Taylor Swift fans’ outrage over Ticketmaster’s service meltdown Tuesday has shined a spotlight on a common and recurring criticism about the ticketing company: It has practically no competition. For many, buyers there’s no avoiding Ticketmaster if you want to attend an event.
Tuesday’s meltdown brought calls by lawmakers to break up Live Nation, the country’s largest concert promoter and Ticketmaster’s parent company, which they say has a stranglehold on ticket sales to top events.
“@Ticketmaster’s excessive wait times and fees are completely unacceptable, as seen with today’s @taylorswift13 tickets, and are a symptom of a larger problem. It’s no secret that Live Nation-Ticketmaster is an unchecked monopoly,” tweeted Rep. David Cicilline, currentlly the chairman of the Antitrust Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee.
“Daily reminder that Ticketmaster is a monopoly, its merger with LiveNation should never have been approved, and they need to be reined in,” tweeted US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Even some opposed to calls for antitrust action against big tech companies took shots at Ticketmaster Wednesday. NetChoice, a trade group backed by some of the tech giants such as Amazon (AMZN), Google (GOOG) and Facebook holding company Meta (FB), said that those calling to break-up big tech companies should instead focus on breaking up the Live Nation and Ticketmaster.
“Congress and the Federal Trade Commission have wasted their time and taxpayer money trying to radically change antitrust laws and filing meritless lawsuits against companies like Meta, which are operating in highly competitive environments. Instead, the government should use existing resources and laws to protect consumers and investigate Ticketmaster’s anti-competitive practices in the concert marketplace,” said the group.
Ticketmaster did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But complaints about the company’s monopoly power, go back long, long before Tuesday’s ticket problems, when the platform appeared to crash or freeze during presale purchases for Swift’s latest tour.
In 1994, when Taylor Swift was only four years old and ticket purchase queues were in person or on the phone, not online, the rock group Pearl Jam filed a complaint with the Justice Department’s antitrust division asserting that Ticketmaster has a “virtually absolute monopoly on the distribution of tickets to concerts.” It tried to book its tour only at venues that didn’t use Ticketmaster.
The Justice Department and many state attorneys general have made similar complaints over the years.
Despite those concerns, Ticketmaster continued to grow 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 that Ticketmaster’s share among major concert venues exceeded 80%.
Ticketmaster disputes that market share estimate and estimates it holds at most just over 30% of the concert market, according to comments on NPR recently by Joe Berchtold, CFO of Live Nation Entertainment (LYV).
But the market share numbers don’t really matter for the thousands of shows and sporting events for which Ticketmaster has contracts to handle initial ticket sales, whether it’s for a Taylor Swift concert at an NFL stadium or a a little-known band playing at an intimate club.
And fans who want to attend those events have virtually no alternative other than to pay the substantial fees tacked onto the ticket prices by Ticketmaster.
Past efforts to rein in Ticketmaster control over the ticket market have failed. Pearl Jam dropped its effort in 1995. The Justice Department and the states gave approval of to the Live Nation-Ticketmaster combination, but did call for some oversight. Now, the matter might not end there.