The Taylor Swift Ticketmaster fiasco is a music industry problem


If you’ve been trying unsuccessfully to land a ticket to Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour this week, you’re not alone.

Tickets for Swift’s tour went on presale on Tuesday and the frustration felt by fans as they waited in queues for hours to be charged an exorbitant service fee by ticketing platform Ticketmaster s quickly spread on the Internet. On Thursday, Ticketmaster announced that it had canceled public Friday ticket sales for the tour due to high demand and “insufficient inventory of remaining tickets.”

This is the artist’s first tour since 2018 and comes on the heels of his album “Midnights”, which had the biggest debut of any album in seven years. There’s no way fans are going to miss it.

But the Swifties weren’t the only ones taking to social media to voice their concerns. Lawmakers were quick to sound the alarm on Ticketmaster as a whole.

U.S. Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island took to Twitter to call Ticketmaster’s fees and wait times “unacceptable” and “a symptom of a larger problem.”

“It’s no secret that Live Nation-Ticketmaster is an unchecked monopoly,” Cicilline tweeted.

This isn’t the first time lawmakers and fans have pushed Ticketmaster back. As the largest ticketing platform in the United States, Ticketmaster held a virtual monopoly on ticketing before merging with concert promoter Live Nation to form Live Nation Entertainment in 2010. The idea of ​​a merger between the world’s largest ticket market and the largest concert organizer was met with great skepticism at the time. There were concerns that the merger would create a monopoly on concert ticketing and create fewer options for fans and performers.

David Herlihy, music industry program coordinator at Northeastern University. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

This fear has come true. Ticketmaster has contracts with 80% of major concert venues in the United States, and ticket prices are higher than they have ever been. Although artists set ticket prices, the service fee for Ticketmaster purchases can be up to 75% of the ticket price and sometimes even the price of the ticket itself.

“It’s bad for competition, it’s bad for the market, it’s bad for innovation,” says David Herlihy, Northeastern’s music industry program coordinator and former frontman of alternative rock band Boston O Positive. “The lack of competition is very harmful. And you have these exclusive arrangements where a venue has an exclusive agreement with Ticketmaster. So if anyone wants to get in, they have to go through Ticketmaster.

How did we come here?

Herlihy says the current monopolization of ticketing and concert promotion has its roots in the Clinton era, when the government began to loosen its policies on media ownership. Before Ticketmaster and Live Nation, there were regional concert organizers, each with their own box office, who “agreed to stay out of each other’s domain”.

“There was this history of regional promoters, regional markets, who really paid attention to genres and regional music scenes,” says Herlihy.

Platforms like Live Nation and Ticketmaster have taken advantage of the nascent internet to offer nationwide services. They have become nearly ubiquitous to the point where performers and venues have to play ball or not play at all.

Live Nation Entertainment has faced allegations from the US Department of Justice that high-powered sites are using Ticketmaster. Even before the merger, artists and venues didn’t always have a choice whether or not to work with Live Nation and Ticketmaster, as Pearl Jam learned the hard way in 1994.

The grunge band went to war with Ticketmaster over the service fee it charged its fans. The group went so far as to file a civil complaint with the Department of Justice, alleging the company’s monopolistic and anti-consumer practices, which led to an investigation into the company’s practices which ultimately n came to nothing.

When they hit the road in 1995, the band only played non-Ticketmaster venues, an unprecedented move for a band as famous and successful as Pearl Jam was at the time. Pearl Jam was able to keep their ticket prices and service fees low, but the tour itself was a logistical nightmare. Kelly Curtis, the band’s manager at the time, told the Washington Post that it was difficult to find venues that had adequate acoustics and could safely host a full-scale rock show that didn’t work with Ticketmaster. .

Ticketmaster’s stranglehold on most major venues meant that Pearl Jam, one of the biggest bands in the world, had to play “in weird places like a ski resort in Lake Tahoe and a fairground in San Diego,” said Curtis. “As far as LA or New York was concerned, it was almost impossible to book a show.”

“They paid a big price,” says Herlihy. “They were going against ‘The Man,’ and when you do that, you have to book your own shows, promote your own shows, and provide your own ticketing solution. … If you’re not going to use the paved highway, then you have to create your own side roads, and it’s just, it’s very, very, very hard to do.

The tour ended up costing the band $2 million, and its refusal to play Ticketmaster venues meant that, for the next three years, Pearl Jam toured very little to promote its albums and, when it did , he played almost exclusively international shows.

In 1998 Pearl Jam returned to Ticketmaster and have been using the platform ever since.

Herlihy admits that there are very few fans or even artists who can change the situation.

“I can’t sue Ticketmaster,” Herlihy said. [Pearl Jam lead singer] Eddie Vedder tried. Pearl Jam tried and they were fair, but it didn’t prevail.

The only solution, he says, is to “break it up, force them apart and get rid of exclusive venue contracts,” and that requires government leadership, although Herlihy is not optimistic.

The 2019 DOJ report found that Live Nation Entertainment’s practices violated a consent decree the Justice Department issued as a condition of its merger in 2010. Instead of considering the impact of the merger on customers, the DOJ and Live Nation Entertainment amended and extended the executive order five years after its original 10-year expiration date, to 2025.

“It has to be the government,” says Herlihy. “They have to come in and say, ‘We’re going to break this up,’ and that’s a lot of uphill fighting.”

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