Hi Quartz members!
Taylor Swift may be the queen of break-up songs, but the controversy with Ticketmaster and its bungled sales for her latest tour could go down as her most consequential break-up legacy. And now, after being accused for decades of exploiting an unfair monopoly, Ticketmaster has been summoned by lawmakers to a hearing in Washington DC to face the music.
Swift’s Eras Tour was the first chance for fans to see the pop star live since 2018. But when tickets went on sale mid-November, demand from the public crashed the website and Ticketmaster ended up canning the sale in its entirety. The backlash from Swifties was fast and furious.
“We need to do better and we will,” Joe Berchtold, president of Live Nation, Ticketmaster’s parent company, apologized in Tuesday’s hearing. He blamed a wave of bot attacks for creating “a terrible consumer experience” and painted it as an one-off incident.
But many remain unconvinced and point to structural imbalances of power. In 2010, Ticketmaster, already a large player then, was acquired by Live Nation, carving out a heavily dominant position in the market. Because Live Nation owns some of the most major venues that performers covet, it’s able to force acts to also use it as the exclusive promoter and ticketing service. Consumers pay the price: Ticketmaster’s added service fees can sometimes even double the cost of the ticket itself. The company also applies a dynamic pricing system, so that when demand is high for a performer, prices skyrocket. Tickets too often evade real fans yet are abundant on the resale market—often on platforms owned by Live Nation and at prices exponentially higher than original retail.
Swift herself did not participate in the hearing. But three decades ago, musicians did directly try to call for antitrust action against the company. In 1994, Pearl Jam fought against the platform to try to keep its tickets to under $20—which the band said was impossible under Ticketmaster.
BY THE NUMBERS
$94,950: The price for each of five tickets listed for resale on Ticketmaster to attend Swift’s March 24 concert in Las Vegas
$395: The annual fee for a Capital One Venture X credit card, which partnered with Taylor Swift for a commercial to promote her tour. Young fans rushed to apply for the card because it promised presale access to Swift’s concerts.
2010: The year Live Nation and Ticketmaster merged
80%: The market share that Ticketmaster holds in primary ticketing in the US. Meanwhile, the parent company Live Nation controls 70% of the combined ticketing and live event venues market.
30%: The average in service fees that Ticketmaster earns as a percentage of each ticket’s price
POP QUIZ, HOTSHOT
Politicians from both sides of the aisle have leaned heavily into Taylor Swift’s words to admonish Ticketmaster. Which one of the four following snatches of lyric hasn’t yet been used by a lawmaker trying to make a point about Ticketmaster?
- “And I lived in your chess game but you changed the rules every day” — from “Dear John,” Speak Now, 2010
- “Hi, it’s me. I’m the problem, it’s me” — from “Anti-Hero,” Midnights, 2022
- “Running scared, I was there, I remember it all too well” — from “All Too Well,” Red, 2012
- “Karma’s a relaxing thought; aren’t you envious that for you it’s not?” — from “Karma,” Midnights, 2022
Answer: No legislators have used Swift’s chess reference yet. But the other three all cropped up:
Senator Mike Lee: “I have to throw out, in deference to my daughter, Eliza, one more Taylor Swift quote. ‘Karma’s a relaxing thought; aren’t you envious that for you it’s not?’”
Senator Richard Blumenthal: “Ticketmaster had the temerity to imply that the debacle involved in pre-ticket sales was Taylor Swift’s fault because she was failing to do too many concerts. May I suggest respectfully that Ticketmaster ought to look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m the problem, it’s me.’”
Senator Amy Klobuchar: “I believe in capitalism, and to have a strong capitalist system, you have to have competition. You can’t have too much consolidation. Something that, unfortunately for this country, as an ode to Taylor Swift, we know ‘all too well.’”
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Thanks for reading! And don’t hesitate to reach out with comments, questions, or topics you want to know more about.
Shake it off this weekend,
—Tiffany Ap, Quartz’s How We Spend reporter
Additional contributions by Julia Malleck and Samanth Subramanian