When the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on Tuesday and questions Live Nation/Ticketmaster’s management about market competition and consumer protections, senators should prepare for an Oscar-worthy performance in finger-pointing and deflection.
They will blame ticket bots for the Taylor Swift fiasco. It is an act of storytelling, relying on a tired but reliable scapegoat.
The company repeatedly blames bots and scalpers when problems arise in live-event ticketing. The company does something similar with high fees — blaming artists, venues and promoters, of which many are controlled by Live Nation/Ticketmaster. Bots are not the sole or even the biggest problem; rather, the real issue is Ticketmaster’s desire to dominate the full spectrum of live events.
Lawmakers should not be fooled by Ticketmaster’s blame game for two reasons.
First, Ticketmaster clarified that bots did not breach its systems when Taylor Swift tickets were first offered. A since-deleted blog post on its website stated “every ticket was sold to a buyer with a Verified Fan code. Nobody (not even a bot) could join a queue without being Verified. The two million tickets we sold only went to Verified Fans.”
Second, bots are illegal. Six years ago, Congress passed the BOTS Act, which outlaws the use of ticket bots and the sale or purchase of tickets obtained by bots. The Federal Trade Commission has enforced the law on only one occasion.
Unfortunately, without evidence from ticketing giants like Ticketmaster, the commission faces an impossible task in enforcing the law. If Ticketmaster has evidence of rampant abuse of its platform by bots, as it claims it does not, it should report this information to federal authorities so offenders can be brought to justice.
The fallout since Taylor Swift tickets never went on sale to the general public is incredible. The Department of Justice has reportedly launched a monopoly investigation into the company’s conduct and alleged skirting of its merger consent order. Several state attorneys general have followed suit. Now Congress is seeking solutions to better protect consumers and the market.
While other companies desire to offer “primary ticketing services” for event organizers, none come close to Ticketmaster’s size, scale and influence. Ticketmaster’s distant closest competitor, AEG/AXS, was hired by Swift to promote her tour. But even it acknowledged it did not have the option of selling Swift tickets through its platform since most stadiums booked for the tour were contractually bound to sell tickets exclusively through Ticketmaster. This venue example is indicative of the cabal that Live Nation/Ticketmaster has methodically developed over decades.
Absent action by regulators and Congress to rein in Live Nation/Ticketmaster, the Taylor Swift meltdown is unlikely to be the last time fans are left out in the cold. Fans eager to buy tickets to NFL playoff games are finding themselves stuck in the same conundrum Swifties encountered last fall: enduring an hours-long online queue in the minute hope of scoring tickets when they barely had a chance to begin with.
While Tuesday’s hearing is a good start, Congress and regulators must address structural problems in the live-events industry. A holistic solution is needed because one too-big-to-fail, vertically integrated global live events and ticketing behemoth maintains an iron grip over music artists, tour promotion, venues, ticketing, sports teams and fans.