Taylor Swift: Live Nation exec to clash with lawmakers over concert ticket fiasco


New York
CNN

Lawmakers have grilled a top executive at Ticketmaster’s parent company after the service’s inability to process orders for Taylor Swift’s upcoming tour left millions of fans unable to purchase tickets or without their tickets even after the ‘purchase.

Joe Berchtold, president and chief financial officer of Ticketmaster’s parent company, Live Nation Entertainment, testified before a Senate committee on Tuesday, two months after the Swift box office fiasco reignited public scrutiny of the industry.

“As we said after the sale, and I repeat today: we apologize to the fans,” Berchtold said. “We apologize to Ms Swift. We must do better and we will do better. »

Ticketmaster, he said, was “hit by three times more bot traffic than we had ever experienced” amid “unprecedented demand for Taylor Swift tickets.” The bot’s activity “forced us to slow down and even suspend our sales. This led to a terrible consumer experience that we deeply regret.

Tickets for Swift’s new five-month Eras Tour – which kicks off March 17 and will include 52 concerts at multiple stadiums across the United States – went on sale on Ticketmaster in mid-November. High demand rumbled at the ticketing site, infuriating fans who couldn’t get tickets. Customers complained about Ticketmaster not loading, saying the platform wouldn’t let them access tickets even if they had a presale code for verified fans.

Unable to resolve the issues, Ticketmaster later canceled Swift’s concert ticket sales to the general public, citing “extraordinarily high demands on the ticketing systems and insufficient remaining ticket inventory to meet this demand”.

As fury grew among the legions of die-hard Swifties, Swift herself weighed in on the fiasco. “It goes without saying that I am extremely protective of my fans,” Swift wrote on Instagram in November. “It’s really hard for me to trust an outside entity with those connections and loyalties, and excruciating for me to just watch mistakes happen without recourse.”

As a result, the US Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled the hearing titled “It’s the Ticket: Promoting Competition and Protecting Consumers in Live Entertainment” to examine the lack of competition in the ticketing industry.

In her opening remarks, Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, emphasized the importance of competition in maintaining a capitalist system in her opening remarks. While criticizing the degree of market consolidation, she used the words of Taylor Swift, saying it’s a practice the country knows “too well”.

“To have a strong capitalist system, you have to have competition,” she said. “You can’t have too much consolidation – something that, unfortunately for this country, as an ode to Taylor Swift, I will say, we know all too well.”

Berchtold suggested that venues are given significant leeway to manage their operations. He testified that Ticketmaster does not set the price of tickets, does not determine the number of tickets for sale, and that “in most cases, the sites set the service and ticketing fees”, not Ticketmaster.

In addition to the executives, the committee said witnesses at the hearing included Jack Groetzinger, CEO of ticketing platform SeatGeek; Jerry Mickelson, CEO of Jam Productions, one of the largest live entertainment producers; and singer-songwriter Clyde Lawrence.

Groetzinger testified that as long as Live Nation remains both the dominant concert promoter and box office for major venues in the United States, “the industry will continue to lack competition and struggle.”

Review of Ticketmaster Dominance goes back decadesbut the Swift ticketing incident has once again turned this issue into a table discussion in many homes.

Concert promoter Live Nation and ticketing company Ticketmaster, two of the biggest companies in the concert business, announced their merger in 2009. The deal at the time raised concerns, including from the US Department of Justice , as to the creation of a quasi-monopoly in the industry.

Live Nation Chairman and Chief Financial Officer Joe Berchtold testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023.

The Justice Department allowed the Live Nation-Ticketmaster merger to proceed despite a 2010 court filing in the case that raised objections to the merger. In the filing, the Justice Department said Ticketmaster’s share among major concert venues exceeded 80%.

Ticketmaster disputes that market share estimate and says it has at most just over 30% of the concert market, according to comments on NPR recently by Berchtold.

On Tuesday, top Democrats and Republicans on the Senate bench weighed in on Ticketmaster’s economic dominance.

“These issues are symptomatic, I think, of a larger problem,” said committee chairman Sen. Dick Durbin, saying live event ticketing was “dominated by a single entity” resulting from the merger. .

Durbin said he believes the legally binding consent agreement allowing Live Nation to enter the deal with terms failed to preserve competition. If the current Justice Department concludes that the consent decree has been violated, “undoing the merger should be on the table,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal said.

Senator Lindsey Graham, the top Republican on the panel, agreed that “the consolidation of power in the hands of the few can create problems for the many.”

“Out of this audience,” he said, “hopefully we can do a better consumer experience by being able to buy tickets for things you want to see without such a debacle” like the ticketing process of Taylor Swift.

As furious fans scrambled to browse the Swift post confusion, their collective anger caught the attention of lawmakers.

Members of Congress used the debacle to criticize Ticketmaster’s control over the live music industry, saying that because Ticketmaster dominates so strongly, it has no reason to make things better for the millions of customers who have no other choice.

“Ticketmaster’s power in the core ticket market insulates it from the competitive pressures that typically drive companies to innovate and improve their services,” Klobuchar, who chairs the antitrust subcommittee, wrote in an open letter to the CEO of Ticketmaster. Ticketmaster in November. “It can lead to the kinds of dramatic service outages we’ve seen this week, where consumers are the ones paying the price.”

Blumenthal echoed Klobuchar’s concerns. He tweeted at the time that the tour “is a perfect example of how the Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger hurts consumers by creating a near monopoly.”

In December, lawmakers from the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino, demanding a briefing on what went wrong and what steps the company was taking to fix the issues.

“The recent ticket presale process for Taylor Swift’s upcoming Eras Tour – during which millions of fans faced delays, lockouts and competition from aggressive scammers, scalpers and bots – raises concerns. concerns about potential unfair and deceptive practices faced by consumers and viewers,” the committee wrote in its letter.

The committee noted that it had previously raised concerns about industry business practices and said it wanted to meet with Rapino to discuss how the company handles tickets for concerts and major tours. He also wants answers on how Ticketmaster plans to improve in the future.

Brian A. Marks, a lecturer in the economics and business analysis department at the University of New Haven’s Pompea College of Business, said he wished Swift had made a appearance at the hearing.

“This hearing seems to be focused on Swift and what happened with the ticket sales. We also have to remember that Taylor Swift and her team negotiated a contract with Ticketmaster for the sale of her concert ticket,” said Marks said.

“Will Congress want to review this contract? For me, what happened with the Swift concert tickets was not necessarily the result of Ticketmaster being the dominant player in the industry,” he said. Artists, and especially big artists like Swift, “are free to go elsewhere,” he said. “That point may be missed in the hearing tomorrow.”

– CNN’s Brian Fung, Frank Pallotta, Chris Isidore and David Goldman contributed to this story

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