Senators address Taylor Swift tour fiasco

Dear Reader, here are the Swift references you might have missed

Though today’s hearing wasn’t solely focused on Taylor Swift, few speakers missed the chance to slip in references to the pop star whose ticket sale disaster offered the catalyst for a congressional inquiry.

Klobuchar opened her remarks with a sly reference to “All Too Well,” a fan favorite, at the start of the hearing. But Mike Lee quickly caught up, referencing “You Belong With Me” in his own opening.

Lee might have even outnumbered his colleagues, later referring to the idea of limits on ticket transfers as a “nightmare dressed like a daydream.” He also ended his closing remarks with a reference to some of Swift’s newest work.

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“I have to throw out, in deference to my daughter Eliza, one more Taylor Swift quote,” Lee said. “Karma is a relaxing thought. Aren’t you envious for you it’s not?”

Blumenthal joined in with a pointed “Anti-Hero” lyric to Live Nation’s president, suggesting the company look in the mirror and say, “I’m the problem, it’s me.”

Nuzzo, senior vice president of the think tank The James Madison Institute, chimed in during his testimony as a witness, referencing the last album that received a tour from Swift: “Reputation.”

“A few million Taylor Swift fans would respond: ‘This is why we can’t have nice things,'” he said of Live Nation’s market power.

Some skepticism around Ticketmaster’s claim of a ‘cyberattack’

A cybersecurity expert says she’s skeptical of the Live Nation president’s claim that “cyberattacks” were partially to blame for Ticketmaster’s inability to handle Taylor Swift ticket sales in November.

“We were then hit with three times the amount of bot traffic than we had ever experienced,” Berchtold said in his prepared testimony. “While the bots failed to penetrate our systems or acquire any tickets, the attack required us to slow down and even pause our sales.”

Hackers do frequently attack websites by deliberately overwhelming them with traffic. But Berchtold’s description simply indicates that his website wasn’t prepared for the huge demand for Swift tickets, said Tracy Maleeff, a security researcher at the Krebs Stamos Group, a cybersecurity consultancy.

“It sounds like they couldn’t handle the traffic. They probably should have segmented the ticket sales by city or show date,” Maleeff said. “They let the floodgates open then were surprised when it flooded.”

It’s about monopolies, but it’s also about fans, Klobuchar says in closing

In her closing statement, Klobuchar noted that Tuesday’s hearing was not only about the issues facing economic competition but about people across the country who are eager to turn out to events.

“It’s about those events that bring us together, and especially as we come out of this pandemic and come out of our 300-million-plus silos, people have loved going to see live music again,” Klobuchar said.

One of the goals of the hearing was to be able to give people those experiences, Klobuchar said. She thanked witnesses and her colleagues for turning out for the day, but also fans.

“I think you know we’ve been respectful throughout this hearing, and I think part of that is our desire to actually move on this issue,” Klobuchar said. “As I’ve noted, even getting the public’s attention on this — we thank the fans who maybe are still outside and we hope are watching on C-SPAN. I thank them for keeping this alive.”

Hearing closes after nearly three hours of blistering questions

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle spent much of the hearing grilling Joe Berchtold, Live Nation Entertainment president and CFO, about his company’s alleged anticompetitive practices.

Klobuchar, who heads the Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust issues, called the company’s handling of Taylor Swift’s recent tour a “fiasco,” while other lawmakers lambasted Berchtold for using Live Nation’s market share to dominate the resale, promotion and venue industries.

Lee says hearing was helpful, notes competition reduces prices

Lee said in his closing remarks that he found the hearing helpful and said the topic relates to a lot of things his Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust oversees: “the intersection of consumer rights, consumer welfare, and our antitrust laws.”

“It’s very important that we maintain fair, free, open and even fierce competition in this,” he said. “The reason we focus on that is because when there’s competition, it does two things, both of which are very valuable to the average American: It increases quality, and it reduces price. We want those things to happen.”

Lee concluded with another reference to a Taylor Swift quote: “Karma is a relaxing thought. Aren’t you envious that for you it’s not?”

Hawley to DOJ: ‘Sue them for heaven’s sakes’

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Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., called on the Justice Department to take harsher enforcement measures against ticket companies suspected of violating antitrust law.

“My message to the FTC and the Justice Department is this: Sue them for heaven’s sakes, you know, I mean, quit slapping them on the wrist,” Hawley told reporters. “Sue them if you think that they’re committing infractions.”

Last summer, the Justice Department began investigating Live Nation Entertainment for alleged antitrust violations. But the DOJ has so far not taken legal action against the ticketing giant.


What is the BOSS Act mentioned in today’s hearing?

A bill that stalled in Congress in 2019 could address some of the concerns senators raised about ticket sales, two Democrats said.

The Better Oversight of Secondary Sales and Accountability in Concert Ticketing Act, or BOSS Act, would require the Federal Trade Commission to issue rules about transparency in primary and secondary ticket sales.

It would also require ticket sellers to disclose extra charges to consumers and to return those ancillary charges in refunds. Additionally, it would prohibit primary ticket sellers from restricting secondary sales, among other provisions.

The BOSS Act was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who participated in today’s Judiciary Committee hearing and suggested the legislation could be a solution to some problems with the industry. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, echoed his support for the bill.

The BOSS Act was introduced in the House in 2019 by Reps. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., and Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., but stalled in committee.


Cruz asks witnesses: Is Ticketmaster a monopoly?

Cruz went around to the witnesses and asked a core question at issue in the hearing: “In your judgment, is Ticketmaster a monopoly?”

SeatGeek’s Groetzinger responded, “Unequivocally.”

Jam Productions’ Mickelson: “Yes, sir, without a doubt.”

Nuzzo, of The James Madison Institute: “Yes, absolutely.”

Bradish, of the American Antitrust Institute: “It’s certainly acting like a monopoly.”

Lawrence, the singer-songwriter, said, “I don’t know.”

Cruz then returned to Berchtold and asked him to respond. The Live Nation CFO noted he couldn’t speak to his fellow witnesses’ motives but denied the assertion that his corporation held a monopoly.

“We absolutely believe the ticketing business has never been more competitive,” Berchtold said. “We believe that fact is demonstrated with every venue renewal, it has multiple credible offers in a bidding process.”

Most Senate Judiciary members turn out for Ticketmaster hearing

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Ticketmaster hearing is one of the first high-profile hearings of the new Congress, and nearly all Judiciary members have been in attendance.

Among those who questioned witnesses or made an appearance:

Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the ranking member; as well as Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Mike Lee, R-Utah; John Cornyn, R-Texas; Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Jon Ossoff, D-Ga.; Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.; Josh Hawley, R-Mo.; Thom Tillis, R-N.C.; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.; John Kennedy, R-La.; and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii.

Hawley expresses concern about nontransferable concert tickets

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., asked Live Nation President Joe Berchtold why it’s good for consumers to limit the transferability of concert tickets — an idea floated during Tuesday’s hearing to prevent ticket scalping, which Berchtold said he would support.

“I don’t understand why it’s a good thing for the ticket buyer to not be able to resell our tickets,” Hawley said.

Berchtold said that being able to transfer tickets creates “a $5 billion a year opportunity” in the U.S. for the industrial scalping of tickets using bots to “unfairly gain possession of those tickets and illegally gain possession of those tickets.”

“I just worry about the effect on consumers and prices,” Hawley said. “If you tell the consumer who buys a ticket that you can’t then turn around and sell it. I mean, if you talk about market intervention, that’s a pretty significant one.”

Kennedy: Person in charge of Swift ticket sales ‘ought to be fired’

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., told Live Nation CFO and President Joe Berchtold that whoever was in charge of Taylor Swift ticket sales “ought to be fired.”

As customers purchased tickets for Swift’s upcoming “The Eras Tour,” they encountered website crashes, long wait times and high costs.

“I’m not against big, per se,” Kennedy said. “I’m against dumb, and the way your company handled the ticket sales for Ms. Swift was a debacle.”

“Whoever in your company was in charge of that ought to be fired,” he added.

Kennedy further pressed Berchtold on why his company had not done more to address high ticket costs.

“If you care about the consumer, cap the price!” he said.

Blackburn pushes Ticketmaster on bot defenses

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., questioned why Ticketmaster appeared to have such a difficult time with bots, saying ticketing vendors appear to “view bot attacks as a normal part of their operation.”

Blackburn pushed Berchtold on why it appeared that his company struggled to identify the difference between bots and consumers. She also suggested that there were many experts, including the Federal Trade Commission, that Ticketmaster could have sought help from.

“This is unbelievable,” Blackburn said. “You ought to be able to get some good advice from people and figure this out.”

Berchtold responded that he would get answers to Blackburn’s questions in writing on how Ticketmaster handles bots and how it protects consumer data against them. But he also indicated that the issue of bot attacks in ticketing is more nuanced than typical bot attacks.

“These are bots that are not trying to generally break into our system; these are bots that are trying to impersonate people,” Berchtold said.

Swift, who owns a residence in Nashville, has openly campaigned against Blackburn. The singer had been quiet about her personal political views until 2018, when Swift took issue with Blackburn’s stance on LGBTQ rights and her vote against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

Blumenthal says Live Nation has ‘absolutely unified’ both parties

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in his line of questioning that Live Nation President Joe Berchtold has unified lawmakers from both parties.

“I want to congratulate and thank you for an absolutely stunning achievement: You have brought together Republicans and Democrats in an absolutely unified cause,” Blumenthal said about lawmakers’ concerns and frustration with Live Nation’s and Ticketmaster’s practices.

Berchtold smiled after Blumenthal’s comment.

“And may I suggest respectfully,” Blumenthal continued, “that unfortunately, your approach today in this hearing is going to solidify that cooperation because as I hear and read what you have to say, it’s basically: It’s not us, it’s everyone but us.”

Klobuchar: ‘Clearly there isn’t transparency’ in ticketing pricing

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., asked the witnesses a series of questions about who sets extra fees for concerts and what percentage of the final ticket price is just those extra fees.

Clyde Lawrence, the singer-songwriter, said that usually his band will see a 40% to 50% fee added on top of the base price.

“We have seen really outlandish numbers — like, we had one show last spring where there was an 82% fee on top of the base price. Again, we have no say in, or we don’t even know what it’s going to be until it goes on sale,” Lawrence said.

Joe Berchtold, president of Live Nation Entertainment, claimed the fees are set by the Live Nation venues and those fees are “consistent with the other venues in the marketplace.” He said they cover the cost of the venue’s operations.

In response, Lawrence said that he has asked venues what the extra ticket fees will be, for venues that Live Nation owns and ones they just operate.

The venues “certainly don’t take responsibility for the fees,” Lawrence said. “So I don’t know who is doing the fees, but we ask that question to the venues and they say, ‘Not only do we not choose what it is, we don’t even know what it is. We can’t even tell you what it’s going to be.’ So I don’t know where the answer lies.”

Klobuchar replied, “Clearly there isn’t transparency when no one knows who sets the fees.”

Senate holds Ticketmaster hearing after Taylor Swift presale debacle

Highlights from the hearing so far:

Klobuchar and Lee delivered opening statements and voiced their concerns about the lack of competition and increased consolidation while showing off their Taylor Swift knowledge.

Jam CEO pushes back on Ticketmaster: ‘You can’t blame bots’ for Taylor Swift crash

Jerry Mickelson, CEO and president of live entertainment producer Jam Productions, pushed back on a Live Nation executive’s assertion that a bot attack was to blame for the Taylor Swift ticketing crash.

“For the leading ticket company not to be able to handle bots is, for me, a pretty unbelievable statement,” Mickelson, a 50-year veteran of the entertainment industry, said under questioning from Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill. 

“You can’t blame bots for what happened to Taylor Swift. There’s more to that story that you’re not hearing.”

Moments earlier, Live Nation President Joe Berchtold testified in his opening statement that Ticketmaster had been hit with “three times” the amount of bot traffic during its sale of Swift tickets. The bots, he said, also attacked its “Verified Fan” access code servers for the first time.

“While the bots failed to penetrate our systems or acquire any tickets, the attack required us to slow down and even pause our sales,” Berchtold said. “This is what led to a terrible consumer experience that we deeply regret.”

Antitrust lawyer says it’s difficult for DOJ to pursue these kinds of cases

Kathleen Bradish, vice president for legal advocacy at the American Antitrust Institute, explained in response to a question from Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, why it’s difficult for the Justice Department to pursue a vertical merger case in court. (Vertical mergers refer to the combination of companies with complementary products, like Live Nation’s promotion and Ticketmaster’s ticket sales.)

“Obviously a case in court involves risk,” she said, adding that recent experience shows that pursuing these cases is “very difficult,” making the federal government hesitant to go that route.

The other issue, she said, is the need for witnesses in a court case.

“In a situation where there’s a pervasive fear of the dominant firm, where venues and promoters and other independent rivals will suffer potentially suffer consequences — and history has suggested that’s the case — they would have to testify in court and to get someone to take that risk,” she said. “It’s not an easy ask.”

This is why, she explained, the Justice Department agreed to a consent decree in 2010 to ensure competition when Live Nation and Ticketmaster merged.

Threat of retaliation from Live Nation is real, SeatGeek CEO says

Durbin began a line of questioning into whether Live Nation and Ticketmaster exerts power over the marketplace to punish venues that choose to work with its competitors.

“The threat is real, it’s been documented,” Groetzinger, the CEO of SeatGeek, said. “It happens across many venues.”

Groetzinger cited a New York Times article about the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York’s decision to drop SeatGeek in favor of an exclusive deal with Ticketmaster.

“Earlier last year, Barclays management said, ‘We’d like to keep using you for tickets for basketball but would like to use Ticketmaster for concerts,'” Groetzinger testified. But having a deal for sports alone didn’t make economic sense for SeatGeek, he added.

The venue saw a decline in events promoted by Live Nation, The New York Times reported based on data from Pollstar, a trade publication.

Berchtold denied allegations of retaliation, attributing the decline in events at Barclays Center to another venue opening in the New York City market.

“It’s absolutely our policy to not threaten, pressure or retaliate against venues by using content as part of the ticketing discussion,” Berchtold said.

Who is Clyde Lawrence, the artist testifying on Live Nation?

Clyde Lawrence of the New York-based soul-pop band Lawrence, who is testifying during the hearing, said he hopes his band will “one day be big enough to crash a ticketing website,” as Taylor Swift did.

The band was formed when Lawrence teamed up with his sister Gracie, with whom he had been performing since their early childhood. Seven of the band’s eight members attended Brown University.

Lawrence has chosen to remain fully independent, meaning it does not have a deal with any major label, he said.

The band began touring in 2016, and he recently wrote in an opinion piece for The New York Times that he has long been frustrated by “lopsided” deal mechanics for live shows.

The band’s song “False Alarms” includes the lyric, “Live Nation’s a monopoly.” In his piece for the Times, Lawrence added that even if the company does not meet the legal definition of a monopoly, its “control of the live music ecosystem is staggering.”

Think tank VP lays out how anti-competitive practices hurt ticket buyers

Sal Nuzzo, senior vice president of The James Madison Institute, an economic policy think tank focusing on issues affecting Floridians, shared how anti-competitive practices harm consumers.

He claimed that Live Nation’s market power has “corroded innovation and distorted the market,” as the company can levy service fees and exclusivity requirements, raising prices for consumers and crowding venues and promoters out of the industry.

“Those representing the dominant player in the market would contend that their growth has allowed them to innovate and make advances that greatly benefit consumers. A few million Taylor Swift fans would respond: ‘This is why we can’t have nice things.’”

“Suppose a robust, vibrant and competitive market for ticketing had been allowed to evolve and innovate over the last 20 years — would the Taylor Swift crash have occurred?” Nuzzo asked lawmakers.


Alongside hearing, Ticketmaster draws ire from Philadelphia Eagles fans

It’s not just the Swifties who are unhappy with Ticketmaster.

Ticket sales for the upcoming NFL conference championship game in Philadelphia went on sale Tuesday morning, and some Eagles fans are not thrilled. Many have tweeted about long queues resulting in no tickets.

Stephen Hannig, 29, of Philadelphia, said he was left frustrated by the ticket sales. He said he got in the digital ticket queue right as it opened.

“Unfortunately the only ones left are the verified resale which are crazy expensive,” he said in a Twitter direct message. “It’s a s—show every time and leaves fans pissed. Flashbacks to Phillies tickets lottery and Taylor Swift.”

CEO of Jam Productions lays out how Live Nation merger hurt his company

Jerry Mickelson, CEO and president of Jam Productions, expressed deep frustration in his testimony at how the Live Nation-Ticketmaster merger has affected his company.

Mickelson recounted testifying before Congress in 2010 against the unification of those two “goliath” companies and said he had warned lawmakers that it “would create a business with extraordinary more power and clout unlike any that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.”

“I testified that if this merger was allowed to proceed, the combined entity would have the ability to suppress or eliminate competition in many segments of the industry,” he said. “Today, we know with certainty that this merger is vertical integration on steroids — using dominance in one market to expand its power and dominance in another, cutting out the competition and harming the consumers.”

He explained that when Live Nation loses money on a concert, they can make up for it with operating income from ticketing and sponsorships, but his company can’t.

“Pepsi doesn’t earn money from Coke. But our competitor, Live Nation, earns money from selling tickets to our concerts.”

Mickelson said that arena-level concerts used to be his company’s “most profitable segment of the business.” In 1996, Jam produced 100 concerts in arenas; in 2022, he said they only produced 14.

Mickelson said Live Nation is “choking off competition,” adding, “This was most acutely seen in Taylor Swift, and it’s playing out across the live music industry every day, generating fan outrage and despair.”

It’s bots. Hi, it’s the problem, it’s bots.

The practice of ticket scalping — buying up tickets to a live event and then reselling them at a higher price when demand grows — predates computers.

But in the digital era, it’s become a more widespread problem that’s also difficult to stop. Scalpers now use bots — automated software programs that purchase tickets automatically — to snap up tickets before fans have a chance.

Bots can buy huge numbers of tickets in bulk to be resold on a secondary market, sometimes at an exorbitant markup.

Companies have developed a variety of systems to try to stop bots, but the problem persists. And while technically illegal, the use of bots remains top of mind for regulators and ticket companies.

Packed house for today’s hearing

Senators flex their Taylor Swift knowledge

Members of the Senate Judiciary hearing were fearless in flexing their knowledge of Swift.

Klobuchar opened the hearing Tuesday by saying that people know “all too well” that in the U.S., “you can’t have too much consolidation.”

Lee followed up by joking that he had been hoping to chair the Senate committee, but that Klobuchar was the committee “cheer captain and I’m in the bleachers.”

Whether or not the hearing gets treacherous is yet to be determined, but the senators are apparently ready for it either way.

DOJ needs to intervene in ticket industry, SeatGeek CEO says

The Ticketmaster and Live Nation dominance over the ticketing industry has created a pressure on venues to engage in exclusive contracts, SeatGeek CEO and founder Jack Groetzinger told the committee Tuesday.

“Live Nation may say that there’s never been more competition in ticketing. We at SeatGeek appreciate that compliment, but it is a far cry from the competition that should exist in an open market where companies can compete fairly on the merits of their offering,” he said in a prepared statement.

Groetzinger told senators that the “stranglehold” on promotion and ticketing by Live Nation and Ticketmaster has created barriers to competition because of its exclusive deals with venues.

“Major venues in the United States know that if they move their primary ticketing business from Ticketmaster to a competitor, they risk losing the substantial revenue they earn from Live Nation concerts,” Groetzinger said.

SeatGeek operated a small portion of the Taylor Swift ticket sales due to its own exclusive deals with venues, primarily on the West Coast, including Swift’s opening night of her tour at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

Live Nation wants Congress to expand the BOTS Act. What is it?

Berchtold told members that one way to improve ticket sales is to expand the BOTS Act and provide better enforcement.

The 2016 law, which is an acronym for the Better Online Ticket Sales Act, aimed to prevent ticket scalpers from using bots to snap up huge numbers of tickets to shows and resell them to the public at inflated prices. The law allows the FTC to impose heavy fines on violators — as well as on individuals or entities that knowingly resell tickets acquired through bots.

But very few violations of the law have actually been enforced.

Berchtold argued Tuesday that Ticketmaster and other private companies “should be able to bring civil actions to enforce the BOTS Act.”

Live Nation president urges Senate to focus on scalpers

Live Nation President and CFO Joe Berchtold urged senators to look at public policy targeting scalpers during his opening statement Tuesday morning.

Berchtold denied that his company holds a monopoly over ticketing services, highlighting the rise of companies such as SeatGeek and Eventbrite since 2010. When discussing the Taylor Swift Verified Presale last year, Berchtold blamed bots attacking the website and impacting traffic to the sale site.

Ticketmaster accepted that there were lessons to be learned from the sale, Berchtold said.

“But in this forum where we are here to discuss public policy, 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,” he said.

He urged specific reforms, including banning speculative sales for tickets sellers don’t actually own and federal legislation to allow fans to know the full cost of tickets upfront.

“We also share your goal of making the live entertainment industry better for artists, teams and fans alike,” Berchtold said. “And it is in that spirit that I sit  before you today: to work with you to make the fan experience better.”

Lee calls hearing a ‘perfect opportunity’ to see how government is enforcing the law

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, ranking member on the subcommittee overseeing competition and antitrust policy, said in his opening statement that Congress should be asking whether the consent decree implemented in the 2010 Live Nation-Ticketmaster merger was “the right decision in the first place.”

“Was the divestiture sufficient to ensure competitive pressure on the combined entity of Ticketmaster and Live Nation?” Lee said.

The Ticketmaster debacle and the testimony the panel was set to hear, Lee said, will likely “raise very serious doubts” about the sufficiency of the Justice Department’s efforts to promote competition in the ticketing industry.

“Today is the perfect opportunity to do what this committee is supposed to do: exercise oversight over the executive branch’s law enforcement efforts,” Lee said. “And consider whether to what extent and what ways new legislation or perhaps just better enforcement of existing laws might be needed to protect the American people.”

Klobuchar details how Live Nation wields influence in the industry

In her opening statement, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., outlined how Live Nation Entertainment has moved beyond selling tickets to venue ownership and promotions, consolidating power in the live entertainment industry.

The company owns major concert venues and often locks in seven-year contracts for the venues it does not own, she said. It also engages in promotion and ticket resale.

Venues are coerced into working with Live Nation Entertainment for fear they otherwise will not get the acts they want, she said.

“This is all a definition of monopoly because Live Nation is so powerful that it doesn’t even need to exert pressure, it doesn’t need to threaten because people just fall in line,” Klobuchar said.

“You can’t have too much consolidation, something that unfortunately for this country, as an ode to Taylor Swift, I will say we know all too well,” she added.

Durbin, Graham express concern about lack of competition

Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in his opening statement that what occurred with the presale for Taylor Swift’s tour is a symptom of a “larger problem.”

“The ticketing and live entertainment markets lack competition, and they are dominated by a single entity — Live Nation,” he said.

Durbin noted that in 2010, Live Nation merged with Ticketmaster and there was a consent decree put in place with a set of conditions designed to ensure competition.

“Unfortunately, that consent decree does not appear to have been effective in the decade-plus since the merger,” he said. “Live Nation has consolidated its dominant position in the ticketing and live entertainment markets. And the result is a competition-killing strategy that has left artists and fans paying the price.”

Ranking Member Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., echoed Durbin’s comments in his opening statement, saying that the hearing’s big theme is “consolidation of power in the hands of few can create problems for the many.”

“Competition is a good thing and we’ll determine today what happened. How did the system fail so spectacularly? What can we do in the future?”

Hearing kicks off with remarks from both parties

Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing has begun, with Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Ranking Member Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., delivering opening remarks.

The 10 a.m. hearing, which is expected to last around two hours, will examine Ticketmaster’s far-reaching influence in the ticketing industry.

Lawmakers from both parties are participating in the hearing, with both Democrats and Republicans calling attention to high fees and slip-ups by the ticketing giant. Senators have proposed varying ways of addressing the issue, from passing new antitrust legislation to amping up enforcement of existing laws.

Dozens line up for Ticketmaster hearing

Dozens of lobbyists, Hill staffers, reporters and members of the public lined up to attend the Ticketmaster hearing.

The line stretched down a hallway and wrapped around a corner in the Senate Hart Building. Members of the public said they waited about 30 minutes before they were allowed in.

Inside the room, every seat is filled. Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and other senators greeted those testifying, including singer-songwriter Clyde Lawrence.

With Ticketmaster hearing, Klobuchar aims to ‘make antitrust sexy again’

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Senators hope Tuesday’s bipartisan hearing will draw attention to Ticketmaster’s dominance in the industry.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said that the controversy over Taylor Swift’s most recent tour was “the tip of the iceberg.” She pointed to issues with ticketing for concerts held by Bruce Springsteen and Bad Bunny, among other artists.

She noted that Ticketmaster has more than 70% of the market share for ticketing for large events and the company also owns concert venues and does promotion for Live Nation, a live entertainment company it merged with in 2010.

Klobuchar added that the hearing, jointly led with Republicans, will help the lawmakers draft legislation about transparency in fees. “I really think it’s time to make some changes to the antitrust laws and to outlaw discriminatory behavior,” she said.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., also called on Congress to strengthen antitrust laws, saying it appears that Ticketmaster has reached “monopoly status or near monopoly status.”

Klobuchar said that consolidation within the ticketing industry has been a problem for years, but that it is difficult to capture the public’s attention on the issue. Taylor Swift’s celebrity power has brought the issue to the forefront, she said.

“I need to make antitrust sexy again. Industry consolidation and unfair practices, discriminatory conduct, that all sounds really boring, but it sounds a lot more interesting when a Taylor Swift fan is putting it to music,” Klobuchar said, referencing TikTok videos on the controversy.

What to expect from Tuesday’s hearing

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The Senate Judiciary Committee will convene around 10 a.m. Tuesday for a hearing that is expected to last around two hours.

Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, are expected to deliver short opening statements before handing the hearing off to Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, both outspoken antitrust advocates.

Klobuchar and Lee are expected to give short opening statements before opening the hearing for witness statements and questioning from committee members.

Outside on Capitol Hill, protesters with Free Britney America will also gather at 10 a.m. to claim that “the inordinate power that Live Nation has across the music industry secures a culture of silence around the abuse of Britney Spears and other artists.”

In opening statement, Live Nation president expected to say company ‘could have done better’

Joe Berchtold, Live Nation Entertainment’s president and chief financial officer, will call for Congress to pass legislation that better targets bot-driven ticket scalping while acknowledging things the company “could have done better,” according to a copy of his opening statement obtained by NBC News.

“There are problems in the ticketing industry — problems that we believe can and should be addressed through legislation,” Berchtold is expected to say, criticizing an industry of ticket scalping that he says goes against artists’ and fans’ interests. Berchtold will argue that enforcement of the BOTS Act, a 2016 law aimed at improving online ticket sales, is lacking and call for new legislation.

According to the written remarks, Berchtold will also comment on “unprecedented demand” for Taylor Swift tickets and bot traffic that was “three times” higher than it has experienced in the past.

Bot traffic is typical for ticket sales, especially during popular events like Swift’s highly anticipated tour.

“While the bots failed to penetrate our systems or acquire any tickets, the attack required us to slow down and even pause our sales,” Berchtold is expected to say. “This is what led to a terrible consumer experience that we deeply regret. As we said after the onsale, and I reiterate today, we apologize to the many disappointed fans as well as to Ms. Swift.”

Klobuchar first wrote to Ticketmaster’s parent company demanding answers after presale chaos

After the chaos involving Taylor Swift’s tour unfolded, Klobuchar sent a letter in November to Live Nation Entertainment, Ticketmaster’s parent company, expressing concern over the lack of competition in the ticketing industry.

“Reports about system failures, increasing fees, and complaints of conduct that violate the consent decree Ticketmaster is under suggest that Ticketmaster continues to abuse its market positions,” wrote Klobuchar, chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust and Consumer Rights.

Klobuchar said that “Ticketmaster’s power in the primary ticket market insulates it from the competitive pressures that typically push companies to innovate and improve their services.”

Klobuchar asked in the letter for Live Nation Entertainment to answer a slew of questions, including “what percentage of high profile tour tickets are available to the general public compared to those allocated to pre-sales, radio stations, VIPs, and other restricted sales opportunities?”

She also asked how much the company invested in the previous 12 months in upgrading Ticketmaster’s system to address demand surges.

President for Live Nation Entertainment, Ticketmaster’s parent company, among the hearing’s witnesses

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, who oversee the Senate Judiciary subcommittee focused on competition and antitrust, announced the list of witnesses for the hearing Monday, including the president of Live Nation Entertainment, Ticketmaster’s parent company.

The witnesses are:

  • Joe Berchtold, president and CFO, Live Nation Entertainment
  • Jack GroetzingerCEO, SeatGeek
  • Jerry Mickelson, CEO and president, Jam Productions
  • Sal Nuzzo, senior vice president, The James Madison Institute
  • Kathleen Bradish, vice president for legal advocacy, American Antitrust Institute
  • Clyde Lawrence, singer-songwriter for the band Lawrence 

Taylor Swift fans sued Ticketmaster over presale disaster

In December, Swift’s fans sued Live Nation Entertainment, Ticketmaster’s parent company, over the November fiasco. The plaintiffs are seeking a penalty of $2,500 against Ticketmaster for every violation of Business and Professions Code, Section 17200.

The lawsuit accused Ticketmaster of “intentionally and purposefully mislead ticket purchasers” by allowing “scalpers and bots” to access the presale, providing more codes than the allotted tickets and scheduling the general ticket sale “knowing they would not have the quantity necessary” to fulfill the demand.

In case you missed it: Ticketmaster debacle over Taylor Swift’s tour leads to hearing

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing about the lack of competition in the ticketing industry comes after the debacle involving Ticketmaster and pop star Taylor Swift’s upcoming U.S. tour that begins in March.

In mid-November, Ticketmaster opened presale tickets for “The Eras Tour” to fans with registered codes. The rush to obtain tickets became a mess as fans experienced wait times that lasted for hours and a website that occasionally crashed, sending some back to the beginning of a virtual queue with thousands ahead of them.

Days after the presale started, the ticketing giant canceled the tour’s public ticket sale. Ticketmaster said more than 3.5 million people pre-registered for the presale, which it said was “the largest registration in history.” But, it said, usually only 40% of invited fans actually wind up buying tickets during the presale. As a result, Ticketmaster said about 1.5 million people were sent codes to join the sale for all 52 show dates, including the 47 sold by Ticketmaster. 

“The remaining 2 million Verified Fans were placed on a waiting list on the small chance that tickets might still be available after those who received codes had shopped,” Ticketmaster said at the time.

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Senators address Taylor Swift tour fiasco

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