‘s president at a Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, seeking to put a spotlight on competition in the live events industry after Ticketmaster botched ticket sales for Taylor Swift’s latest concert tour.
Live Nation (ticker: LYV) merged with Ticketmaster in 2010, but under a consent decree with the Justice Department, it isn’t allowed to require venues for its events to use Ticketmaster to handle sales, or retaliate if they use another company. That restriction extends to 2025.
Still, lawmakers questioned whether the combined company, with an estimated 70% share of the live event market, is a monopoly. Several witnesses agreed that it was, although the company disputes that figure.
While several witnesses told lawmakers that it has agreements to handle ticketing at more than 80% of pro basketball, football, and hockey venues, Joe Berchtold, Live Nation’s president and chief financial officer, countered that he believed the ticketing industry has never been more competitive.
Live Nation’s share of the market exploded into controversy last fall, when the botched sale of Taylor Swift tickets left many fans empty-handed and angry. Sen. John Kennedy (R., La.) called the way Swift’s tour tickets were handled “a debacle” at the hearing, saying: “If you really care about the consumer, give the consumer a break. Not every kid can afford $500 to go see Taylor Swift.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) said the issue of competition had united both Republicans and Democrats, and that “unwinding the merger ought to be on the table.”
When senators announced plans for the hearing, they said they wanted to look at whether the merger had created a company with a competitive position so strong that it didn’t feel an urgent need to invest in its technology. More investment might have allowed Ticketmaster to withstand the rush of demand it faced when tickets for the Taylor Swift concert went on sale.
Berchtold testified that it has spent $1 billion since the merger to upgrade Ticketmaster’s system, including spending millions on anti-bot systems. It was a storm of bots, or systems designed to swoop in on ticket sales ahead of actual fans, that created the Swift ticket-sale meltdown.
“While the bots failed to penetrate our systems or acquire any tickets, the attack required us to slow down and even pause our sales,” Berchtold said in his prepared remarks. “This is what led to a terrible consumer experience that we deeply regret.”
Citing rising prices, hidden fees, bots, and scalpers, Blumenthal said: “May I suggest that Ticketmaster look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m the problem. It’s me.’”
Berchtold disputed the frequently cited number that says Live Nation controls nearly 70% of the ticketing market, saying it is closer to 50% to 60%.
SeatGeek co-founder and CEO Jack Groetzinger said in prepared remarks that innovation in live event ticketing has been “stunted” because Live Nation “controls the most popular entertainers in the world, the ticketing systems, and even many of the venues.”
Jerry Mickelson, the CEO of concert and event promoter Jam Productions, said the Live Nation-Ticketmaster merger was “vertical integration on steroids,” and had cut his company off from live indoor arena shows and harmed competition. “This is a very compelling reason to vigorously enforce antitrust legislation,” he said in prepared remarks.
Michelson reminded the committee that he warned at a 2009 hearing against allowing Live Nation and Ticketmaster to merge, saying it would have “devastating impacts” for promoters, ticketing, venues, and consumers.
Clyde Lawrence, a singer-songwriter from New York, testified that artists have little to no say about the fees tacked on to their ticket prices. “What I really want is for artists to have a say in those fees and for those fees to be lower.”