Liberty Media CEO and Live Nation chairman Greg Maffei appeared on CNBC on Thursday morning (Nov. 17) to discuss the issues with Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan program that resulted in frustrated Taylor Swift fans queuing up for hours in an effort to score pre-sale tickets to the singer’s anticipated Eras Tour.
“I apologize to all our fans. We are working hard on this,” Maffei told Squawk on the Street on Thursday morning (Nov. 17) about the company’s efforts to straighten out the situation that caused fan (and parent) consternation from coast-to-coast. “Building capacity for peak demand is something we attempt to do, but this exceeded every expectation.”
Ticketmaster, which is owned by Live Nation — with Liberty holding a 30% ownership stake in the ticketing giant — has come under intense scrutiny this week for after the company’s website experienced mass outages and extreme delays that forced some to wait for hours in the virtual line, or just walk away empty-handed.
“Daily reminder that Ticketmaster is a monopoly. Its merger with LiveNation should never have been approved & they need to be reigned in. Break them up,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Tuesday after the Swift tickets meltdown. Maffie told Squawk on the Street that the Live Nations team is “sympathetic that the long wait times and fans who couldn’t get what they wanted… reality is it’s a function of the massive demand that Taylor Swift has.”
Maffei explained that the pre-sale was supposed to be opened to 1.5 million Verified Swift fans for Tuesday’s on-sale, but instead 14 million Swifties attempted to log-in, including, he added, bots that were not supposed to be able to join the line. Despite the challenges and breakdowns, he said TM sold 2 million on Tuesday, a gaudy number that Maffei said could have filled 900 stadiums.
In a blog post, TM said that more than 3.5 million people pre-registered through Verified Fan for the Swift shows, the largest registration in the program’s history. It further explained that historically “around 40% of invited fans actually show up and buy tickets,” so working with Swift’s team around 1.5 million were invited to participate in the sale, with the remaining 2 million Verified Fans put on a waiting list.
Maffei also noted that the show is not promoted by LN — but by rival AEG Live and Messina Touring Group — so, “though AOC [a common nickname for Ocasio-Cortez] may not like every element of our business, AEG, our competitor who is the promoter for Taylor Swift, chose to use us because we are, in reality, the largest and most effective ticket seller in the world. Even our competitors want to come on our platform.”
Ticketmaster shared a statement shortly after 1 p.m. ET on Tuesday, about three hours after the East Coast venue presales began. It said that the company wasn’t prepared for the “historically unprecedented demand” for tickets, and postponed presales for West Coast venues and Capitol One cardholders scheduled for later that same day. Swift has announced 52 dates so far for the stadium tour that will mark her first major outing in five years.
AOC wasn’t the only member of congress to weigh in on the debacle. Connecticut Sen. Ricard Blumenthal tweeted, “Taylor Swift’s tour sale is a perfect example of how the Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger harms consumers by creating a near-monopoly. I’ve long urged DOJ to investigate the state of competition in the ticketing industry. Consumers deserve better than this anti-hero behavior.” In addition, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar agreed, writing on Wednesday, “What is going on with Ticketmaster is an example of why we need strong antitrust enforcement! Monopolies wreak havoc on consumers and our economy. When there is no competition to incentivize better services and fair prices, we all suffer the consequences.”
Ticketmaster and Live Nation merged in 2010 to form Live Nation Entertainment, rolling together the nation’s largest concert promoter and ticketing agency. The move that was drew intense scrutiny at the time and in the wake of the Swift pre-sale fiasco, Tennessee attorney general Jonathan Skrmetti said on Wednesday that his office will once again be looking into the company.
“There are no allegations at this time about any misconduct, but as the Attorney General, it’s my job to ensure that the consumer protection laws and antitrust laws in Tennessee are being honored,” Skrmetti told reporters, according to WJHL. Skrmetti said there have been “a number of complaints” lodged with his office about the pre-sale and that his team planned to look into the “severe” lack of customer support in what is the latest probe into possible antitrust allegations involving TM and LN conducted by Tennessee authorities.
A spokesperson for Live Nation had not returned Billboard‘s request for comment on Skrmetti or the congressional members’ comments at press time.
Watch Maffei’s interview below.