By Pearce Hopkins
This year, the live events industry, which was put on total hiatus by the pandemic lockdowns, made a glorious return, with artists like Billie Eilish, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and countless other big names beginning new world tours, free from concerns of a global virus. For many fans, it was a delight to be able to attend concerts and festivals again, but not everyone had positive experiences going to see live music. 2022 saw numerous cases of unrest and uproar amongst fans, artists and even politicians against the monopolisation of event ticket sales, consisting of accusations of fraud and extorsion directed at the company responsible for these upsets: Ticketmaster.
Ticketmaster has been a dominant leader in sale of event tickets for long over a decade now. After their 2010 merger with Live Nation, one of the biggest concert promoters at the time, the conglomerate established itself as the powerhouse the ticketing platform. However, their comfortable position as the leading ticket sales company has led to criticism over the quality of their service. “Ticketmaster’s power in the primary ticket market insulates it from the competitive pressures that typically push companies to innovate and improve their services.” claims Senator Amy Klobuchar. “That can result in dramatic service failures, where consumers are the ones that pay the price.”
Klobuchar’s point only echoes the experiences that many fans have faced as a result of using Ticketmaster this year. In November, many Taylor Swift fans faced difficulties in purchasing tickets for her Eras tour. After access codes which users were promised would protect them against bots didn’t work, bot-purchased tickets began being resold on other websites for prices upwards of $20,000. Ticketmaster’s website was said to have crashed a number of times during this period, which the company later claimed was due to a ‘staggering number of bot attacks” and “historically unprecedented demand”. The failure to provide fans with tickets has pushed 26 fans to file a lawsuit against the conglomerate on the grounds that Ticketmaster was aware that it could not satisfy fan demands in spite of intentionally handing out codes that they knew would not work. Since this first suit, another set of charges have been raised against the company, arguing that antitrust laws had been violated and that fans were misled in believing Ticketmaster would provide protection from bots.
Ticketmaster managed to land themselves in trouble again in December after hundreds of fans were blocked out of a Bad Bunny concert. In Mexico, the Office of the Federal Prosecutor for the Consumer (PROFECO) was inundated with over 1,600 complaints after the overselling of concert tickets caused confusion as many fans’ tickets were deemed to be fake. PROFECO has since stated that Ticketmaster will have to fully refund affected fans, as well as reimbursing them an additional 20% of the price of their ticket.
One of the most prominent voices speaking out against Ticketmaster’s poor service is Americana artist, Zach Bryan. Angered by the ever-rising prices of concert entry, Bryan has been vocal about his disapproval of the monopolisation of live events tickets, as shown through the title of his most recent album release: ‘All My Homies Hate Ticketmaster (Live from Red Rocks)’. “I believe working class people should still be able to afford tickets to shows,” Bryan stated “I am so tired of people saying things can’t be done about this massive issue while huge monopolies sit there stealing money from working class people.” On New Year’s Day, he promised to make his prices fair for everyone, suggesting that Bryan will be avoiding hosting his events in Live Nation and Ticketmaster venues whenever possible. Whilst this would be an ambitious move and might prove challenging to organise, Bryan’s manager believes that his current popularity will mean he won’t need to ‘be tied down to Ticketmaster’ if he wants to choose other venues and vendors.
It isn’t only performers who have expressed their discontentment with Ticketmaster. Senator Amy Klobuchar has raised the issue of the “numerous complaints” Live Nation has been issued with surrounding their non-compliance with their consent decree between themselves and the United States Department of Justice. In 2020, the DOJ filed court documents containing claims that Live Nation had been coercing venues into using Ticketmaster to increase their stranglehold on the market. Klobuchar is one of many voices drawing attention to the issue, including that of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In an exclusive interview with Rolling Stone, the leading congresswoman highlighted the challenges posed by addressing the dominance of a monopoly in the live events business compared to other industries, where influence is more evenly spread: “Anywhere between 55 to 85 per cent of meat processing in the United States comes down to four companies. When you look at an industry like ticketing, you barely have four. Ticketmaster is far and away the behemoth in the industry… Live Nation is a true monopoly. And it’s affecting our culture if regular people can’t even see a live show for a major act in person anymore, and this just becomes a domain for the wealthy.” AOC says that both the artists and the authorities who establish the ticket sale laws share a responsibility for ensuring fair ticket sale.
So what does 2023 look like for Ticketmaster? Based on public opinion, the company is on thin ice and entertainment lawyer, Bryan Sullivan, believes it that it doesn’t have the credibility to withstand many more public fiascos: “If this happens again — with Beyonce’s concert or with another major concert that has that kind of flooded bid from the marketplace to buy tickets instantly — it will fuel the flames of the plaintiffs to give them more evidence because they will say, ‘It happened again. This was not an isolated incident.’” Some would say that this fire has already been sparked: in October, music advocacy groups the Future of Music Coalition and Artists Rights Alliance co-founded the Break Up Ticketmaster Campaign to spread awareness around the issue.
Ticketmaster’s future might be unclear as of right now, but with more and more voices speaking out about the unfairness of the sale of live events tickets, we can only hope that we’ll eventually see their hold on the industry loosen, making live events more affordable for everyone.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own, and may not reflect the opinions of The St. Andrews Economist.
Photo by Unsplash