Following a disastrous Taylor Swift presale event and overwhelming online backlash from fans, media giant Ticketmaster (more specifically, its parent company Live Nation) was brought to court under charges of violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law. The corporation’s greatly-anticipated judiciary hearing was held on Tuesday, January 25, with Swift fans peacefully protesting just outside the building. While Live Nation and TicketMaster have long been accused of monopolizing the ticketing industry, a highly publicized flurry of system crashes, ‘service fees,’ and empty-handed fans led to roughly 50 plaintiffs suing Ticketmaster for $2500 for every violation of the Unfair Competition Law. A variety of witnesses—including business competitors, musicians, and antitrust experts—testified against Live Nation, arguing that its long term monopoly has been deeply detrimental to both fans and the industry.
Jack Groetzinger, CEO of Ticketmaster competitor SeatGeek, claimed that Live Nation, an entertainment company, controls the market by retaliating against venues that move their primary ticketing business away from Ticketmaster. This leads venues to lose revenue from Live Nation concerts, greatly incentivizing them to prioritize Ticketmaster as the primary method for managing ticket sales. Clyde Lawrence, a musician from the band Lawrence, claimed that Ticketmaster often serves as the venue, the promoter, and the ticket vender for many touring artists. This complete control over the market allows them to charge exorbitant service fees; which, according to Lawrence, can lead to the company claiming 70% of each ticket sale. Lawrence also stated that Ticketmaster collects an additional 20% commision of revenue from musician merch sales held at the event, in addition to their revenue from alcohol, parking fees, and concessions. He called for more transparency in future Live Nation business practices. In response, Live Nation CEO Joe Berchtold argued that Ticketmaster is not responsible for setting most service fees; that they are, instead, set by the venues. When further questioned about the many venues that Live Nation either owns or has long-term contracts with, Berchtold responded that those venues made up a relatively small percentage of the whole.
Senator Klobuchar, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Competition, Policy, Antitrust, and Human Rights, told NPR’s Morning Edition that she feels optimistic about the outcome of this hearing. “...from there [the hearing], we can do bills specific on ticketing. There are [senators] interested…on the fees, on the fact that they [Ticketmaster] try to lock in on these multiyear contracts. All of those things are ripe for legislation.” Klobuchar, and many Taylor Swift fans, all hope that stricter monopoly legislation will be extended to ticketing and other industries in entertainment as a result of the hearing. Indeed, the Department of Justice has purportedly already begun an antitrust investigation into Ticketmaster.
I, like most event-goers in the United States, have bought from Ticketmaster. I hate it. I hate the layout of the website, how they progressively layer on ‘service fees’ with no explanation of where they’re going (come on, a service fee for an online payment service? Who’s serving me?), and I hate how everything, everything, is through Ticketmaster. From local comedy shows to big-name concerts to mini golf (!), basically every ticket that I buy is through Ticketmaster. Through the venues that Live Nation controls, Ticketmaster has effectively monopolized the market. Their association with some of the biggest names in entertainment allows them the luxury of drastically inflating prices however they choose. This practice has consequences not only for us, the consumers, but also the artists—smaller artists who must sell cheaper tickets must dock their own prices to account for Ticketmaster fees. In addition, as Lawrence explained, they also are docked for their merchandising sales, while Ticketmaster (and Live Nation) can collect on parking fees, drinks, and concessions. This situation, frankly, is unfair and predatory. I hope that in time we will see less of a tight-fisted market control and more diversity in the market—until then, there is little for myself or anyone to do but wait for the results of the hearing. We could maybe even attend a Taylor Swift concert in the meantime. That is, if anyone can manage to get a ticket.
The Student Movement is the official student newspaper of Andrews University. Opinions expressed in the Student Movement are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors, Andrews University or the Seventh-day Adventist church.