Live Nation Entertainment, the parent company of concert and ticketing giants Live Nation and Ticketmaster, seems to be attracting more heat from politicians. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) sent a letter addressed to the company’s CEO Michael Rapino on Thursday morning, expressing her concern over what she called a lack of competition in the live music industry.
“Ticketmaster and Live Nation dominate the live entertainment supply chain with powerful positions in primary ticketing, secondary ticketing, concert promotion, artist management, tour sponsorships, and event venue operation,” Sen. Klobuchar, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, wrote. “Ticketmaster’s power in the primary ticket market insulates it from the competitive pressures that typically push companies to innovate and improve their services. That can result in dramatic service failures, where consumers are the ones that pay the price.”
Live Nation and Ticketmaster merged in 2010, creating the most powerful live music entity in the business. Ticketmaster is the industry’s largest ticketing platform, while Live Nation is the largest concert promoter, producing tours for many of the world’s largest pop stars and organizing festivals, including Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo. Fans have for years bemoaned growing ticket prices and high fees, while independent promoters and venues have expressed increased difficulty in competing.
Live Nation didn’t immediately respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment.
The letter comes two days after Ticketmaster faced significant criticism online from fans who were looking to purchase tickets to Taylor Swift’s upcoming tour. While Ticketmaster is the ticketer for the shows, Swift’s tour is being promoted by AEG Presents and Messina Touring Group. Ticketmaster said it was expecting unprecedented demand for tickets to Swift’s shows, and Swifties who were lucky enough to even get a presale code waited in the queue for hours trying to get tickets, but the Ticketmaster website frequently glitched and crashed, given the high traffic and demand.
In the letter, Klobuchar seemed to reference those issues and pointed toward a lack of competition, noting that Ticketmaster is removed from “the competitive pressures that typically push companies to innovate,” which could “result in dramatic service failures, where consumers are the ones that pay the price.”
Klobuchar also referenced “numerous complaints” she said Live Nation has faced regarding non-compliance of the consent decree the company entered into when the merger was initially approved, though she didn’t specify what those complaints were. The most recent and notable controversy Live Nation faced over the consent decree came at the end of 2019. Live Nation and the Department of Justice settled to extend the decree by another five and a half years after the DOJ alleged that Live Nation was coercing venues to use Ticketmaster. In a statement to Rolling Stone in early 2020, Live Nation said it “strongly disagreed” with the DOJ’s allegations but settled “to make clear that it has no interest in threatening or retaliating against venues that consider or choose other ticketing companies.”
Klobuchar asked Rapino to answer five questions by November 23: She asked how many tickets Ticketmaster lists for the general public versus what it keeps reserved for presale, VIP and radio stations. Klobuchar also asked how much Ticketmaster has spent on upgrading its technology to address demand surges in the past year, as well as if Rapino was still “‘confident’ that your plan to develop an ‘easy-access, one-stop platform’ that will be a ‘trusted business partner’ is working,” referencing what Rapino told the senate regarding the merger in 2009.
She asked if Ticketmaster knew of any allegations made in the past year that the company was non-compliant with the consent decree that it entered when the merger was approved. Finally, Klobuchar asked if Ticketmaster’s board of directors was given any information about decree compliance in the past three years and to share any of those materials with her if they had.
Klobuchar is the most recent politician to voice their skepticism against Live Nation in recent months. On Tuesday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) called Live Nation Entertainment a monopoly and said the Ticketmaster and Live Nation should be broken up. According to the Tennessean, the problems during Swift’s on-sale has Tennessee’s attorney general Jonathan Skrmetti concerned about consumer rights, and he wants to investigate. Last year, several members of Congress called on President Biden to investigate the Live Nation-Ticketmaster merger, which the Obama administration approved in 2010.
In a tweet earlier in November, Biden said he’d called on his administration to crack down on hidden junk fees often found in concert ticket sales. (Live Nation applauded that move in a statement the next day, saying it supports government measures requiring all ticket companies to show their fees up front.)
Scrutiny toward Live Nation and Ticketmaster’s merger isn’t new, and the topic often spikes after a prominent artist’s on-sale period frustrates fans who call for a better solution. Criticizing Ticketmaster is, to some extent, an easy talking point for politicians, given the vitriol fans have voiced toward the platform for years. Some ticketing insiders say some major artists have more power than fans may think to institute policies to control their ticket prices or limit the resale market. Others question how much the government would enforce any policy in the ticketing world or what an effective policy would be. For instance, as Rolling Stone reported last week that many of the industry’s largest ticketing platforms have skirted around New York’s recently passed all-in fee policy through their own looser interpretations of the law’s intent. While a New York senator has called their actions violations of the law, resale sites like StubHub and Vivid Seats maintained that their policies are compliant.
Klobuchar didn’t exactly say what action she’s expecting yet, and it isn’t clear what change the politicians’ platitudes will bring to the ticketing world, but the pressure is certainly mounting. Other music advocacy groups like the Future of Music Coalition and Artist Rights Alliance co-founded the Break up Ticketmaster campaign in October.
“I have been skeptical of the combination of these companies since you merged in 2011, when the Senate held a hearing into the merger,” Klobuchar said in the letter. (Note: the companies attempted to merge in 2009, and the deal was approved in 2010). “At that hearing, you appeared as a witness and pledged to ‘develop an easy-access, one-stop platform that can deliver … tickets.’ And you said that you were ‘confident this plan will work.’ It appears that your confidence was misplaced.”
Read the full letter below:
Dear Mr. Rapino:
I write to express serious concerns about the state of competition in the ticketing industry and its harmful impact on consumers. Reports about system failures, increasing fees, and complaints of conduct that violate the consent decree Ticketmaster is under suggest that Ticketmaster continues to abuse its market positions.
Ticketmaster and LiveNation dominate the live entertainment supply chain with powerful positions in primary ticketing, secondary ticketing, concert promotion, artist management, tour sponsorships, and event venue operation. Ticketmaster’s power in the primary ticket market insulates it from the competitive pressures that typically push companies to innovate and improve their services. That can result in dramatic service failures, where consumers are the ones that pay the price.
I have been skeptical of the combination of these companies since you merged in 2011, when the Senate held a hearing into the merger. At that hearing, you appeared as a witness and pledged to “develop an easy-access, one-stop platform that can deliver … tickets.” And you said that you were “confident this plan will work.” It appears that your confidence was misplaced.
When Ticketmaster merged with Live Nation in 2010, it was subject to an antitrust consent decree that prohibited it from abusing its market position. Nonetheless, there have been numerous complaints about your company’s compliance with that decree. I am concerned about a pattern of non-compliance with your legal obligations.
I look forward to your response to these questions, which I would appreciate receiving by November 23, 2022.
1. Are you still “confident” that your plan to develop an “easy-access, one-stop platform” that will be a “trusted business partner”1 is working?
1 See (your Senate testimony).
- Typically, what percentage of high profile tour tickets are available to the general public compared to those allocated to pre-sales, radio stations, VIPs, and other restricted sales opportunities? Please provide specific recent examples and data.
- Ticketmaster has been repeatedly accused of violating the requirements of its consent decree with the Department of Justice. Is Ticketmaster aware of any complaints that have been made to it or to government agencies about potential noncompliance with the consent decree in the last twelve months? If so, please provide details about each alleged incident.
- In the last twelve months, how much have you invested in upgrading your systems to address demand surges, and specifically, what improvements did those investments generate?
5. In the last three years, has the Ticketmaster Board of Directors received information about decree compliance? If so, please provide copies of any materials provided to any Board member on this topic.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.
United States Senator