Senators question Ticketmaster over competition in wake of Taylor Swift ticket debacle

WASHINGTON – Taylor Swift took center stage during the Senate’s Tuesday hearing to examine the lack of competition within the ticketing industry and grill Ticketmaster executive following the company’s mishandling of the music superstar’s concert tickets.

Swift fans were furious after Ticketmaster canceled its November general public ticket sale for the music star’s highly anticipated new tour. Several days of turbulence during the verified fan presale resulted in hundreds of thousands of snubbed fans who never got tickets.

Joe Berchtold, the president and CFO of Ticketmaster’s parent company Live Nation Entertainment, defended his company, testifying that “industrial scale ticket scalping” and an unprecedented amount of bots were responsible for the large-scale problems.

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More: Taylor Swift Ticketmaster debacle ramps up federal concerns, fans about tour tickets

“In hindsight there are several things we could have done better,” Berchtold said. “And let me be clear, Ticketmaster accepts its responsibility as being the first line in defense against bots in our industry.”

Swift was not at the hearing.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., the chairwoman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust and Consumer Rights, criticized the company in a letter to the company’s President and CEO Michael Rapino.

Klobuchar was especially critical of Rapino, who assured lawmakers during a 2009 hearing that he was “confident” the merger would result in an “easy-access, one-stop platform” to deliver tickets.

“It appears that your confidence was misplaced,” Kloubchar wrote.

What’s happening?

  • The hearing kicked off with opening statements from Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Dick Durbin, Ranking Member Sen. Lindsey Graham, Klobuchar and Lee, all expressing their concern over Ticketmaster’s control of the ticketing market.

  • Senators grilled Berchtold over Tickermaster’s mishandling of Swift’s concert tickets, the company’s overall ticketing practices and control in the market.

  • Jerry Mickelson, the CEO and President of JAM Productions, challenged Berchtold claim that bots were to blame in the Swift ticketing crash. Mickelson told the committee that “you can’t blame bots for what happened to Taylor Swift. There’s more to that story that you’re not hearing.”

  • SeatGeek CEO Jack Groetzinger testified that there is not only a lack of “robust competition” in live entertainment, which harms consumers, but also venues fear losing Live Nation events if the venues chose to not use Ticketmaster for ticketing. Groetzinger closed his opening statement saying that the only way to restore the industry is to break up Ticketmaster and Live Nation.

  • Groetzinger also explained the threat of retaliation from Live Nation, citing a New York Time article about the Brooklyn’s Barclays Center decision to part ways with SeatGeek for an alternative deal with Ticketmaster during a line of questioning about Live Nation’s marketplace power to punish venues for using competitors.

What’s the issue?

Criticism of Ticketmaster’s ticket selling practices and lack of competition is not new. But it reached a crescendo last year after the mishandling of Swift’s upcoming Eras tour. The snafu resulted in major delays and errors in queues to purchase tickets.

Other music star fans and musicians, including Bruce Springsteen, Foo Fighters and Garth Brooks, have long criticized Ticketmaster’s practices. Among the biggest gripes: dynamic pricing, which adjusts pricing based on consumer demand, resulting in some fans unable to purchase tickets.

The company’s monopoly in the entertainment industry has faced immense scrutiny dating back to its merger with Live Nation Entertainment in 2010, which eliminated Live Nation as its competitor.

Prior to the merger, Live Nation controlled 16.5% of the ticketing market, which cut into Ticketmaster’s previous 82.9% share of the ticketing market and leaving them with 66.4%, according to the Justice Department’s amended complaint over the merger.

What has Taylor Swift said?

Swift issued a scathing statement following Ticketmaster’s cancellation of future ticket sales, highlighting that she specifically asked the company if they could handle the demand for tickets to her shows.

“I’m not going to make excuses for anyone because we asked them, multiple times, if they could handle this kind of demand and we were assured they could,” Swift stated. “It’s truly amazing that 2.4 million people got tickets, but it really pisses me off that a lot of them feel like they went through several bear attacks to get them.”

What to expect?

Klobuchar and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, the ranking member of the, announced last week the hearing will take place before the full Judiciary Committee.

The hearing, titled “That’s The Ticket: Promoting Competition and Protecting Consumers in Live Entertainment,” will examine the potential harm caused to artists and consumers by consolidated entertainment and ticketing industries through anti-competitive behavior.

The hearing is likely to delve into Ticketmaster’s ticket selling and pricing practices, specifically referencing the company’s recent string of ticket sale issues, as well as its effect on other ticketing companies and consumers.

But it’s also an opportunity for lawmakers to publicly chastise the company.

“Part of this is a public shaming,” Rebecca Allensworth, a law professor focused on antitrust and professional licensing at Vanderbilt University, told USA TODAY. “Part of this is raking over the CEO of a company that’s done wrong by its consumers.”

The committee is set to hear from a variety of witnesses:

  • Joe Berchtold, the president and CFO of Live Nation Entertainment

  • Jack Groetzinger, SeatGeek CEO

  • Jerry Mickelson, the CEO and President of JAM Productions

  • Sal Nuzzo, the senior vice president of the James Madison Institute

  • Kathleen Bradish, the vice president for legal advocacy for the American Antitrust Institute

  • Clyde Lawrence, a singer-songwriter for the band Lawrence.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ticketmaster exec testify to Senate on Taylor Swift ticket botch