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Senate Antitrust Panel Sets Hearing on Concert Ticketing After Taylor Swift Tour Debacle

"The competition problem in ticketing markets was made painfully obvious" last week, writes Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is following up last week’s open letter to Live Nation over “dramatic service failures” during the Taylor Swift presale with a hearing on competition across the ticketing industry. The senator and her across-the-aisle counterpart on the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust and Consumer Rights, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), jointly announced the hearing, with a date and witness list forthcoming.

“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,” said Klobuchar, without mentioning Swift. “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.”

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Klobuchar said the hearing will examine the effects of consolidation across ticketing — namely that a lack of competition suppresses the need to improve services and maintain fair pricing.

Lee added that consumers “deserve the benefit of competition in every market, from grocery chains to concert venues. 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.”

Aside from a possible grilling by U.S. senators, Live Nation and Ticketmaster are said to be under investigation by the Justice Department as to whether the company maintains an illegal monopoly over the live event ticketing ecosystem. The probe, according to The New York Times, predates this current debacle involving Swift’s tour presale.

Ticketmaster has apologized for the problematic rollout, which started Nov. 15 when millions of Swift fans overwhelmed a presale for her Eras Tour — causing site crashes and hours-long waits, with many fans left empty-handed and, possibly, newly engaged in politics. Ticketmaster went on to cancel the general sale as well.

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“I apologize to all our fans. We are working hard on this,” Liberty Media CEO and Live Nation chairman Greg Maffei said in an appearance on CNBC last Thursday. “Building capacity for peak demand is something we attempt to do, but this exceeded every expectation.”

Swift’s tour is actually being promoted by Live Nation competitor AEG, which has told Billboard it “didn’t have a choice” in terms of ticketing sales and distribution because of Ticketmaster’s “exclusive deals with the vast majority of venues on the Eras tour.”

Ticketmaster and Live Nation have long been dogged by accusations that they exert an unfair dominance over the market for live concerts, particularly since they merged in 2010 to create their current structure. The combined entity has operated for its entire existence under a so-called consent decree imposed by the DOJ when it approved the merger. Under the decree, Live Nation is prohibited from retaliating against venues that refuse to use Ticketmaster. Those restrictions were set to expire in 2020 but were extended by five years in 2019 after the DOJ accused Live Nation of repeatedly violating the decree.