Taylor Swift ticket sale problems spark widespread criticism of Ticketmaster

Correction: The NewsHour incorrectly reported that the band Pearl Jam sued the Justice Department in 1994 accusing Ticketmaster of monopolizing ticket sales. Pearl Jam filed a complaint with the Justice Department. We regret the error. 

Taylor Swift fans hoping to score tickets to her upcoming tour have met a confusing and chaotic system. The problems sparked widespread criticism of Ticketmaster's grip on the market. Diana Moss of the American Antitrust Institute joined John Yang to discuss the issue.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Fans of Taylor Swift hoping to score tickets to her upcoming tour have met a confusing and chaotic system, prompting outrage from fans and lawmakers alike.

    John Yang has more.

  • John Yang:

    A mega-tour by megastar Taylor Swift is stirring up bad blood between the singers fans and the company behind the show.

    Back on tour for the first time in five years, Swift is selling out stadiums across the country for her Eras show. But that didn't make it easier for fans trying to score tickets.

  • Ticket Seeker:

    Come on. We got to go, 13 minutes.

  • John Yang:

    Posting their experience online, hopeful Swifties flooded Ticketmaster for presale seats, only to face extensive wait times, steep fees, and glitches. The site froze more than once as the queue numbered in the thousands.

  • Ticket Seeker:

    We are talking $750 a ticket for down here.

  • John Yang:

    Ticketmaster blamed historically unprecedented demand and urged patience.

    But critics saw a different issue, the 2010 merger between Ticketmaster and Live Nation that combined venues, artist management and ticketing under a single powerful company.

    Joe Biden, President of the United States: Look, folks, these are junk fees.

  • John Yang:

    Last month, President Biden promised to crack down on surprise charges for concert tickets and other purchases.

  • President Joe Biden:

    They benefit big corporations, not consumers, not working families. And that changes now.

  • John Yang:

    And, yesterday, lawmakers, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, called for more action.

    She wrote on Twitter: "Ticketmaster is a monopoly. Its merger with Live Nation should never have been approved. Break them up."

  • Ticket Seeker:

    I did not get tickets to see Taylor.

  • John Yang:

    Heartbroken fans who found sold out shows on Ticketmaster turned to resale sites and were outraged again.

  • Ticket Seeker:

    Tickets in the sections that I was trying to get tickets for are now on StubHub being resold for thousands of dollars.

  • John Yang:

    Swifties aren't the first to face this problem.

    In 1994, even before the Live Nation merger, rock band Pearl Jam sued the Justice Department accusing Ticketmaster of monopolizing ticket sales. The case was dismissed.

    This all follows the release of Swift's 10th studio album, "Midnights," a tour spotlighting the prices and vices of the music industry, singles like "Anti-Hero" drawing attention to antitrust law.

    We reached out to Ticketmaster for comment, but did not hear back in time for the broadcast.

    Diana Moss is president of the American Antitrust Institute, which advocates for greater enforcement of antitrust laws.

    Diana Moss, thanks for joining us.

    Explain your argument. Draw the line for us, in your — from your perspective, from that Live Nation-Ticketmaster merger in 2010 to the experience that Taylor Swift fans were having this weekend.

  • Diana Moss, President, American Antitrust Institute:

    Thanks, John.

    Absolutely. So, the merger is now 12 years old. That merger created an enormous monopoly, with a wingspan that covers everything from artist management, to concert promotion, to venue management, to ticketing.

    And when you put a firm together that has that kind of market power, the exercise of that market power, whether it be through threats to concert venues if they don't take Ticketmaster as their platform, or whether it is high ticket fees to consumers, we are seeing all of that market power.

    And the Taylor Swift incident, much like the Springsteen incident, was very symptomatic of how powerful this 800-pound gorilla is.

  • John Yang:

    Now, Ticketmaster points out that the Taylor Swift tour is not being promoted by Live Nation. It is being promoted by a competitor.

    What do you say to that?

  • Diana Moss:

    Well, I think that's really important to realize that Taylor Swift herself has a lot of market power.

    And all — all we ever hear about really are the big artists, like the Springsteens and the Swifts. Those artists have a lot of bargaining power in who they can deal with. We should be more worried about the smaller artists, the smaller bands who don't have that kind of bargaining power, who have to deal with Live Nation/Ticketmaster. They don't have many choices in the marketplace.

    And so they're forced into these relationships, and suffer as a result of it.

  • John Yang:

    So does that, in a way, sort of shape or warp the live — the live concert market industry and affect smaller groups?

  • Diana Moss:

    I think it does.

    I think when we look at — we look at the harms from the monopoly that Live Nation/Ticketmaster has, we have got to look at everything, from the artist's end of the spectrum all the way through those smaller businesses that struggle to survive in artist management, concert promotion, the smaller venues, all the way down to the consumer end.

    And I think, when we take that big picture view, we see how harmful the lack of competition is in this place. And that affects innovation in the music industry. And it also affects innovation in consumer-facing markets, for example, this experience with the crashing of the Ticketmaster platform.

    If we had more competition, we would have multiple platforms duking it out in a competitive market to provide excellent quality of service to fans.

  • John Yang:

    What role do the resale sites like StubHub, and Ticket Market — Ticketmaster, rather, has its own resale site. What role do they play in all of this?

  • Diana Moss:

    Yes, so the resale markets are really, really critically important.

    They give fans a chance who can't attend their events for whatever reason to go resale — resell their tickets. Other fans get their hands on tickets. So it's actually a really efficient way for markets to work. What Ticketmaster has done is leverage its monopoly and market power into the resale markets.

    And they have very restrictive policies that affect how well those resale markets work, for example, something called hold-backs, where they only release small amounts of tickets at a time and prices spike when they go on sale. Transferability of tickets is a problem. That restricts the ability of the secondary markets to function properly.

    So, Ticketmaster's policies absolutely invade the resale market and affect competition there as well.

  • John Yang:

    When the Obama Justice Department approved this merger between Live Nation and Ticketmaster, they put restrictions on it. They said that they had — there was a consent decree that they had to operate under.

    Is there enough oversight to make sure they're not violating their agreement?

  • Diana Moss:

    That's hard stuff to monitor.

    Monitoring from the outside how a company is doing its business, whether they're violating the conditions, is really, really difficult. And when the Justice Department came in just a couple of years ago and extended those very ineffective conditions, that was a real failure of antitrust — antitrust enforcement.

    And what we need is stronger antitrust enforcement in this space to create the competition that the merger wiped out.

  • John Yang:

    Diana Moss of the American Antitrust Institute, thank you very much.

  • Diana Moss:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment