U.S. Senate questions Ticketmaster over Taylor Swift presale fiasco


United States senators grilled Ticketmaster on Tuesday, questioning whether the company’s dominance in the ticketing industry led to its spectacular breakdown last year during a sale of Taylor Swift concert tickets.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, recalled piling into a friend’s car in high school to go to concerts by Led Zeppelin, The Cars and Aerosmith. These days, she said, ticket prices and fees have gotten so high that shows are too expensive for many fans. Klobuchar said ticket fees now average 27 per cent of the ticket cost, and can climb as high as 75 per cent.

Klobuchar said Ticketmaster’s market dominance means it faces little pressure to innovate and improve.

“To have a strong capitalist system, you have to have competition,” Klobuchar said in a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Ticketmaster is the world’s largest ticket seller, processing 500 million tickets each year in more than 30 countries. Around 70 per cent of tickets for major concert venues in the U.S. are sold through Ticketmaster, according to data in a federal lawsuit filed by consumers last year.

In mid-November, Ticketmaster’s site crashed during a presale event for Swift’s upcoming stadium tour. The company said its site was overwhelmed by both fans and bot attacks. Many people lost tickets after they had waited for hours in an online queue.

Ticketmaster required fans to register for the presale, and it says more than 3.5 million people did. Ticketmaster eventually cancelled planned ticket sales to the general public because it didn’t have enough inventory.

In 2010, Ticketmaster merged with Live Nation, a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based entertainment company that produces live shows, festivals and concert tours.

Live Nation’s president and chief financial officer Joe Berchtold apologized to fans and to Swift on Tuesday, and said the company knows it must do better.

But Berchtold insisted that Ticketmaster doesn’t set prices or service fees for tickets or decide how many tickets will go on sale. Service fees are set by venues, and Live Nation only owns around five per cent of U.S. venues, he said.

He also said Ticketmaster has lost — not gained — market share since its merger with Live Nation.

Berchtold said the ticketing industry would like lawmakers to focus on the growing problem of ticket scalping and prohibit fraudulent practices, such as resellers offering tickets that haven’t officially gone on sale yet. He also said the industry should be more transparent about pricing and fees.

LISTEN | The trouble with Ticketmaster: 

Front Burner29:14Ticketmaster’s Taylor Swift trouble

Last week, Ticketmaster pre-sales for Taylor Swift’s Eras tour quickly devolved into chaos, with site crashes, many people waiting eight hours or more in online queues, and tickets going for upward of $40,000 US on secondary sales sites like Stubhub. This is far from the first incident to prompt widespread outrage against Ticketmaster. Sky-high prices for Blink-182 and Bruce Springsteen concerts have been among the sore spots. But the Swift fiasco is shining a new light on the company’s virtual monopoly over wide swathes of the live music industry, prompting many — including several U.S. lawmakers — to call for the company to be investigated and broken up. Today, Jason Koebler — editor-in-chief of Motherboard, VICE’s technology site — joins Front Burner to break this all down.

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