Taylor Swift’s legion of rabid fans might just be able to accomplish something decades of legal scholars, millions in political lobbying, and the Biden administration couldn’t: implement meaningful antitrust reform.
Sources speaking in a New York Times report Friday say the U.S. Department of Justice has launched an antitrust investigation into Live Nation Entertainment, Ticketmaster’s parent company, following the disastrous fallout of the pop star’s most recent tour ticket sale implosion. The investigation into the ticket selling behemoth, long disdained by both consumers and artists alike, will reportedly revolve around whether or not it possesses anti-competitive monopoly power in the music industry.
Ticketmaster’s website crumbled earlier this week under the immense weight of Swift fans desperately attempting to purchase presale tickets for the artists’ “The Eras” Tour. On Thursday, the day Swift’s tickets were intended to become valuable to the public, Ticketmaster made the unprecedented decision to cancel ticket sales entirely. In a Tweet, Ticketmaster said they opted to cancel the sale due to, “extraordinary high demands on ticketing sales and insufficient remaining ticket inventory.”
Though the disastrous handling of Swift’s tickets will almost certainly come up in the investigation, DOJ officials have reportedly had their eyes on Ticketmaster for months, the Times notes. Investigators have spoken with music venues, and others within the industry to try and determine whether or not Ticketmaster’s notoriously noxious business practices amount to monopoly actions. The Live Nation Entertainment juggernaut is the result of a 2010 merger between Live Nation and Ticketmaster who were both among the industry’s largest players at the time.
DOJ investigators aren’t the only ones looking into Ticketmaster either. This week, following a groundswell of complaints from Swift fans, the The Attorneys General of Tennessee and North Carolina each launched their own investigations into the company’s business practice to determine whether or not they violated consumer rights and antitrust laws. Members of Congress, meanwhile, are reportedly planning to hold a hearing by the end of the year where they will discuss Ticketmaster’s mishandling of the Swift ticket sales and other aspects of its business consumers have decried for years.
“Ticketmaster’s power in the primary ticket market insulates it from the competitive pressures that typically push companies to innovate and improve their services. That can result in the types of dramatic service failures we saw this week, where consumers are the ones that pay the price,” U.S Senator Amy Klobuchar wrote in a letter addressed to Ticketmaster.
“There are a multitude of reasons why people had such a hard time trying to get tickets and I’m trying to figure out how this situation can be improved moving forward,” Swift wrote. “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. It’s truly amazing that 2.4 million people got tickets, but it really pisses me off that a lot of them feel like they went through several bear attacks to get them.”
The sustained outrage expressed by Swift fans has managed to fast track antitrust concerns related to Ticketmaster experts and advocates have nurtured for years. Earlier this year, an alliance of organizations led by American Economic Liberties Project launched a news campaign aimed at breaking up Ticketmaster. The coalition argues Ticketmaster sustained market dominance, which they say accounts for as much as 70% of the primary ticket and live event venues market, has exploited customers and held sports and music fans “hostage.”
“We are thrilled to see the Department of Justice Antitrust Division investigate Live Nation-Ticketmaster’s ongoing monopoly abuse of fans, artists, venues, and live events professionals,” the Break Up Ticketmaster Coalition said in a statement Friday. “This is a day of optimism and hope for over 40,000 people who have called on the DOJ to break up Live Nation-Ticketmaster, a corporation that has bent and broken the industry to its will since its entities merged in 2010.”
Live Nation Entertainment did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
Swift fans’ massive public backlash this week is just the latest in a string of high profile vocal complaints raised against Ticketmaster. In October fans attempting to purchase tickets for a Blink 182 reunion tour were forced to pay exorbitant prices, in some cases well over $600, for general admission tickets. Those absurd prices are made possible, in part, due to Ticketmaster’s so-called “dynamic pricing” algorithm, an anti-scalping feature created in coordination with Bruce Springsteen. That model, which works somewhat like Uber’s surge pricing, is intended to measure the market price of a concert ticket and jack up prices high enough to effectively wean out resellers. In reality, the system ends up pricing consumers out of tickets entirely.
Elsewhere, critics have accused Ticketmaster of price gouging withholding tickets, and rolling out ever more onerous and difficult to parse “service fees.”
“Everyday Americans are being scammed and extorted by Ticketmaster for wanting to see their favorite sports teams and artists perform,” Helen Brosnan, Executive Director of Fight Corporate Monopolies said in a statement. “More than a decade later, their merger has resulted in consumers being held hostage by a company that uses its monopoly power to make everyone’s experience miserable—artists, concertgoers and sports fans, and independent venues alike. It should have never happened in the first place and the DOJ must step in and break them up.”