Last November, Taylor Swift fans flocked to Ticketmaster’s website to receive access to an exclusive pre-sale for the artist’s upcoming Eras Tour. The ensuing ticket debacle has reignited the debate over whether the company has abused its position in both the music and ticketing industries.
With three and a half million people receiving pre-sale codes, a whopping fourteen million unverified Ticketmaster users, and countless bots accessing the site on the day of the presale, website malfunctions made it nearly impossible for millions of fans to secure tickets. Hopkins students and avid Taylor Swift fans Amy Metrick ’23 and Melody Cui ’23 recounted their experiences on the Ticketmaster app the morning of Swift’s Eras Tour presale. Cui shared, “I wasn’t selected for presale, but two of my friends were, so the morning tickets went on sale, they both had their computers ready to go and plugged into chargers well ahead of the 10 AM sale… At first, we tried scrolling through the ‘best available tickets’ section, but we couldn’t find any tickets we liked or by the time we selected them, they would have already been bought.” Metrick added, “Ticketmaster should have been prepared for the number of logins they got. Also, the whole point of the presale is to make it more manageable so I’m not really sure what went wrong there.”Andrew Benjamin ’24, another Hilltopper who tried to get tickets during the presale event, said, “I was in the queue for a few hours for Taylor’s New Jersey show. When I finally got to the end of the queue, I was annoyed that the cheapest [tickets] leftover were $500 [per ticket], and they weren’t even good seats.”
The uproar among fans has transitioned to the courts. In December, 26 Swift fans recently filed a federal class action lawsuit against Live Nation Entertainment, Ticketmaster’s parent company since a 2010 merger that strengthened their combined hold over the ticketing industry. The lawsuit claims that “Ticketmaster intentionally and purposefully misled millions of fans into believing it would prevent bots and scalpers from participating in the presales.” Dhalia Brelsford ‘23 expressed her support for the lawsuit, as she remarked, “Ticketmaster should be held accountable. They are the ticket sellers, selling for a major artist, for them not to anticipate this amount of interest is insane. Their whole job as a company is to sell tickets for big artists, so if they can’t do that without causing mayhem, they should reassess how they run things.” Metrick also commented, “I think the legal action against Ticketmaster is warranted given the fiasco, and could set a new precedent for questioning the efficacy of other monopolistic services, and hopefully catching these issues in advance.”
The debate has also caught the attention of high-profile politicians across the country. The controversy has caused attorneys general of Tennessee, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Nevada to open investigations into the circumstances of the presale. Numerous Democratic lawmakers have called out the ticketing conglomerate on social media, including U.S. House Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who said, “....Ticketmaster is a monopoly, its merger with LiveNation should never have been approved, and they need to be [reined] in. Break them up.” Most notably, on January 24, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Ticketmaster’s control of the ticketing industry, titled “That’s The Ticket: Promoting Competition and Protecting Consumers in Live Entertainment.” Democratic U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, said in a statement: “For too long, consumers have faced high fees, long waits, and website failures, and Ticketmaster’s dominant market position means the company faces inadequate pressure to innovate and improve.” In a bipartisan effort, Klobuchar, along with Republican U.S. Senator Mike Lee, aims to “examine how consolidation in the live entertainment and ticketing industries harms customers and artists alike.” Ben Simon ‘24 remarked on the hearing’s significance: “The fact that a Taylor Swift tour can spark congressional hearings really speaks to the power of her fandom.”
In the midst of the controversy, Live Nation continues to staunchly defend itself. In a statement released on its website, the company addressed claims about the alleged monopoly it holds: “....Ticketmaster has a significant share of the primary ticketing services market because of the large gap that exists between the quality of the Ticketmaster system and the next best primary ticketing system.” The company went on to justify its dominance in the industry, saying, “That Ticketmaster continues to be the leader in such an environment is a testament to the platform and those who operate it, not to any anticompetitive business practices.”
Ultimately, this issue revolves around fans having to jump through hurdles and high prices to see their favorite artists perform, and it has left fans questioning whether or not they should trust Ticketmaster for reliable and affordable access to tickets. Despite its hot-topic nature, Cui urged people to keep perspective on the problem: “Having access to live music is definitely not a necessity by any means, and being in a position to attend concerts is a luxury.” Concurrently, she acknowledged the positive aspects of the dispute: “By breaking up the monopoly Ticketmaster has over tickets, live music might become more accessible to more people. [Hearing live music is] about being in a crowd of people who all love the same music and being able to sing along and celebrate…Because of the pandemic, everyone’s now feeling especially eager to go to all these live performances simply because it wasn’t allowed for so long.” Brelsford noted that concerts can be “a great stress reliever” and added, “Beyond that, music is moving to so many people, and seeing your favorite musicians live means so much more than just ‘a fun time.’”