Following two failed presales and a canceled public sale of Taylor Swift’s “The Eras Tour,” the Department of Justice is opening investigations into Ticketmaster’s parent company Live Nation Entertainment over antitrust concerns. A decade-long conflict between Live Nation and the DOJ re-emerged after “The Eras Tour” caused a fiasco of site crashes, hours-long ticket queues and thousands of disappointed fans unable to get the tickets they were promised.
The sale itself forced both Ticketmaster and Swift to make statements explaining the mishaps. Ticketmaster cited “unprecedented demand” as the cause for the crashes and missed tickets. According to Ticketmaster, over 3.5 million people registered for “The Eras” Verified Fan presale on Nov. 15, the first of two presales for the tour. This is the largest number of people registering for a Verified Fan presale in Ticketmaster’s history. 1.5 million people were sent presale codes. However, when tickets went on sale, 3.5 million people accessed the Ticketmaster site at once, causing outages for 15% of users. This is an exponentially higher amount of traffic than Ticketmaster is used to. 2 million tickets were sold, the most tickets ever sold on Ticketmaster within 24 hours. This left around 400,000 tickets available to be sold during the Capital One credit holder presale the next day, leading the general sale to be canceled due to “extraordinarily high demands on ticketing systems and insufficient remaining ticket inventory.”
Fans were outraged. Those who received presale codes anticipated a smooth process, yet were left waiting in line for hours only to come out empty handed. Those who did not receive a Verified Fan code and could not access the Capital One presale were given no chance for tickets after the public sale was canceled.
The mishandling of “The Eras Tour” has directed public attention to the control that Ticketmaster has over the live event industry, and the DOJ’s history with Ticketmaster resurfaced.
Ticket distribution company Ticketmaster and concert production company Live Nation have been behemoths of the music industry for decades. Pre-COVID, in 2019, Ticketmaster sold 485 million tickets across 40,000 venues. Live Nation hosts 100 managers more than 450 artists. Their presence in the music industry is as powerful as it is controversial.
In 2010, Live Nation merged with Ticketmaster Entertainment. Through the merger, the production, touring and ticketing of live events were combined into one central entity. While the merger sparked monopoly fears, the DOJ found it anticompetitive and cleared the deal. Ticketmaster and Live Nation executives both claimed that by combining forces, it would streamline the live event industry and decrease Live Nation’s debt by having all aspects of the live event industry centralized.
The merger has long caused controversy within the music industry. Artists are forced to charge high prices for fans to see their shows and venues often have no option other than selling tickets through Ticketmaster. According to the nonprofit American Economic Liberties Project, “Because Live Nation manages more than 500 major music artists, the company can demand that venues interested in hosting performances with those artists exclusively use Ticketmaster as their ticketing service …” When venues rely on shows to survive and artists rely on tours to make a living, competition is stifled and hardly any other option is available.
Furthermore, in clearing the merger, the DOJ made an agreement with Live Nation and Ticketmaster that prevented the company from retaliating against concert venues for using other ticket sale companies in order to promote competition within the industry. However, in 2019, the DOJ reinforced the prohibitions against retaliation in the deal after discovering that this agreement was repeatedly broken. This amendment also extended the merger to 2025, so long as these conditions are followed.
Once again, the DOJ has been forced to question whether Live Nation has abused its power. Investigations are allegedly looking into whether Live Nation Entertainment holds a monopoly over the music industry. Government officials like Senators Amy Klobuchar and Richard Blumenthal are petitioning the DOJ to intervene. Earlier in the year, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. also wrote to Live Nation demanding explanation for the thousand dollar-plus markups that Bruce Springsteen fans had to spend for his 2023 tour.
“It’s really difficult to watch me trust an outside entity with these relationships and loyalties [with my fans], and excruciating for me to just watch mistakes happen with no recourse,” Swift said in a statement regarding the sale. “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.”
The current DOJ investigation is early in the works and no official statement from the department has yet been given. Its conclusion and its impact on the live event industry remains to be seen.