Taylor Swift was the protagonist this Tuesday at the Capitol. She was not there, but everyone was talking about her. Democrats and Republicans put aside their differences for a day to accuse Ticketmaster of monopoly in a session on account of the fiasco in the sale of tickets for the American singer’s tour. And since they agreed on the political diagnosis, they vied to quote the lyrics of Taylor Swift’s songs. The winner was undoubtedly Mike Lee, a Republican senator from Utah.
In his speech, Lee paraphrased a verse from you belong with me to joke about the Democratic victory in the Senate elections on November 8, he referred to the Karma at the end of his speech and cited the “nightmare dressed as a dream” of Blank Space in relation to the management of ticket sales.
For whom his passage through the commission was a nightmare was for the president of Live Nation Entertainment, Joe Berchtold, the target of all the shots. Live Nation, the largest concert promoter in the United States, controls the major venues and Ticketmaster has a share of more than 70% of ticket sales. Both merged in 2010 despite doubts about the competition that the operation generated and the resulting group has breached some of the commitments it assumed to obtain the green light for the merger.
Berchtold was the first to appear to intervene in the session of the Senate judicial committee. He accused the bots of causing the system to crash during Taylor Swift’s tour ticket sales, apologized to the singer and her fans, assured that Ticketmaster has not gained market share, but has lost it since the merger and He admitted that the company had things to improve, but that it was not acting like a monopoly. “We have to do better and we will,” he said.
Hardly had he finished his words, the head of his competitor SeatGeek, Jack Groetzinger, struck the first blow: “The only way to regain competition in this sector is to separate Live Nation and Ticketmaster,” he said. According to SeatGeek, if a stadium or large venue doesn’t award ticket sales to Ticketmaster, Live Nation takes the music elsewhere. On Taylor Swift’s tour, promoted by Live Nation, 47 of the 52 concerts are at venues where tickets are sold by Ticketmaster, she said.
Jerry Mickelson, the head of promoter Jam Productions, comes to the same conclusion from the other market, that of concert organization: “Today we know for sure that this merger is vertical integration on steroids, that it uses dominance in a market to expand their power and dominance in another, eliminating competition and hurting consumers. And he wondered, “Would Coca-Cola allow Pepsi to distribute its products?” When he organizes a concert, he argued, he ends up favoring his rival because he is forced to sell tickets through Ticketmaster.
Sal Nuzzo of The James Madison Institute and Kathleen Bradish of the American Antitrust Institute characterized Live Nation as a monopoly from a more theoretical point of view. And to complete the panorama, Clyde Lawrence, from the Lawrence band, intervened as the last guest. “We’re not artists on the level of Bruce Springsteen and Taylor Swift yet, but we hope to be big enough one day to crash the ticketing website,” he began joking.
Lawrence exposed the hardships relatively modest bands face when dealing with Live Nation and Ticketmaster. “In a world where the promoter and the venue are not tied to each other, we can trust that the promoter will try to get the best deal from the venue; however, in this case, the promoter and venue are part of the same corporate entity, so it is essentially Live Nation negotiating to pay itself. And just to be clear, because of Live Nation’s control of the entire industry, we have virtually no say in the discussion of these games, nor are we offered much transparency about it. If they want to charge 10% of each entry and call it “installation fee”, they can do it (and they do); If they want to charge us $250 for a stack of 10 clean towels, they can do it (and they do)”, he said, referring to the premises that the promoter controls directly.
And when it comes to tickets, the relationship between the promoter and Ticketmaster is just as bad for musicians, according to Lawrence. “If an artist performs at a Live Nation venue, the artist has no choice but to sell the tickets through Ticketmaster,” he has said. and he has given an example of a typical concert with a price of 30 dollars per ticket: the fan who attends the concert does not pay 30 but 42 dollars for the commission that Ticketmaster charges. Of that gross amount, the band receives $12 and approximately half goes to tour expenses: “That leaves us, a band of eight musicians, $6 per ticketbefore taxes. And we pay our own health insurance.”
These initial presentations have left the ground prepared for the Democratic and Republican senators, beginning with the president of the commission, Amy Klobuchar, from Minnesota (like Prince and Bob Dylan, she has underlined as credentials), who has said that what she has heard is the “definition of monopoly”, and also launching into quoting Taylor Swift when saying that excessive consolidation is bad for the country. “We know it too well (All too well)”.
The senators were not only critical of Taylor Swift’s handling of ticket sales (“a debacle,” according to Republican John Kennedy), but some of them even argued that the merger should be undone if the group does not comply with the assumed regulatory commitments. “Live Nation/Ticketmaster is the 900-pound gorilla here,” said Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal. “This whole concert ticket system is a disaster, a monopolistic disaster.”
The senators also discussed possible measures, including making tickets non-transferable to prevent scalping and requiring more transparency in commissions and fees from promoters and ticket sellers. Kennedy also suggested that big artists like Taylor Swift or Bruce Springsteen should require price caps. “Not every kid can afford $500 to go see Taylor Swift,” he said.
Blumenthal addressed Live Nation’s president directly: “I want to congratulate and thank you for an absolutely impressive achievement. They have brought Republicans and Democrats together in an absolutely common cause.” He couldn’t resist quoting Taylor Swift either, in this case with the song Anti Hero: “May I respectfully suggest that Ticketmaster should look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m the problem. It’s me”.
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