Ticketmaster’s monopoly; when music and greed collide
Anchor Staff Writer
If you stoke the fire of the Swiftie base, be ready for a burn. This is exactly why Ticketmaster has received intensive scrutiny over the past week from concertgoers and politicians alike, as the company’s planned sale for artist Taylor Swift’s “Eras Tour” has combusted into chaos, uncertainty and astronomical fees. Ticketmaster, a subsidiary of Live Nation Entertainment, opened early sales on Nov. 15 to those signed up for their “Verified Fan” program, which lets fans purchase tickets early in return for providing personal information.
Ticketmaster later clarified that of the 3.5 million fans who applied for the early sale, only 1.5 million were let in. The remaining 2 million were put on a waiting list, where Ticketmaster’s overwhelmed website struggled, queues paused and went on indefinitely. Those able to persevere through the website crashes and stagnant wait were met with nosebleed seats available for hundreds of dollars.
One Rhode Island based Swift fan told The Anchor that she was able to purchase tickets to the tour, but was relegated to the highest, farthest seats and paid $175 per ticket after waiting in a seven-hour long queue.
Further provoking the ire of the Swift fanbase and consumers alike, Ticketmaster’s “Verified Fan” program appeared to fail dramatically. Those who wished for better seats had only resellers to turn to, who marked up ticket prices to the thousands. Some tickets were even scalped for $35,000 each. Following the tumultuous sale and backlash, Ticketmaster canceled the tour’s public ticket sale, quashing the dreams of any Swift fan unable to endure the grueling debacle.
Beyond the indignation from concertgoers on social media, the incident provoked calls for investigations from politicians across the political spectrum. U.S. Representative David Cicilline, who represents Rhode Island’s First Congressional District, joined fellow lawmakers in calling on the Department of Justice to investigate Live Nation’s business practices. In addition, both Tennessee and Pennsylvania’s attorney generals have promised oversight into the conglomerate for the incident.
How this incident was allowed to unfold is not much of a surprise. Since Ticketmaster and Live Nation merged in 2010, Live Nation has been allowed to grow into a monstrosity of a monopoly, holding sway over the entire music industry as they avoid antitrust oversight and reap profits in the billions.
Over the last decade, Live Nation has dominated the music industry, controlling 70% of ticketing and live music venues. This allows them to act in impunity in regards to unfair business practices, as the merger has effectively eliminated any competition. During the merger, antitrust regulators in the United States levied miniscule stipulations. They forced Ticketmaster to sell certain small subsidiary companies and agree to a consent decree requiring them not to retaliate against venues that accept competing services; Ticketmaster has repeatedly violated these decrees since, threatening to withhold major tours from any venue that refuses.
Without competition in the way, Live Nation has made the live music industry their plaything, using unethical practices in their operations so often that customers consider these practices standard.
The most ubiquitous of these are the service fees and dynamic prices of ticket sales. Ticketmaster’s infamous service fees tack on an extra charge for the “service” of using their website, which average 27%, but can rise up to over half the ticket cost. Their “dynamic pricing” service, claiming to protect tickets from scalpers, instead skyrocket prices when artists generate high demand.
In one notorious case, musician Bruce Springsteen became a fervent voice against Ticketmaster after their dynamic pricing scheme accelerated his ticket prices to $5,000. Beyond the egregious conduct to consumers, Live Nation has extended its influence through manipulative contracts with music venues. If an artist wishes to avoid contracting with the company, they must avoid performing at any venue with exclusivity deals with Ticketmaster. This eliminates 80% of music venues in the United States. Simply put, for an artist to succeed, they must make a deal with the devil.
As the collapse of Swift’s ticket sales brought fresh criticism, their practices have been scrutinized more intensely under the current presidential administration, with President Biden directing government regulators to crack down on junk fees like Ticketmaster’s service fees.
This is a welcome step, but to level a towering monopoly requires shaking its very foundation. Half measures, like Live Nation’s pinky-promise consent decrees, have empowered the company to abuse their customers and hold an entire industry hostage in the name of capital. Instead, the Live Nation-Ticketmaster empire must be broken up to return the industry back to the fans that built it.
This is no straightforward task, but public pressure is a tool of unappreciated power. As prominent lawmakers speak out against the monopoly and pressure the DOJ to take regulatory action, the Swift fanbase and live entertainment fans alike have taken to public channels sharing their animosity with Live Nation’s greed and accelerating pressure to act.
If Live Nation’s latest lesson in avarice marks a coup de grace for the monopoly, then Swifties may finally be able to tell the music industry’s greatest villain to “look what you made me do.”