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What Ticketmaster's Taylor Swift debacle reveals about the music industry's monopoly problem

In this photo illustration, A ticketmaster website is shown on a computer screen on November 18, 2022 in Miami, Florida. The Justice Department is reportedly investigating the parent company of Ticketmaster for possible antitrust violations, this follows the news that Taylor Swift concert ticket sales overwhelmed the Ticketmaster system.(Photo illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
In this photo illustration, A ticketmaster website is shown on a computer screen on November 18, 2022 in Miami, Florida. The Justice Department is reportedly investigating the parent company of Ticketmaster for possible antitrust violations, this follows the news that Taylor Swift concert ticket sales overwhelmed the Ticketmaster system.(Photo illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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Taylor Swift fans broke Ticketmaster last week.

But many critics argue the ticketing company has been broken since it merged with Live Nation and monopolized the concert industry 12 years ago.

“They know the amount of power they have and that’s why it’s the level of product that it is,” guest Krista Burke says.

Swifties now have some “Bad Blood” with Ticketmaster, and they aren’t likely to just “Shake It Off.”

Today, On Point: Congress has tried for years to reign in this ticketing monopoly – will Taylor Swift Fans make all the difference?

Guests

Krista Brown, senior policy analyst at the American Economic Liberties Project. Co-author of the report “How Antitrust Enforcers Helped Create a Live Events Monster.”

Andre Barlow, antitrust lawyer.

Also Featured

Jack Orbin, former owner of Stone City Attractions, an independent concert promoter in San Antonio.

Kathryn Dickel, founder and CEO of Midwest tickets, a small ticketing company in Des Moines, Iowa.

Interview Highlights

On the initiative Break Up Ticketmaster, and how it came about

Krista Brown: “To give some context, my organization is an anti-monopoly organization, meaning we look at harms of consolidation across the economy. And for the past two years, we’ve dug into the harms of Ticketmaster. This fall, you really saw an opportunity to formalize our efforts and kind of bring together other coalition members, because there was the political interest.

“And then we have the public interest from Bruce Springsteen fans that saw crazy prices over the summer. And then we just have strong leadership right now with Jonathan Kanter and Lina Khan, the heads of the antitrust agencies. We see that if there is going to ever be an opportunity to break up this company, now’s the time to really go for it.”

On Ticketmaster’s monopoly

Krista Brown: “First and foremost, I would say we wouldn’t have seen the results that we did if there wasn’t such a bottleneck issue. So if there was multiple ticketing services that people could turn to. And to be fair, there were a few venues … I believe five were sold under a different ticketing service. But for the rest of them, they were all using Ticketmaster. And it’s not because it was promoted by Ticketmaster, but it’s because Ticketmaster has exclusive contracts with the venues that she was going to.

“And that’s because they have exclusive contracts with 80% of the largest venues. So despite her potentially trying to use an alternative, she can’t really get around them. And going back to that bottleneck issue, when you have one sole source of entry, you can’t really handle capacity. And we have antitrust laws that are meant to maintain competition and deal with these issues and make sure that customers don’t have to engage with just one supplier. But unfortunately, that is kind of the case today, and that’s what we saw for Taylor Swift fans.”

On the impact of the Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger on artists 

Clyde Lawrence (via Instagram Live): “We do come in and say we have a full-fledged ticket company that we’ve created that allows us to give our fans way cheaper fees, makes everybody happy, allows us to have a direct connection with our fans, a million different reasons why it’s good. And they just say, no, we have to use Ticketmaster. It’s a live nation venue. We’re using Ticketmaster. So all these other great ticket companies, it’s great that they exist, but they’re sort of irrelevant in the grand scheme of things until Live Nation venues are not exclusively dominating the market and exclusively requiring you to use Ticketmaster.”

On how Ticketmaster impacts small ticketing companies

Kathryn Dickel: “We were literally like our office was right around the corner from this venue. And this is like one of Des Moines biggest local venues, right? So we’re a local company, we’re women owned tech business. We came in super low. We had 15 years under our belt of ticketing. We have on the ground support literally right around the corner. Like, there’s no reason that we shouldn’t have gotten this gig. But what we were told is that if they were going to go with us, then they would not get shows that Ticketmaster promoters would be bringing into their venue. Because they use Ticketmaster, and they didn’t want to put those on the line.”

Do you think that there is the political appetite to get anything done in the legislative level?

Andre Barlow: “I think there is some political appetite. New laws are needed. But I agree that what is really necessary is a breakup of the two companies. I mean of the merged firm and make them into two companies. Because that that is the only way that you’re going to solve all of these problems. Because a lot of it is related to the market power that they have in concert promotion and into ticket distribution. So, yes, legislation would help. Yes, it helps when the FTC Consumer Protection Bureau is taking action on some of these ticket prices and fees. But what is more important is actually making a big push to the antitrust division to get them to act.”

Related Reading

Statement from Ticketmaster: “TAYLOR SWIFT | THE ERAS TOUR ONSALE EXPLAINED” — “We strive to make ticket buying as easy as possible for fans, but that hasn’t been the case for many people trying to buy tickets for Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour. First, we want to apologize to Taylor and all of her fans – especially those who had a terrible experience trying to purchase tickets.”

Statement from Live Nation: “STATEMENT FROM LIVE NATION ENTERTAINMENT” — “As we have stated many times in the past, Live Nation takes its responsibilities under the antitrust laws seriously and does not engage in behaviors that could justify antitrust litigation, let alone orders that would require it to alter fundamental business practices.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.