Taylor Swift fans’ outcry over the collapse of Ticketmaster’s service Tuesday has highlighted a common and recurring criticism of the ticket company: It has practically no competition. For many buyers, there is no escaping Ticketmaster if you want to attend an event.
Tuesday’s collapse sparked calls from lawmakers to break up Live Nation, the country’s largest concert promoter and parent company of Ticketmaster, which they say has a stranglehold on ticket sales for top events.
“The excessive wait times and surcharges from @Ticketmaster are completely unacceptable, as seen with today’s @taylorswift13 tickets, and are a symptom of a bigger problem. It’s no secret that Live Nation Ticketmaster is an unchecked monopoly.” tweeted Rep. David Cicilline, currently the chair of the Antitrust Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee.
“Daily reminder that Ticketmaster is a monopoly, that the merger with LiveNation should never have been approved and they must be curbed.” tweeted U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Even some who opposed calls for antitrust action against big tech companies took photos at Ticketmaster on Wednesday. NetChoice, a trade group backed by some of the tech giants like Amazon (AMZN), Google (GOOG) and Facebook holding company Meta (FB), said those calling for major tech companies to be broken up should focus instead on breaking up the Live Nation and Ticketmaster.
“Congress and the Federal Trade Commission have wasted their time and taxpayers’ money by radically changing antitrust laws and filing meritorious lawsuits against companies like Meta, which operate 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 market,” the group said.
Ticketmaster did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But complaints about the company’s monopoly position date back long, long before Tuesday’s ticketing troubles, when the platform seemed to crash or freeze during pre-sale purchases for Swift’s latest tour.
In 1994, when Taylor Swift was just four years old and the ticket-buying queues were in person or over the phone, not online, the rock group Pearl Jam filed a complaint with the Justice Department’s antitrust division alleging that Ticketmaster has a “virtually absolute monopoly on the distribution of concert tickets.” It tried to book its tour only at venues that didn’t use Ticketmaster.
The Justice Department and many attorneys general have filed similar complaints over the years.
Despite those concerns, Ticketmaster continued to become more dominant. Pearl Jam’s complaint was quietly dismissed. The Justice Department and the states allowed the Live Nation Ticketmaster merger to go ahead despite a 2010 lawsuit raising objections to the merger. In the filing, the Justice Department said Ticketmaster’s share among major concert venues was more than 80%.
Ticketmaster disputes that market share estimate, estimating it holds just over 30% of the concert market at most, 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 for a Taylor Swift concert at an NFL stadium or an unknown band playing at an intimate club.
And fans who want to attend those events have virtually no choice but to pay the hefty fees that have been tacked onto ticket prices by Ticketmaster.
Previous attempts to rein in Ticketmaster’s control of the ticket market have failed. Pearl Jam ceased its efforts in 1995. The Justice Department and the states approved the Live Nation-Ticketmaster combination, but called for some oversight. Now the matter may not end there.