Taylor Swift fans’ outrage at the collapse of Ticketmaster’s service on Tuesday has highlighted a common and recurring criticism of the ticketing company: There’s practically no getting around Ticketmaster if you want to attend an event.
Tuesday’s meltdown brought demands from lawmakers to break up Live Nation, the country’s biggest concert promoter and parent company of Ticketmaster, which it says has a stranglehold on ticket sales for top events.
“A daily reminder that Ticketmaster is a monopoly, its merger with LiveNation should never have been approved and it must be curbed,” tweeted US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“@Ticketmaster’s excessive wait times and fees are totally unacceptable, as evidenced by @taylorswift13’s tickets today, and are a symptom of a larger problem. It’s no secret that Live Nation-Ticketmaster is an unaudited monopoly.” tweeted Rep. David Cicilline, currently Chair of the Antitrust Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee.
Ticketmaster did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But complaints about the company’s monopoly date back long, well before Tuesday’s ticket woes, when the platform appeared to crash or freeze during presale purchases for Swift’s latest tour.
In 1994, when Taylor Swift was just four years old and the queues for ticket purchases were in person rather than online, rock group Pearl Jam filed a complaint with the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, alleging that Ticketmaster had a “virtually absolute monopoly on distributing tickets for concerts.” 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 these complaints, Ticketmaster became increasingly dominant. Pearl Jam’s complaint was quietly dismissed. The Justice Department and the states have approved the merger of Live Nation Ticketmaster. That’s despite a 2010 court filing objecting to the merger, in which the Justice Department said Ticketmaster’s share of major concert venues exceeded 80%.
Ticketmaster disputes that market share estimate, estimating that it holds at most just over 30% of the concert market, according to comments recently commented on by Live Nation Entertainment (LYV) CFO Joe Berchtold on NPR.
But the market share numbers don’t matter with the thousands of shows and Sporting events for which Ticketmaster has contracts to handle the initial sale of tickets, be it for a Taylor Swift concert at an NFL stadium, or a little-known band playing at an intimate club.
And fans looking to attend these events have virtually no choice but to pay the hefty fees that Ticketmaster tacks onto ticket prices.
Previous efforts to curb Ticketmaster’s control of the ticket market have failed. Pearl Jam ceased its efforts in 1995. The Justice Department and states gave their approval to the Live Nation-Ticketmaster combo, albeit with a degree of oversight.