The legislators are set to grill top managers event ticketing industry on Tuesday after Ticketmaster’s failure to process orders for Taylor Swift’s upcoming tour left millions of fans unable to purchase tickets or without their ticket, even after purchase.
Joe Berchtold, the president and chief financial officer of Ticketmaster parent company Live Nation Entertainment, is set to testify before a Senate committee on Tuesday, two months after the Swift ticket fiasco reignited public scrutiny of the industry. Jack Groetzinger, CEO of ticketing platform SeatGeek, is also scheduled to testify at the hearing.
Tickets for Swift’s new five-month Eras Tour — which kicks off March 17 and will feature 52 concerts in multiple stadiums across the U.S. — went on sale on Ticketmaster in mid-November. High demand snarled the ticket site and annoyed fans who couldn’t get tickets. Customers complained that Ticketmaster wasn’t loading, saying the platform wouldn’t allow them to access tickets even though they had a presale code for verified fans.
Unable to resolve the issues, Ticketmaster subsequently canceled Swift’s sale of concert tickets to the public, citing “extraordinarily high demands on ticketing systems and insufficient remaining ticket inventory to meet this demand.”
As the furor grew among legions of hardcore Swifties, Swift herself weighed in on the failure. “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 these relationships and loyalties, and it’s excruciating for me to just watch mistakes happen with no recourse.”
As a result, the US Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled the hearing for Tuesday titled “That’s The Ticket: Promoting Competition and Protecting Consumers in Live Entertainment” to examine the lack of competition in the ticketing industry.
“The problems within the US ticketing industry were made painfully obvious when Ticketmaster’s website failed hundreds of thousands of fans hoping to buy tickets for Taylor Swift’s new tour, but these problems are not new,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, who sits on the committee. in a statement on the consultation. “We will examine how consolidation in the live entertainment and ticketing industry hurts both customers and artists. Without competition to encourage better services and fair prices, we all suffer the consequences.”
In addition to the executives, the committee said witnesses at the hearing will include Jerry Mickelson, CEO of Jam Productions, one of the largest producers of live entertainment, and singer-songwriter Clyde Lawrence.
Lawrence, who has composed music for films including the Disney+ holiday comedy “Noelle,” wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times in December titled “Taylor Swift’s Live Nation Debacle Is Just the Beginning,” in which he criticized Live Nation for allegedly be a monopoly and to the detriment of artists.
“Whether or not it meets the legal definition of a monopoly, Live Nation’s control over the live music ecosystem is staggering,” he wrote.
Criticism of Ticketmaster’s dominance goes back decadesbut the Swift ticket incident has once again turned that question into a dinner table discussion in many households.
Concert promoter Live Nation and ticketing company Ticketmaster, two of the largest companies in the concert industry, announced their merger in 2009. The deal at the time raised concerns, including from the US Department of Justice, that it would create a near-monopoly in the industry.
The Justice Department allowed the Live Nation-Ticketmaster merger to proceed despite a 2010 lawsuit in the case raising 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, saying at most it holds just over 30% of the concert market, according to comments on NPR recently by Berchtold.
While angry fans were left to wade through the Swift ticket confusion, their collective anger caught the attention of lawmakers.
Members of Congress used the debacle to criticize Ticketmaster’s control of the live music industry, says 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 primary ticketing market insulates it from the competitive pressures that typically push companies to innovate and improve their services,” Klobuchar, who chairs the antitrust subcommittee, wrote in an open letter to Ticketmaster’s CEO in November. “That could result in the types of dramatic service failures we saw this week, with consumers paying the price.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal echoed Klobuchar’s concerns. He tweeted at the time that the tour “is a perfect example of how the Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger is hurting 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 is taking to address the issues.
“The recent pre-sale ticketing process for Taylor Swift’s upcoming Eras tour – where millions of fans endured delays, lockouts and competition from aggressive scammers, scalpers and bots – raises concerns about the potential unfair and deceptive practices facing consumers and event-goers, ” wrote the committee in its letter.
The committee noted that it had previously raised concerns about the industry’s business practices and said it wanted to meet with Rapino to discuss how the company handles tickets for concerts and major tours. It also wants answers on how Ticketmaster plans to improve in the future.
Brian A. Marks, an associate professor in the department of economics and business analysis at the University of New Haven’s Pompea College of Business, said he would have liked Swift to make a appearance at the hearing.
“This hearing seems to be focused on Swift and what happened with ticket sales. We also have to remember that Taylor Swift and her team negotiated a contract with Ticketmaster to sell her concert tickets,” Marks said.
“Will Congress look at that contract? To me, what happened with the Swift concert tickets wasn’t necessarily the result of Ticketmaster being the dominant player in the industry,” he said. Artists, and especially bigger artists like Swift, “are free to other places,” he said. “This point may be missed in tomorrow’s hearing.”
— CNN’s Frank Pallotta, Chris Isidore and David Goldman contributed to this story