Lawmakers Criticize Ticketmaster After Taylor Swift Presale Snafus

A roster of Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday criticized Ticketmaster, suggesting the company’s struggles to meet surging demand for Taylor Swift concert tickets online were symptomatic of a company that was too large and powerful to fuss over the consumers who rely on it.

Several lawmakers aired longstanding criticisms about the size and power of the company created in 2010 by the merger of the two most dominant companies in the live music business: Live Nation, which represents artists, owns venues and promotes shows, and Ticketmaster, which has the lion’s share of the ticketing market.

“Daily reminder that Ticketmaster is a monopoly,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat from New York, posted in a tweet on Tuesday, writing that the company’s merger with Live Nation “should never have been approved.” She concluded: “Break them up.”

The spark for the congressional criticism was the problems that developed as fans tried to buy tickets for Swift’s Eras Tour, a 52-show road trip that begins in March, which is the star’s first since 2018 and her largest to date. Tickets went on presale Tuesday for those part of the Verified Fan program, which started in 2017 and is meant to keep tickets in the hands of fans rather than resellers. (Prospective buyers must register in advance for an opportunity to purchase tickets.) Swift’s latest release, “Midnights,” opened on the Billboard chart last month with the biggest debut week for any album in seven years.

Ticketmaster acknowledged experiencing issues with its website and some fans reported waiting hours in online queues only to come away empty-handed. “We are aware fans may be experiencing intermittent issues with the site and are urgently working to resolve,” Ticketmaster said in a statement Tuesday.

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Representative Bill Pascrell, Jr, Democrat of New Jersey, wrote in a tweet Tuesday that the “portal is not going well for many Swifties. I’m hearing about site crashes and fans waiting for hours. You’d think all these service and convenience fees could go to a working website.”

Representative David N. Cicilline, of Rhode Island, said Ticketmaster’s “excessive wait times and fees are completely unacceptable,” as shown by the experience with the Swift tickets, and were “a symptom of a larger problem. It’s no secret that Live Nation-Ticketmaster is an unchecked monopoly.”

Rep. Cicilline added: “The merger of these companies should never have been allowed in the first place.” He said he had joined other lawmakers including Representative Jerry Nadler of New York “to call on the DOJ to investigate Live Nation’s efforts to jack up prices and strangle competition.” Rep. Cicilline posted a letter he and four other lawmakers sent last year to the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission requesting an investigation into the company’s practices. The letter cited data that Live Nation controls more than 80 percent of the venue ticket sales market.

Live Nation representatives could not be immediately reached for additional comment on the reaction by Democratic members of the House.

When Live Nation and Ticketmaster merged, critics warned that the resulting company would become an industry colossus, one that had too much power and was capable of crippling competitors in the ticketing business.

In approving the merger, the Justice Department signed a 10-year consent decree with Live Nation that forbade it from actions like using its power over talent to force venues to use its Ticketmaster service. But a Justice Department investigation found that Live Nation had violated that agreement, and in 2019 the company amended and extended the decree. The investigation had focused on rivals’ complaints that Live Nation used its power over concert touring to force music venues into forging contracts with Ticketmaster.

The extension made clearer the restriction that Live Nation should never threaten venues in any way, and may not retaliate against any concert venues that decide to use a rival ticketing system.

Ticketmaster, in its statement on Tuesday, thanked fans for their patience and said, “there has been historically unprecedented demand with millions showing up to buy tickets for the TaylorSwiftTix Presale.”

It said hundreds of thousands of tickets had been sold. “If you are in a queue, please hang tight — queues are moving and we are working to get fans through as quickly as possible,” it said.

As of Wednesday morning, the Ticketmaster website was still carrying a warning of high demand and limited availability for Swift tickets.

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