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Taylor Swift ticketing fallout continues

A US Senate antitrust panel is to look into a "lack of competition in ticketing markets" following The Eras Tour onsale controversy

By James Hanley on 23 Nov 2022

Taylor Swift will headline Amazon's first Prime Day concert

The fallout from the controversial presale for Taylor Swift’s 2023 stadium tour has escalated, with a US Senate antitrust panel set to look into a “lack of competition in ticketing markets”.

Senators Amy Klobuchar and Mike Lee of the senate judiciary subcommittee on competition policy, antitrust and consumer rights have announced the hearing – which will take place on a date to be confirmed – in response to last week’s cancelled onsale.

Swift shifted more than two million tickets – a new record for an artist in a single day – for her AEG-promoted 52-date The Eras Tour, but the sale was marred by reports of “significant service failures” and lengthy delays on Ticketmaster’s website.

“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,” says Klobuchar. “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.

“This is a story about the status of Taylor Swift, not the status of Ticketmaster”

“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 incentivise better services and fair prices, we all suffer the consequences.”

Days before the announcement, Klobuchar wrote an open letter to Live Nation chief Michael Rapino, expressing “serious concerns about the state of competition in the ticketing industry”. The letter came just weeks after a coalition of American consumer, artist and lobbying groups launched a Break Up Ticketmaster campaign, claiming that artists and venues are being exploited by the company.

Several industry commentators have been quick to point out that unprecedented demand for Taylor Swift tickets has little to do with Ticketmaster’s relationship with Live Nation. “This is a story about the status of Taylor Swift, not the status of Ticketmaster,” wrote Bob Lefsetz. “I wish everybody would STFU! There is no villain here. Just an incredibly successful pop star and a company that was caught off guard by demand.”

In his weekly Full Rate No Cap email, former Billboard editorial director Bill Werde wrote, “It’s pretty obvious that putting 52 dates on sale at once is an unnecessary stress to any tech platform,” adding that Swift’s team had been advised not to put all dates on sale at the same time, “But they wanted the big splash. End result? Her fans suffered.”

“We did sell over two million tickets that day, we could have filled 900 stadiums”

The Eras Tour attracted “historically unprecedented demand” as 3.5m people pre-registered for Swift’s Verified Fan presale, 1.5m of whom were later invited to participate in the onsale. However, the Ticketmaster site struggled to cope with the traffic after being swamped by bot attacks. Seatgeek (which took on $238m in private equity investment in August) experienced similar technical issues ticketing five of the Swift dates.

“The site was supposed to be opened up for 1.5 million verified Taylor Swift fans,” said Live Nation chair Greg Maffei. “We had 14 million people hit the site, including bots – another story – which are not supposed to be there. And despite all the challenges and the breakdowns, we did sell over two million tickets that day, we could have filled 900 stadiums.

“Interestingly, AEG our competitor, who is the promoter for Taylor Swift, chose to use us because we are in reality, the largest and most effective ticket seller in the world. Even our competitors want to come on our platform.”

However, in a rebuttal that may add fuel to the antitrust fire, AEG Presents yesterday told CNBC, “Ticketmaster’s exclusive deals with the vast majority of venues on The Eras Tour required us to ticket through their system…We didn’t have a choice.”

“We’re working to shore up our tech for the new bar that has been set by demand”

Ticketmaster has apologised to Swift and her fans, “especially those who had a terrible experience trying to purchase tickets”.

“Historically, we’ve been able to manage huge volume coming into the site to shop for tickets, so those with Verified Fan codes have a smooth shopping process,” it said in a blog post. “However, this time the staggering number of bot attacks as well as fans who didn’t have codes drove unprecedented traffic on our site, resulting in 3.5 billion total system requests – 4x our previous peak.

“We handle onsales for countless top tours, some of the biggest sporting events, and more. Never before has a Verified Fan onsale sparked so much attention – or traffic. This disrupted the predictability and reliability that is the hallmark of our Verified Fan platform.

“We’re always working to improve the ticket buying experience. Especially for high demand onsales, which continue to test new limits. We’re working to shore up our tech for the new bar that has been set by demand.”

Live Nation released a statement addressing competition concerns last weekend. “Live Nation takes its responsibilities under the antitrust laws seriously and does not engage in behaviours that could justify antitrust litigation, let alone orders that would require it to alter fundamental business practices,” it said.


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