Taylor Swift concert fiasco leads to US Senate grilling for Ticketmaster

WASHINGTON, Jan 24 (Reuters) – U.S. senators criticized Live Nation Entertainment for its lack of transparency and inability to stop bot buying of tickets in a hearing called after a major fiasco involving ticket sales for Taylor Swift’s upcoming concert tour.

Live Nation Entertainment Inc (LYV.N) Assistant Ticketmaster, which has been unpopular with fans for years, has drawn fresh heat from U.S. lawmakers over how it handled ticket sales last fall for Swift’s “Eras” tour, her first in five years. Experts say Ticketmaster has more than 70% market share of primary ticketing services for major US concert venues.

“We apologize to the fans, we apologize to Ms. Swift, we need to do better and we will do better,” Live Nation president and chief financial officer Joe Berchtold told a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday.

“In hindsight there are a lot of things we could have done better — including being able to surprise sales over the long term and doing a better job of setting fan expectations for getting tickets,” Berchtold said.

Republican Senator Mike Lee said in an opening statement that the Ticketmaster debacle highlighted the importance of the idea that “new laws, or perhaps better enforcement of existing laws, may be necessary to protect the American public.”

Lack of competition

Senators criticized Berchtold for Live Nation’s fee structure and inability to deal with bots that buy bulk tickets and resell them at inflated prices.

“There is no transparency when no one knows who sets the fees,” said Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, responding to Berchtold’s claim that Live Nation fees are based on “ratings.”

Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn called Live Nation’s bot problem “unbelievable,” pointing out that many small companies are able to limit bad actors in their systems.

“You have to be able to get some good advice from people and figure it out,” she said.

Republican Senator John Kennedy said, referring to Live Nation’s dominance of the ticket sales market, “I’m not against big copies, but I’m against stupid.” “The way your company handled ticket sales for Ms. Swift was a debacle, and whoever was in charge of it at your company should be fired.

“If you care about the consumer, cut the price! Cut out the bots! Cut out the middlemen and if you really care about the consumer, give the consumer a break!”

Jack Grotzinger, co-founder of ticket sales platform SeatGeek, testified that the process of buying tickets is “outdated and ripe for innovation” and called for the breakup of Live Nation and Ticketmaster, which merged in 2010.

“As long as Live Nation remains both a major concert promoter and ticketer of major venues in the United States, the industry will lack competition and strife,” he told lawmakers.

Ticketmaster has argued that bots used by scalpers were behind the Taylor Swift debacle, and Berchtold asked for more help to combat bots buying tickets for resale.

Other witnesses included Jerry Mickelson, president of JAM Productions, which is critical of Ticketmaster.

In November, Ticketmaster canceled planned ticket sales for Swift’s tour to the general public after more than 3.5 billion requests from fans, bots and scalpers overwhelmed its website.

Senator Klobuchar, head of the Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, said the issues raised in November were not new and likely stemmed from consolidation in the ticketing industry.

In November, Ticketmaster denied any anticompetitive practices and noted that it was under a consent decree with the Justice Department after its 2010 merger with Liv Nation, saying there was “no evidence of systemic violations of the consent decree.”

A previous Ticketmaster dispute with the Justice Department culminated in an agreement in December 2019 to extend the consent agreement through 2025.

Reporting by Diane Bartz, Moira Warburton and David Shepardson; Edited by Jonathan Otis

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Focuses on US antitrust as well as corporate regulation and law, with experience covering the war in Bosnia, elections in Mexico and Nicaragua, as well as stories from Brazil, Chile, Cuba, El Salvador, Nigeria and Peru.


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