taylor Swift was just four years old and queues to purchase tickets were in-person or over the phone, not online, the rock group Pearl Jam filed a complaint with the Justice Department’s antitrust division alleging that Ticketmaster has a “virtually absolute monopoly over the distribution of concert tickets”. He tried to book his tour only in venues that did not use Ticketmaster.
The Justice Department and many state attorneys general have filed similar complaints over the years.
Despite these concerns, Ticketmaster has continued to become more dominant. Pearl Jam’s complaint was quietly dismissed. The Justice Department and states allowed the Live Nation Ticketmaster merger to go through despite a 2010 court filing in the case raising objections to the merger. In the filing, the Justice Department said Ticketmaster’s share of major concert venues exceeded 80%.
Ticketmaster disputes that market share estimate and estimates it holds just over 30 percent of the concert market at most, according to recent comments on NPR by Live Nation Entertainment (LYV) CFO Joe Berchtold.
But the market share numbers don’t really matter for the thousands of shows and sporting events for which Ticketmaster is contracted to handle the initial ticket sales, whether it be for a Taylor Swift concert in an NFL stadium or a little-known band playing an intimate club.
And fans who want to attend those events have virtually no alternative but to pay the hefty fees charged to Ticketmaster’s ticket prices.
Past efforts to curb Ticketmaster’s control of the ticket market have failed. Pearl Jam dropped their efforts in 1995. The Justice Department and states gave approval to the Live Nation-Ticketmaster combo, but asked for some oversight. Now, the matter may not end there.