Taylor Swift fans, and Congress, take on Ticketmaster
Twins Izzy and Alexa Harrison, of Potomac, Maryland, have a room that is like a shrine to Taylor Swift. They also sport Taylor Swift merch, wearing her cardigan sweaters, and sporting her necklace. “She’s my role model, and she just makes me happy,” said Alexa.
But the twins were not happy when their mom was unable to get tickets for Swift’s upcoming Eras Tour using a special code that Ticketmaster gave out to verified fans who had bought Swift’s merchandise and downloaded her music. “Just disappointing and, like, upsetting,” said Izzy.
The twins’ mom, Penny Harrison, spent several hours just trying to sign on: “I signed on at 9:30 in the morning, and at 10:00 it kicked me out, and then you just sign back on again. So, by the time I got in, it was 4:30 in the afternoon,” she said. The problems continued for several hours as she tried and failed to purchase seats. “Any time I would click on something and try to put it in the basket, it would say, ‘Somebody else got those tickets, try again.’ I kept clicking, ‘Somebody else got those tickets.’ I kept trying to sign on all night.”
She wasn’t the only Swifty (as the fans call themselves) who couldn’t just “shake it off.” But one shut-out Swifty thought it was time to be “fearless.” In a TikTok post Dallas personal injury attorney Jennifer Kinder said, “We need to sue Ticketmaster.”
More than 300 other disappointed fans (including Penny Harrison) joined Kinder’s lawsuit against Ticketmaster, in which she is alleging fraud, misrepresentation, and anti-trust violations.
Braver asked, “Their argument, of course, is going to be, ‘Hey, this was like a lottery. You weren’t guaranteed to win.'”
“I don’t think that this is a lottery,” Kinder said. “It is a purposeful manipulation of a sale, in order to increase their profit. That’s really what this is about.”
The fans who are suing have one key supporter: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). “I’m always rooting for people that are taking on big monopolies,” she explained.
Klobuchar charges that Ticketmaster and its parent company, the concert promoter Live Nation Entertainment, do constitute a monopoly, controlling 70% of the big concert ticket market, leaving fans and artists alike nowhere else to go.
“They’ve actually starting buying arenas,” Klobuchar said, “but for the arenas that they don’t own, they tend to lock in on three- or five- or seven-year contracts, so that those arenas are boxed out of using competitors. So, picture this: there they are with the monopoly on the tickets, then they’ve got the promotion, then they’ve got the arenas.”
And, as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s anti-trust subcommittee, Klobuchar called a high-profile hearing a week-and-a-half ago to question whether Live Nation Entertainment needs to be broken up.
At the January 24 hearing, Klobuchar said, “Taylor Swift is just one example; whether it’s Bruce Springsteen or BTS or Bad Bunny, or in the past Pearl Jam or the Pixies, fans, artists and venues are facing real issues with Live Nation.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) noted (tongue firmly in cheek) that Live Nation had done the almost impossible in deeply-partisan Washington: “I want to congratulate and thank you for an absolutely stunning achievement: You have brought together Republicans and Democrats in an absolutely unified cause.”
Joe Berchtold, Live Nation Entertaiment’s president and chief financial officer, blamed it all on an unprecedented BOT attack: “This is what led to a terrible consumer experience, which we deeply regret. We need to do better, and we will do better.”
Senators were not appeased. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) suggested a ban on ticket re-sales to foil scalpers from jacking up prices: “Cap the price, cut out the bots, cut out the middle people.”
And as for those annoying fees that can add many dollars to a ticket price, Klobuchar asked why Live Nation hasn’t done more to reduce them. Berchtold replied, “The fees are set by the venues.”
Also appearing before the sub-committee, singer-songwriter Clyde Lawrence begged to differ: “We asked that question to the venues, and they say, ‘Not only do we not choose what it is, we don’t even know what it is, we can’t even tell you what it’s going to be.'”
More than a decade ago, when Live Nation and Ticketmaster first wanted to merge, there was so much concern about competition that the Justice Department insisted on a consent decree that would “forbid the company from engaging in anti-competitive conduct.”
Klobuchar told “Sunday Morning,” “Well, they had violations of that, clear violations. And because of that, they have basically extended that consent decree. It keeps going. But whatever they’ve done, it hasn’t been enough.”
And Dean Budnick, who has written a book on the ticket industry, says – deliberate or not – just being part of Live Nation gives Ticketmaster an edge. (Or, to quote Taylor Swift, “It’s hard to fight when the fight ain’t fair.”)
“You don’t need to directly communicate to a would-be venue partner, ‘Hey, we’re affilated with Live Nation, the biggest concert promoter in the country. And maybe if you don’t enter into a contract with us, you might not get Live Nation shows,'” Budnick said.
CBS News has confirmed that, even before the Taylor Swift ticket snafu, the Justice Department has begun an investigation into the practices of Live Nation Entertainment, Ticketmaster’s parent company. The company would not give us an interview for this story.
Still, Budnick argues that Ticketmaster shouldn’t get all the blame: “Ticketmaster’s clients are not the concert-goers; Ticketmaster’s clients are the venues and the promoters. And so, when customers get outraged at times, Ticketmaster, historically, they’ve always been willing to sort of put on the asbestos suit and take the heat.”
But Taylor Swift fans like Penny Harrison and attorney Jennifer Kinder, who demonstrated outside the Capitol hearing, are demanding action: “When something is wrong and not fair, it’s our responsibility to try to make the change,” Kinder said.
And with Ticketmaster starting sales tomorrow for Beyonce’s upcoming concert tour, Washington is watching.
“This is just an incredible gift in America, which is this music industry, something we’ve literally given the world,” said Klobuchar. “And when you have one entity that is basically ticketing all the events and letting fans in the door, that gives them inordinate power.”
For more info:
Story produced by David Rothman. Editor: Ed Givnish.
The 65th Grammy Awards will be presented on Sunday, February 5, and will be broadcast live on CBS and on demand via Paramount+ beginning at 7 p.m. ET.
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