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Can the Music Industry Band Together to Fight Scalpers? ‘All of Us Need to Bring the Fight’

During a Pollstar panel, Irving Azoff, James Dolan and Garth Brooks called on the touring business to compel Congress to do something about ticket brokers.

Irving Azoff teed off on scalpers, Stubhub and the federal government in a no-holds-barred panel Wednesday during the Pollstar Live conference at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. Azoff, along with artist Garth Brooks, MSG Entertainment chairman James Dolan and former top Department of Justice antitrust official Makan Delrahim, took the federal government to task for the way it handled last month’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on ticketing. Despite evidence that the problems linked to the ticket sale were the result of a massive bot attack, most senators at the hearing blamed Ticketmaster for service disruptions and tried to link customer dissatisfaction with the ticket sale to antitrust allegations that the company is operating as a monopoly.


Delrahim, who investigated Live Nation and Ticketmaster on behalf of the Department of Justice in 2019, told his fellow panelists that Congress was convoluting two separate issues and “were well intentioned, but didn’t understand the issues” facing the primary ticketing business. Azoff was more aggressive in his comments. He said most problems in ticketing were “likely perpetrated by scalpers” who “steal massive amounts of tickets” and pay lobbyists to “to demonize Ticketmaster, and actually make laws to support and protect scalpers instead of artists or fans.”

The panel was a call for unity within the music business after the senate hearing left many in live entertainment feeling rattled, including many of Live Nation’s own competitors.

The touring community has stayed silent through most of the sector’s controversies in the post-pandemic period – including consumer frustration over high prices for Adele, Bruce Springsteen and Blink-182 tickets – leaving Ticketmaster to take most of the incoming barrage. And the Senate Judiciary Committee revealed — to many people’s surprise — how angry and often misinformed politicians are with Ticketmaster, and by extension, the concert industry writ large.

The panel was held during an annual conference sponsored by Pollstar, a long-running trade publication now owned by Azoff, Tim Leiweke and the Oak View Group. Wednesday’s panel was the concert businesses’ first attempt to create a unified voice between buildings, artists, promoters and ticketing companies and to launch a new offensive targeting scalpers who, as Brooks pointed out, are becoming increasingly effective at using bots to “slow the system down so people get frustrated and immediately head to the secondary markets.” Dolan noted scalpers have made it very difficult to get tickets into the hands of people “who don’t have seven figure incomes.”

No artist “wants their fans to have to pay for a ticket that is exponentially higher than face value,” Azoff said. “I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that Washington isn’t focused on the real issue — screwing artists and their fans. Our government has a long history of screwing artists.” Add in the explosion of fraudulent and misleading ticketing sites and the scourge of speculative ticket listings, and it’s easy to see why Azoff, Dolan and the other panelists are alarmed about the growth of the secondary ticketing business.

They’re not wrong, but the situation may also not be as dire as Azoff and his compatriots want to make it seem. Unlike sports ticketing where nearly all non-season-ticket sales are handled by a small cadre of elite brokers, the concert business has been highly effective at delegitimizing the secondary ticketing industry and preventing sites like StubHub from gaining direct access to ticketing inventory. Brokers have further been stymied by initiatives like Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan and SafeTix, which have proven effective at reducing the number of tickets sold on the primary market. In fact, the primary ticketing business’ success at stopping the secondary industry less than a decade ago is why most scalpers are now resorting to such extreme measures to procure tickets.

This is mostly good news for Azoff. His worst fears about the growth of the secondary ticketing market have not materialized, and today the industry has been marginalized and to the point that some actors have resorted to illegal acts to procure tickets.

As Delrahim explained, there are already existing laws on the books and “all sorts of limits” the government can place on scalpers. Existing securities law regulating the short selling of stocks could be applied to speculative ticket listings, noting that prosecutors with the Southern District of New York have “already brought a number of prosecutions” for what he calls “naked short selling.” There are also Federal Trade Commission laws banning “deceptive and unfair practices” that could be better enforced.

“The FTC should open an investigation against speculative ticket sellers who go online and try to sell tickets way before they have been sold – that’s a clear violation of the artist rights,” he added.

Compelling the government to enforce its own laws is difficult, though, and Live Nation and Ticketmaster are not equipped to slow down the bad behavior of the secondary ticketing industry on its own. Instead, Azoff made a rare plea to the audience of touring business professionals for help.

“If you agree with us,” he said, “you all have work to do because there’s a lot of weird bills being proposed out there and the people in this room have a chance to go out and let fans be heard. Ultimately, this is going to be decided at the local and municipal level and that’s where all of us need to bring the fight.”