Music Industry

There’s a new US bill designed to increase competition when it comes to tickets for live events. Here’s why it may not work.

If you watched the farcical political grandstanding of the US Government’s hearings into the Taylor Swift/Ticketmaster fiasco back in January, you’ll remember Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar sending verbal daggers toward the ticket-seller and its parent, Live Nation. (Boy, there were some cringey moments where the politicians tried to incorporate Tay-Tay’s lyrics in their statements and questioning.)

Nothing had come from those hearings until this week when Sen. Klobuchar released the details of her new bill, the Unlock Ticketing Markets Act. It’s aimed squarely at Ticketmaster’s dominance when it comes to selling tickets to live events. I quote:

“The Unlock Ticketing Markets Act would help restore competition to live event ticketing markets by empowering the Federal Trade Commission to prevent the use of excessively long multi-year exclusive contracts that lock out competitors, decrease incentives to innovate new services, and increase costs for fans.”

This is true. Ticketmaster enters into long-term agreements with venues to be the exclusive seller of tickets for events in that building. This is no different than Pepsi or Coke signing similar exclusivity pacts.

Does Ticketmaster’s dominance decrease incentives for potential competitors? Probably, but largely because Ticketmaster spent hundreds of millions of dollars building out their massive infrastructure and back end, something that’s required in this era of computerized ticketing. Ticketmaster has the tech firepower to process billions of ticket requests every month. Who else has the time and money to come up with a better system? Surely there’s someone who could do it, but the sheer cost of mounting a challenge to Ticketmaster is huge.

This whole thing began with the Tay-Tay thing when Ticketmaster went down because of insanely high demand. Hey, all sites can go down under the right stresses. Facebook, Spotify, Rogers Wireless–they’ve all had bad days when they unexpectedly went offline.

Does this same dominance increase costs for fans? It can but only in the form of service fees and NOT in the price of the face value of any tickets. Ticket prices are ultimately set by the act. Ticketmaster gets nothing from the face value of the ticket; it only covers costs and makes money from service fees.

Does Ticketmaster have a bad rep among music fans? Certainly–but that’s the point. Ticketmaster is designed to take all the heat away from the artist and shoulder all the blame. That being said, there are some issues with the company that need to be more transparent. For example, how, exactly, are service charges set from show to show? Should Ticketmaster also be in the secondary seller’s market where it double-dips with service fees? What is the company’s relationship to third-party sellers?

What would a viable competitor look like? Could the world use a counterbalance or two to Ticketmaster? Probably, but such a competition would also spur Ticketmaster to get better thus potentially building on their massive head start.

Would this bill result in multiple companies being able to sell tickets to the same show? If that’s the case, how will the inventory be divvied up? Which seller will have the best seats? We don’t want to go back to the old days when you had to guess which physical box office had the best tickets.

Finally, there’s this: It doesn’t matter how many ticket sellers are out there. If there’s more bums than there are seats, then people are going to be disappointed. This bill can’t fix that.

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 37832 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “There’s a new US bill designed to increase competition when it comes to tickets for live events. Here’s why it may not work.

  • I could see Amazon having the money and tech firepower to make that happen if they wanted. I believe that Ticketmaster already uses Amazon servers. Or I could even see travel companies like Expedia getting into it.

    As far as how it would look and how inventory would get divided up ideally it wouldn’t. I think the best way to think of it would be like airline tickets. I can buy tickets for a flight from Air Canada or I can buy them from an online travel agent like Expedia that is connected right to Air Canada’s booking system and has access to everything. The only catch to that would knowing in advance which site had tickets for the best price, since you probably wouldn’t have time to shop around after tickets are on sale.

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