Music Industry

Live Nation and Ticketmaster were in front of the US government again. Will anything change? (Spoiler: No. It was all populist BS. Let me explain.)

After Ticketmaster’s systems melted down when 52 Taylor Swift concerts went on sale simultaneously late last year, fans screamed bloody murder. They’re demanding that something be done. Not wanting to miss a chance at political grandstanding, Washington DC politicians have demanded that Ticketmaster and parent company Live Nation appear in front of a committee that, dammit, will get to the bottom of this.

Nothing’s going to come of this.

Selling concert tickets has ALWAYS been a complex and fraught enterprise. Every single system and set of procedures that has been tried since people started selling admission to events has been fraught with confusion and fraud. There have been multiple government investigations into ticket selling over the decades. And how have things changed? They haven’t.

To be sure, Ticketmaster has its flaws. Lots of them (deals with ticket brokers, the ever-popular issues with service charges, monopolistic tendencies, and so on) so no wonder people love to hate on them. But the company’s technical infrastructure is probably the best in the world. Imagine a set of servers getting hit with 3-5 million ticket sales requests from all over the world at once. That’s what Ticketmaster has to deal with. Its infrastructure also has to deal with repelling automated ticket-buy software (“bots”), each of which can hit the servers up maybe 100 times a minute. And that may be conservative.

Could this have been avoided? Maybe. Why did all 52 shows have to go on sale at the same time? This was the biggest on-sale date ever attempted in terms of the number of tickets. Ticketmaster assured Tay-Tay’s people that it could. They obviously could not. But why did Tay-Tay want this in the first place? So she and her people could boast about selling all these tickets in a single day. Now she gets to brag about breaking the internet. What a PR coup, huh? Tay-Tay wins on both counts!

Yet no one (save for Bob Lefsetz) mentions that. Taylor Swift gets a pass. Again. Actually, more than a pass. The US Government hopped to it when she and her fans complained.

The hearing on January 24 focused on the relationship between Ticketmaster and a variety of Live Nation divisions. This will no doubt lead to a reopening of the discussion over whether Live Nation and Ticketmaster should have been allowed to merge in 2010. Given the confusing nature of the hearings that led to the approval of that merger, it might be worthwhile.

Ticketmaster/Live Nation tried to keep the topic on the recent Taylor Swift issue, blaming the meltdown on an unprecedented bot attack–three times the usual number. They asked the politicians to take a more proactive stance against bot users, specifically putting more teeth into the 2016 BOTS Act.

Is Ticketmaster’s position in the marketplace too big? Maybe, but that’s a discussion for another time that will get very, very complicated very, very quickly and involves exclusive contracts with venues, ticket rebates to promoters, and more. Does Ticketmaster have competition? It does, but do the current conditions prevent the competition from properly competing against Ticketmaster? Again, that’s for another time.

In this specific case, the bigger issue is how tickets immediately end up in the hands of brokers, touts, and scalpers. Breaking up Ticketmaster will have ZERO effect on this situation. What we saw this week was populist political grandstanding bullshit.

Many of those complaining honestly have no clue how the ticketing business–concerts, sports, theatre, any live event–works. It’s a highly, highly emotional issue for music fans, something that gets in the way of the facts and reality.

Yes, there may be reasons to hate Ticketmaster and Live Nation. But before you reach for your pitchforks and torches, take some time to dig into the issue in a NON-emotional way. For example, if you want to see how f-ed up the entire ticketing process has become, I urge you to read this book. Your brain will explode as you try to understand what the hell is actually going on.

UPDATE 1: Here’s a statement for the Future of Music Coalition.

UPDATE 2: Here’s me on the CBC talking about the hearings.

UPDATE 3: Good analysis from CMU. And from Variety.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38336 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

5 thoughts on “Live Nation and Ticketmaster were in front of the US government again. Will anything change? (Spoiler: No. It was all populist BS. Let me explain.)

  • Until someone comes up with a way to fit a million people inside an arena, this is going to continue to happen, regardless of whether Ticketmaster has zero or a dozen competitors. Too much demand chasing a limited supply causes price inflation and shortages. It’s Economics 101, and it’s surprising that so few people seem to understand that.

    • I guess a good way to limit resellers is to not allow tickets to be sold above face value. I suspect that would limit on sale demand quite significantly.

  • In Japan, for a lot of Japanese acts, the ticket sale system is completely different. There are various tiers that go on sale at different times (sort of like presale codes), such as fan club members, other special groups (like if you have a certain credit card), and general public. The difference is that within each group, the tickets are sold as a lottery. You order your tickets and you don’t know if you’re actually going to get them or not. For reserved seating, you don’t know where your seats are going to be either, until your order is drawn from the lottery. I probably don’t entirely understand the system, but it is different than the U.S.–maybe not better, but different.

  • also an option – don’t go. if supply/demand are a thing, let the demand be unmet and the system will evolve.

    • I don’t see this as a reasonable and scalable solution. Life is short. Enjoy it while you can.


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