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Will the Taylor Swift-Ticketmaster Senate Hearing Change Anything?

Aside from the compilation videos of senators citing lyrics by Taylor Swift, what will be the legacy of January’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on anticompetitive practices in the live entertainment industry?

Congress has held a few such hearings over the decades, with Pearl Jam famously performing in 1994 and concert industry executives testifying against the 2009 merger of Ticketmaster and Live Nation “Competition and Protecting Consumers in Live Entertainment” that followed the Taylor Swift ticketing debacle takes place, some observers may argue that little has changed – in fact, promoter Jerry Mickelson was back before the committee on January 24, repeating his anti-merger comments nearly 14 years earlier. So questions remain about what happens next – or doesn’t happen.

To the question of whether a major artist can realistically organize a tour without using Ticketmaster, the short answer is yes – with one important caveat.

In 1995 Pearl Jam tried this after the band fell out with the ticketing company. Ultimately, the group faced challenges at many venues that did not have exclusive deals with Ticketmaster. As a result, several dates on the group’s “Sponsored by No One Tour” were either canceled or locations switched. When Pearl Jam resumed the national tour in 1998, the band worked with Ticketmaster again.

Since then, however, a new major player has emerged: AEG Presents, the country’s second-largest live entertainment company (after Live Nation). AEG officials didn’t testify last week, but the private company, founded in 2002 and owned by Philip Anschutz, has its own in-house ticketing service, AXS.

Zach Bryan, one of today’s hottest country stars — who released his live album All My Homies Hate Ticketmaster in December — is bypassing the source of the Homies’ fury on his next arena tour by selling tickets through AXS. The company uses a pre-registration and lottery system in hopes of avoiding the problems that plagued Swift’s sales.

Still, at the stadium level, it’s extraordinarily difficult for superstar artists to avoid Ticketmaster’s venues. As Mickelson noted at the hearing, 93% of NFL teams and their facilities have exclusive ticketing agreements with the company. With tours of this magnitude, there are few alternatives, although court witness Jack Groetzinger’s SeatGeek has deals with two North American stadiums. In his testimony, Groetzinger revealed why his company ended its relationship with Brooklyn’s Barclays Center — just a year after a seven-year deal won by SeatGeek from Ticketmaster. Barclays wanted to keep SeatGeek for sporting events but use Ticketmaster for concerts; Some Ticketmaster critics say this is an example of the company using its Live Nation ownership to threaten Barclays (directly or impliedly) with reducing Live Nation tours if it doesn’t stock up again with Ticketmaster. Still, no direct evidence of such manipulation has been uncovered. Part of Ticketmaster’s appeal to venues — beyond the service fees it shares with them — is its ability to market shows, reach concert-goers through its customer database, and the breadth of its regional onsales.

The antitrust question is whether the DOJ will determine that Live Nation and Ticketmaster are an anticompetitive monopoly and reverse the merger. The Judiciary Committee appeared to support such a measure, though the DOJ has considered it twice — most recently in 2020, when it extended the consent decree that accompanied its approval of the merger through 2025. The matter is reportedly being reopened, but it is unclear if a third reason leads to a different outcome.

Whether new legislation will result from the hearing, says Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust and Consumer Rights and chair of the hearing diversity“We’re working on bipartisan legislation on this with some basic disclosures and some sensible rules.”

During the hearing, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., alluded to the Better Oversight of Secondary Sales and Accountability in Concert Ticketing Act (aka BOSS Act), which he introduced in the Senate in 2019. The bill focuses on transparency in ticketing transactions. It mandates all-in pricing and requires primary and secondary ticket sellers to disclose all fees before customers place a ticket in their shopping cart. Primary ticket sellers are also required to disclose the total number of tickets on sale to the general public following industry restraint. The legislation would further hit the secondary market by ending speculative sales where someone lists tickets they don’t own.

Musician Clyde Lawrence was the only witness to express concerns about the all-in pricing. The band’s co-leader Lawrence previously wrote an op-ed in The New York Times calling attention to the “crooked deal mechanics of live shows.” At the hearing, he said: “We have absolutely no say or visibility as to how much these [service] fees will be. We’ll find out just like everyone else by signing up with Ticketmaster once the show is already on sale.” So he hoped the ticket price would also be itemized to ensure his fans would understand the full cost breakdown .

Another solution was suggested by Mickelson, who pointed out that venues in the UK do not have exclusive ticketing deals with suppliers, making for a more competitive market. In 2018, the US Government Accountability Office reported that service charges in the UK were 10% to 15% of a ticket’s face value, compared to 27% in the US. However, the current Congress may not have an appetite for government intervention in the area of ​​contractual relations.

All in all, concert-goers can retain a measure of hope for a better ticket-buying experience, but shouldn’t hold their breath: To quote Klobuchar quoting Taylor Swift, In light of the events of the last few decades, frustration is something ticket-buyers know. only too well.”

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