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Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) led the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, entitled “That’s the Ticket: Promoting Competition and Protecting Consumers in Live Entertainment.” Klobuchar and Lee were specifically focused on whether Live Nation had violated its consent decree, a set of conditions and divestitures Live Nation and Ticketmaster agreed to when they merged in order to ensure competition.
The hearing follows the Taylor Swift ticket presale on Ticketmaster on Nov. 15, in which fans experienced long wait times and site outages during the Verified Fan presale and the Capital One pre-sale the next day.
During the hearing, Live Nation President and CFO Joe Berchtold blamed bots and cyber attacks for the problems during the ticket sale, adding that bots failed to acquire tickets, but that dealing with the attacks slowed down the site.
“This is what led to a terrible consumer experience, which we deeply regret. We apologize to the fans. We apologize to Miss Swift. We need to do better and we will do better,” Berchtold said. He added that he supported broadening the BOTS Act and showing all the fees in the original ticket price.
However, many of the Senators on the committee and witnesses, who included Clyde Lawrence, singer-songwriter for the band Lawrence and Jack Groetzinger, CEO of SeatGeek, a Ticketmaster competitor, were more concerned about Live Nation’s behavior and what they see as its unfair position as a venue owner or operator, ticket seller and promoter in many instances. The Department of Justice is said to be conducting an antitrust investigation into Live Nation, which Klobuchar mentioned as “reportedly going on,” indicating that the committee didn’t have further knowledge of it.
The original consent decree prohibited Live Nation from threatening to withhold concerts from a venue if that venue does not choose Ticketmaster for its sales. The decree was amended and modified in late 2019, and is now active through 2025, after the U.S. Department of Justice said the company had repeatedly violated this provision. Klobuchar argued that this behavior is still happening.
“We have talked to many venues, some of which aren’t willing to come forward, unlike one of them that is here today, but that say even if they’re not out there threatening them, they’re afraid to go to someone else, because then they’re not going to get the acts that they want. This is all a definition of monopoly because Live Nation is so powerful that it doesn’t even need to exert pressure, it doesn’t need to threaten, because people just fall in line,” Klobuchar said in her opening statement.
Groetzinger added that after SeatGeek took over ticketing of New York City’s Barclays Center in 2021 from Ticketmaster, Barclays saw a decrease in the number of Live Nation concert bookings. This led to Barclays returning to Ticketmaster for its concert bookings, one year after making the change, while keeping SeatGeek for its basketball games.
He added that he believed Ticketmaster was now moving to sign longer exclusivity deals on ticketing, increasing them to 10 years rather than five, in light of the recent regulatory pressures.
”So there’s not a lot of time if we want competition in this industry,” Groetzinger said.
In response, Berchtold said “It is absolutely our policy to not pressure, threaten or retaliate against venues by using content as part of the ticketing discussion.” He also pushed back on the claim made by Seatgeek, arguing that the decrease in the number of acts at Barclays came from increased competition from another venue opening nearby.
Of the approximately 4,000 venues in the U.S., Live Nation operates about 200 of them, he said, with the company operating as exclusive promoter of 40 more buildings. He estimated that the company has 50 percent to 60 percent of market share on the ticketing side, while others pushed back saying that the company has the majority of the big tours and contracts at venues that house NBA, NFL and NHL games.
Berchtold went on to argue that there is still competition in the industry, due to the emergence of the secondary market, and that there is a limit to what the company does.
“We do not set ticket prices. We do not decide how many tickets go on sale, and when, and we do not set service fees,” Berchtold, adding that the artists set the base prices and the venues, some of which Live Nation owns, sets the service fees.
However, Lawrence painted a different picture of his experience as a touring musician with his soul-pop band. While acknowledging that his band is not at the level of Swift or other stadium-level artists, the musician outlined a common scenario in which the eight-member band makes a profit of $6 on tickets that cost $30, but were listed at $42 due to fees collected by Ticketmaster.
“If they want to take 10 percent of the revenues and call it a facility fee, they can and have. If they want to charge $30,000 for the house nut, they can and have. And if they want to charge us $250 for a stack of 10 clean towels, they can and have,” Lawrence said.
“In a world where the promoter and the venue are not affiliated with each other. We can trust that the promoter will look to get the best deal from the venue. However, in this case, the promoter and the venue are part of the same corporate entity. So these line items are essentially Live Nation negotiating to pay itself. Does that seem fair?” he continued.
Other witnesses at the hearing included Jerry Mickelson, CEO and president of concert promoter JAM Productions, who testified against the original merge in 2009; Sal Nuzzo, senior vice president of The James Madison Institute, a think tank based in Florida and Kathleen Bradish, vice president for legal advocacy of the American Antitrust Institute. Asked by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) whether they believed Live Nation was a monopoly, all said yes, other than Lawrence who said he was not sure.
Klobuchar has been an outspoken opponent against Ticketmaster, after writing an open letter to Ticketmaster’s President and CEO Michael Rapino in November, following the Taylor Swift ticket sales. In the letter, Klobuchar questioned the company’s fee increases and system outages and added that she has been “skeptical” of its merger with Live Nation since 2010.
Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) also joined the fray and sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission in November asking the agency how it plans to combat “the use and operation of bots in the online ticket marketplace.”
Attorneys General in Nevada, Tennessee and Pennsylvania have launched investigations into the Taylor Swift pre-sale. Additionally fans have filed at least two lawsuits against Ticketmaster over the pre-sale.
When it came to solutions, senators on the committee suggested spinning off parts of the company, a move that would require action by the Department of Justice, banning speculative tickets (where brokers sell tickets they do not yet have), instituting more transparency on ticket pricing for the consumers, as well as the artists, and potentially not allowing tickets to be transferred, a scenario Lee said would be “a nightmare dressed like a daydream,” one of many Swift references made throughout the hearing.
Still, the senators pledged to take action on the situation, with Lee leaving Live Nation with one more Swift song lyric to think about in his closing remarks.
“Karma’s a relaxing thought, aren’t you envious that for you it’s not?,” Lee asked.
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