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Ticketmaster Faces Multiple Government Inquiries After Bungling Taylor Swift Presale

Photo: Kevin Kane/Getty Images for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Ticketmaster is facing increased scrutiny after bungling sales for Taylor Swift’s Eras tour. When the presale began November 15, fans found themselves in virtual lines of thousands — if they were lucky enough to get a Verified Fan presale code — to buy tickets, some of which were significantly marked up. Ticketmaster’s platform eventually crashed, delaying the presale. The general sale, planned for November 18, was canceled by Ticketmaster. Swift herself expressed disappointment in the sale, writing on her Instagram Story that hearing fan issues “pisses me off” and that Ticketmaster assured her it could handle the demand. Now, politicians and state legislators are taking it upon themselves to look into the ticketing business.

Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar and Utah Republican Mike Lee, the chairwoman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, announced on November 22 that they would be holding a hearing on the lack of competition for ticket sales. “Last week, the competition problem in ticketing markets was made painfully obvious when Ticketmaster’s website failed hundreds of thousands of fans hoping to purchase concert tickets. The high fees, site disruptions, and cancellations that customers experienced show how Ticketmaster’s dominant market position means the company does not face any pressure to continually innovate and improve,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “That’s why we will hold a hearing on how consolidation in the live-entertainment and ticketing industry harms customers and artists alike. When there is no competition to incentivize better services and fair prices, we all suffer the consequences.” The date of the hearing and the names of witnesses will be announced later.

The Justice Department is reportedly investigating the company on top of inquiries from multiple states and criticism from Congress. The New York Times reported that antitrust staff has been looking into Ticketmaster’s merger with Live Nation for months. A department spokesperson had no comment when reached by Vulture.

Live Nation released a statement on Saturday morning on the competitiveness of ticket sales and the Department of Justice’s investigation. They claimed that the Justice Department “itself recognized” the competitive nature of ticket sales at the time of the Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger. It argued that Ticketmaster has a “significant share” of the live events sales market because of the “quality” of their system. Live Nation lastly acknowledged the competitiveness of the secondary market with competitors like StubHub, Vivid Seats, and Seat Geek.

Ticketmaster previously addressed the presale issues with a statement on the “historically unprecedented demand” for tickets, thanking fans for being patient. In response to a request for comment on the inquiries into Ticketmaster and Live Nation, a spokesperson directed Vulture to a page titled “The Taylor Swift On Sale Explained.” The page details the presale process for the tickets, focusing on Swift’s popularity. “The biggest venues and artists turn to us because we have the leading ticketing technology in the world — that doesn’t mean it’s perfect, and clearly for Taylor’s on sale it wasn’t,” Ticketmaster said. The company later cited “extraordinarily high demands on ticketing systems and insufficient remaining ticket inventory to meet that demand” in canceling the general sale. Greg Maffei, the CEO of Live Nation’s parent company, Liberty Media Corporation, told CNBC he is “sympathetic” to fans but blamed issues on “the massive demand that Taylor Swift has.” He added that Live Nation is “working hard on this.” Both Maffei and Ticketmaster claimed there was enough demand to fill 900 stadiums. “While it’s impossible for everyone to get tickets to these shows, we know we can do more to improve the experience and that’s what we’re focused on,” Ticketmaster said on the page.

Tennessee’s attorney general, Jonathan Skrmetti, announced a consumer-protection and antitrust investigation into Ticketmaster after the failures, citing complaints to his office. “I would hope the company is doing everything it can to make sure the customers, from today forward, have a much smoother and fairer experience,” Skrmetti said during a press conference, per Nashville’s WSMV 4. North Carolina’s attorney general, Josh Stein, has since announced his office is also investigating Ticketmaster. Other states also appear to be eyeing the company, with Pennsylvania attorney general Joshua Shapiro asking fans who experienced issues to submit consumer complaints.

On November 16, Klobuchar sent a letter to the CEO of Live Nation, Michael Rapino, over the concern “that Ticketmaster continues to abuse its market positions.” The senator wrote that she has “serious concerns about the state of competition in the ticketing industry and its harmful impact on consumers,” citing Ticketmaster’s 2010 merger with Live Nation, which she was “skeptical” of at the time. “You said that you were ‘confident this plan will work,’” she wrote to him of hearings over the merger. “It appears that your confidence was misplaced.” Klobuchar requested further answers from Rapino over Ticketmaster’s operations.

In addition to Klobuchar, several of her colleagues in Congress have spoken out against Ticketmaster. Representative David Cicilline, who chairs the House’s antitrust subcommittee, tweeted on November 15 that the Swift-tour issue was “a symptom of a larger problem,” calling Live Nation and Ticketmaster “an unchecked monopoly.” (He and other representatives had called for an investigation into Live Nation last year.) That same day, representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that the merger “should never have been approved.”

Separately, President Joe Biden recently said his administration would be targeting “junk fees” in various sectors “like processing fees for concert tickets.” In his response to the recent ticketing issues, Maffei nearly admitted Live Nation had a monopoly, explaining on CNBC that AEG, a rival promoter that is handling Swift’s tour, still decided to sell tickets on Ticketmaster. (Five of Swift’s 52 shows, in Arizona and Texas, are being sold by SeatGeek.) “We are, in reality, the largest and most effective ticket seller in the world,” Maffei claimed.

Swift is just the latest subject of Ticketmaster’s ticketing issues. Earlier this year, the company was criticized over its “Platinum” pricing, in which some tickets spike dramatically in response to demand, for tours by Bruce Springsteen and Blink-182. Some artists have joined the recent criticisms against Ticketmaster, including Zach Bryan, a country singer-songwriter who’s become a popular touring act. On Twitter, Bryan recently called for “a serious change in the system,” and he has alluded to making future touring decisions around Ticketmaster. For now, Godspeed to the millions of Swifties who were still holding out for tickets.

This is a developing story.

Ticketmaster Faces Investigations After Taylor Swift Presale