On January 24, the US Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the need for consolidation in the ticketing industry in reaction to Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour ticket sale fiasco. As part of the formal proceeding, senators questioned Ticketmaster and Live Nation Entertainment executives about their company’s monopoly status, while competitors advocated for their rival’s dissolution. It seemed everyone was out for Ticketmaster’s throat – Republicans and Democrats alike grilled the enterprise – but what if the problem lies more within capitalism at large than with Ticketmaster?
Let’s flashback to November 2022. Following the release of her tenth studio album, Midnights, Taylor Swift announced she was going on an all-stadium concert tour that would take her across the United States. Swift explained the tour’s concept as a “journey through all of [her] musical eras,” a proposition that was sure to bring immense excitement – and demand – from her fans. When the ticket sale kicked off on November 18, 14 million people formed a virtual line on Ticketmaster’s website. Three million of them had registered for the Verified Fan program that gave them access to a special pre-sale.
Yet fans waited for hours on Ticketmaster’s website. Some saw the tickets they had selected disappear from their carts, while others lost their places in line when the website glitched. Within an hour, the website crashed, stranding users in frozen queues. Those fortunate enough to secure tickets had to pay high service fees while resellers began listing them online for thousands of dollars. Ticketmaster eventually cancelled the general on-sale due to “insufficient” inventory.
Inability to handle such high demand is understandable, but Ticketmaster has been enabled to treat fans poorly without being held accountable as a result of market monopoly.
It goes without saying that when there is a fundamental supply and demand imbalance – roughly 15 million people want to see Taylor Swift in concert, but only two million tickets are available – a lot of people are going to be disappointed no matter what system is used to distribute the goods. Given that imbalance, the price of tickets is bound to rise and someone will step in to fill that gap, whether that be scalpers on StubHub or Ticketmaster via dynamic pricing. Even an artist as significant as Swift cannot overcome these hurdles, for there are no independent venues or ticket-selling businesses big enough to feasibly accommodate her and her fans.
During last week’s hearing, a great deal of attention was paid to Swift’s fans and how disappointed they were about not being able to get tour tickets because of high demand. The problem with the judicial hearing is that US senators assumed that the root of the problem lay in the lack of access to tickets. In reality, the issue with Ticketmaster and Live Nation’s merger is so much more profound.
The main issue here is that Live Nation has contracts with nearly every major stadium and arena in North America that restrict each venue to the exclusive use of Ticketmaster when selling tickets. In other words, venues are Ticketmaster’s primary customers, not artists and fans. Ticketmaster serves the venues by giving them a significant cut of their fees, and as a result, both parties have little incentive to improve the way they treat concertgoers.
To make matters worse, the hearing turned into a bit of a circus when senators started showing off their knowledge of Taylor Swift lyrics by incorporating them into their statements. While amusing at first, these bits undermined the very real problems facing Ticketmaster and Live Nation. Meanwhile, hardly any media have acknowledged how artists are being strong-armed out of profits for their own shows and merchandise, an issue that has led to numerous cancellations of tours from musicians like Santigold and Little Simz. There is no mention, either, of the literal blood Live Nation has on its hands due to inadequate crowd planning for Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival, which led to the death of ten people from compression asphyxia. Silence, also, when it comes to discussing their inability to protect an artist from harm; in 2021, Drakeo the Ruler and his entourage were attacked backstage at the Once Upon a Time in LA festival by “around 40, 60 men” in masks, which led to the rapper’s death. His family sued Live Nation, which put on the event, citing negligence from the venue and inadequate security measures.
But Ticketmaster and Live Nation have no real competition, so why would they change? Capturing revenue from whoever is willing to pay is what capitalism is all about, and as long as there are no competitors to drive convenience fees down, block bots, or instigate greater security measures, Ticketmaster will continue operating the way it does. If someone is willing to pay $20,000 to stand in a constricted crowd, why would Ticketmaster stop them?
In order to see a change in the way the ticketing industry operates, Ticketmaster and Live Nation’s merger needs to be broken up. The enterprise may operate in a natural economic system, but its situation needs oversight and regulation for the benefit and safety of the general public. If Congress wants to dismantle this merger, it has the power to do so, but it is important to note that the Senate hearing was prompted by the noise created by unhappy fans. Their advocacy for change cannot be overstated, as it is unlikely many of these senators would have taken the steps needed to break this monopoly up on their own.