U.S. Senate questions Ticketmaster over Taylor Swift presale fiasco

The president of Ticketmaster's parent company apologized to Taylor Swift fans and the artist herself on Tuesday while being grilled by United States senators over the ticket giant's spectacular breakdown during a pre-sale of the pop star's concert tickets last year.

Company says site was overwhelmed by fans and bot attacks

U.S. senators tell Ticketmaster execs: You're the problem

2 months ago
Duration 2:04
Ticketmaster executives were grilled by U.S. senators at a hearing about the lack of competition in the ticketing industry after the company’s problems managing the sale of tickets for Taylor Swift's upcoming concert tour.

The president of Ticketmaster's parent company apologized to Taylor Swift fans and the artist herself on Tuesday while being grilled by United States senators over the ticket giant's spectacular breakdown during a pre-sale of the pop star's concert tickets last year.

The company and its parent, Live Nation Entertainment, appeared on Capitol Hill at a hearing into competition and consumer protections in the live entertainment industry, sparked by November's fiasco involving ticket sales for Swift's upcoming concert tour.

Ticketmaster said its website was overwhelmed by both fans and bot attacks. Many people lost tickets after they had waited for hours in an online queue.

Ticketmaster required fans to register for the presale, and it says more than 3.5 million people did. Ticketmaster eventually cancelled planned ticket sales to the general public because it didn't have enough inventory.

"We apologize to the fans, we apologize to Ms. Swift, we need to do better and we will do better," Joe Berchtold,  president and chief financial officer of Live Nation, told the U.S. Senate judiciary committee hearing on Tuesday.

A blonde woman poses during an event.
Swift attends a premiere for the short film All Too Well in New York City on Nov. 12, 2021. The pop star said Ticketmaster had repeatedly assured her team that its website could withstand the traffic her tour pre-sales would generate. (Evan Agostini/Invision/The Associated Press)

"In hindsight there are several things we could have done better — including staggering the sales over a longer period of time and doing a better job setting fan expectations for getting tickets."

Republican Sen. Mike Lee said in an opening statement that the Ticketmaster debacle highlighted the importance of considering whether "new legislation or perhaps just better enforcement of existing laws might be needed to protect the American people."

Failure to deal with bots

During the hearing, senators slammed Berchtold for Live Nation's fee structure and inability to deal with bots, which bulk-buy tickets and resell them at inflated prices.

"There isn't transparency when no one knows who sets the fees," Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar said, responding to Berchtold's claim that Live Nation fees fluctuate based on "ratings."

A seated man in a suit speaks into a microphone. Blurry people sit behind him.
Joe Berchtold, president and CFO of Ticketmaster's parent company Live Nation Entertainment Inc., testifies before the Senate judiciary committee in Washington on Tuesday. The committee is holding a hearing on competition and consumer protections in live entertainment after Ticketmaster's website was knocked offline during overwhelming demand for Taylor Swift tickets in November. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn called Live Nation's bot problem "unbelievable," pointing out that much smaller companies are able to limit bad actors in their systems.

"You ought to be able to get some good advice from people and figure it out," she said.

Ticketmaster has argued that the bots used by scalpers were behind the Swift debacle, and Berchtold asked for more help in fighting the bots that buy tickets for resale.

Merger under microscope

Jack Groetzinger, co-founder of ticket sales platform SeatGeek, testified that the process of buying tickets is "antiquated and ripe for innovation," and called for the breakup of Live Nation and Ticketmaster, which merged in 2010.

"As long as Live Nation remains both the dominant concert promoter and ticketer of major venues in the U.S., the industry will continue to lack competition and struggle," he told lawmakers.

People stand outdoors holding banners calling for the break-up of Ticketmaster and Live Nation.
Swift fans call for lawmakers to split up Live Nation and Ticketmaster during a rally outside the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Ticketmaster is the world's largest ticket seller, processing 500 million tickets each year in more than 30 countries. Around 70 per cent of tickets for major concert venues in the U.S. are sold through Ticketmaster, according to data in a federal lawsuit filed by consumers last year.

Klobuchar, who heads the judiciary committee's antitrust panel, has said the issues that cropped up in November were not new and potentially stemmed from consolidation in the ticketing industry.

In November, Ticketmaster denied any anti-competitive practices and noted it remained under a consent decree with the Justice Department following its merger with Live Nation, adding that there was no "evidence of systemic violations of the consent decree."

A previous Ticketmaster dispute with the Justice Department culminated in a December 2019 settlement extending the consent agreement into 2025.

LISTEN | The trouble with Ticketmaster: 

Last week, Ticketmaster pre-sales for Taylor Swift's Eras tour quickly devolved into chaos, with site crashes, many people waiting eight hours or more in online queues, and tickets going for upward of $40,000 US on secondary sales sites like Stubhub. This is far from the first incident to prompt widespread outrage against Ticketmaster. Sky-high prices for Blink-182 and Bruce Springsteen concerts have been among the sore spots. But the Swift fiasco is shining a new light on the company's virtual monopoly over wide swathes of the live music industry, prompting many — including several U.S. lawmakers — to call for the company to be investigated and broken up. Today, Jason Koebler — editor-in-chief of Motherboard, VICE's technology site — joins Front Burner to break this all down.

With files from The Associated Press and CBC News


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