Lawmakers grilled a top executive from Ticketmaster’s parent company on Tuesday at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing after the service’s mishandling of Taylor Swift’s concert ticket sales in November.
Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) called upon leading ticketing agency executives as witnesses to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition, Antitrust and Consumer Rights.
Some of the witnesses include the president and CFO of Ticketmaster’s owner, Live Nation, Joe Berchtold; Jack Groetzinger, the CEO of Ticketmaster’s competitor, SeatGeek; Jerry Mickelson, the CEO and president of JAM Productions; and musician Clyde Lawrence, who has been outspoken against Ticketmaster.
In November, Ticketmaster’s site crashed during a presale event for Swift’s 2023 Eras tour, her first in five years. Millions of fans were unable to buy tickets or without their ticket even after purchase.
Days later, Ticketmaster canceled the general sale of tickets for Swift’s tour due to “extraordinarily high demands on ticketing systems and insufficient remaining ticket inventory to meet that demand.”
Berchtold’s testimony said Live Nation has invested over $1 billion over the years to improve Ticketmaster.
“We apologize to the fans, we apologize to Ms. Swift, we need to do better and we will do better,” Berchtold said.
Berchtold said Ticketmaster was “hit with three times the amount of bot traffic than we had ever experienced” amid the “unprecedented demand for Taylor Swift tickets.”
The bot activity “required us to slow down and even pause our sales. This is what led to a terrible consumer experience that we deeply regret.”
He also called on Congress to adopt reforms to cut down on scalping.
“We also need to recognize how industrial scalpers breaking the law using bots and cyberattacks to try to unfairly gain tickets contributes to an awful consumer experience,” Berchtold said.
Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said plenty of others, including banks and power companies, are also frequent targets of bots but don’t suffer service meltdowns.
“You ought to be able to get some good advice from people and figure it out,” she said.
Fans and lawmakers accused Ticketmaster of having too much control over the market for concert tickets and inflating the costs of tickets with fees and service charges.
“The high fees, site disruptions and cancellations that customers experienced shows how Ticketmaster’s dominant market position means the company does not face any pressure to continually innovate and improve,” Senator Amy Klobuchar said.
Klobuchar said ticket fees now average 27 percent of the ticket cost and can climb as high as 75 percent.
Berchtold argued that Ticketmaster doesn’t set prices or service fees for tickets or decide how many tickets will go on sale. Service fees are set by venues, and that Live Nation only owns around 5 percent of U.S. venues, he said.
Jack Groetzinger, cofounder of ticket sales platform SeatGeek, said that even if Live Nation doesn’t own a venue, it prevents competition by signing multi-year contracts with arenas and concert halls to provide ticketing services. If those venues don’t agree to use Ticketmaster, Live Nation may withhold acts.
He 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,” Groetzinger said.
Senator Lee said Tuesday that the Justice Department is again investigating Live Nation after the Swift ticket fiasco.
“It’s very important that we maintain fair, free, open and even fierce competition,” Lee said. “It increases quality and it reduces price. We want those things to happen.”
Senator John Kennedy (R-La.) suggested legislation that would make tickets non-transferable, thus preventing resales.
Ticketmaster is the world’s largest ticket seller, processing 500 million tickets each year in more than 30 countries. Around 70 percent of tickets for major concert venues in the United States are sold through Ticketmaster, according to data in a federal lawsuit filed by consumers last year.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.