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The Taylor Swift ticket fiasco is refocusing a spotlight on Ticketmaster’s dominance

Ticket sales for Taylor Swift’s upcoming tour haven’t been too good, according to the chart-topping singer.

Mixed news, long waits and temporary outages on the Ticketmaster website left scores of fans frustrated and empty-handed as the first wave of tickets for the 52-date Eras Tour, scheduled for next year and Swift’s first since 2018, went on sale Tuesday.

Ticketmaster postponed additional rounds due to as it was called “Historically unprecedented demand,” said “millions” had tried to buy tickets in advance and hundreds of thousands had done so successfully.

On Thursday afternoon, the day before the opening of tickets to the general public, announced it that the sale had been canceled altogether due to “extraordinarily high demands on ticketing systems and insufficient remaining ticket stock to meet this demand”.

The frenzy has brought renewed scrutiny to giant Ticketmaster, which critics have long accused of abusing its market power at the expense of consumers. Would-be concert-goers have been vocal about recent incidents of near-instant sellouts and skyrocketing prices, and artists like Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen have fought back over the decades.

A common complaint is that there doesn’t seem to be a clear alternative or competitor to Ticketmaster, especially after its merger with concert provider Live Nation in 2010 (a controversial move that required conditional approval from the US Department of Justice).

Now the Tennessee Attorney General, a Republican, is launching a consumer protection investigation into the incident, and Democratic lawmakers are raising questions about the company’s dominance — not for the first time.

Ticketmaster did not respond to NPR’s request for comment, but released a statement Thursday titled “The Taylor Swift On Sale Explained.”

“Taylor Swift’s tour sales are a perfect example of how the Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger harms consumers by creating a near-monopoly,” tweeted Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), one of several long-serving lawmakers called for investigation and accountability into the company, particularly after becoming a subsidiary of concert giant Live Nation.

And he drew inspiration from Swift’s own lyrics: “Consumers deserve better than this anti-hero behavior.”

Lawmakers have long been skeptical about Ticketmaster’s “reputation.”

Various Democratic lawmakers have called for stronger antitrust enforcement over the years, including asking the Justice Department to conduct a recent investigation into the competitive landscape of the ticketing market April 2021 and March of this year.

Some also want to hear from Ticketmaster directly — including Sen. Amy Klobuchar, chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust and Consumer Rights.

Klobuchar announced Thursday that she had sent a letter to Ticketmaster President and CEO Michael Rapino, expressing concerns about the lack of competition and asking about certain company practices.

“Ticketmaster’s power in the primary ticketing market isolates it from the competitive pressures that typically push companies to innovate and improve their services,” she wrote. “That can lead to dramatic service disruptions that we’ve seen this week, where consumers are the ones paying the price.”

Ticketmaster could only merge Live Nation under an antitrust clearance order, with certain conditions aimed at preventing abuse of its market position. Citing numerous complaints, Klobuchar expressed concern about a “pattern of non-compliance” with these legal obligations.

She asked Rapino to respond in writing to five questions by Wednesday, including how much the company has invested in upgrading its systems to handle spikes in demand, what percentage of high-profile tour tickets are typically available to the general public, and whether he is aware of any complaints to government agencies of non-compliance in the past 12 months.

Klobuchar also notes that her concerns go back much further.

“I’ve been skeptical about combining these companies since they merged in 2011 when the Senate held a merger hearing,” she wrote. “At that hearing, you appeared as a witness and pledged to develop ‘an easily accessible, one-stop platform that can… deliver tickets’. And you said you are “confident that this plan will work”. It seems your confidence was misplaced.”

Critics Don’t Want Ticketmaster To Just “Shock It Off”

Several Democratic lawmakers took to Twitter to express their bad blood against the company, with many calling it a monopoly and calling for change.

“Daily reminder that Ticketmaster is a monopoly, its merger with Live Nation should never have been approved and they need to be governed,” Rep wrote. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (DN.Y.). “Break them.”

representative David Cicilline (DR.I.), Chair of the House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, described Ticketmaster’s wait times and fees as “the symptom of a larger problem.”

“It’s no secret that Live Nation-Ticketmaster is an uncontrolled monopoly,” he added.

Rep. Bill Pascrell (DN.J.) wasted no time pondering the Swift fiasco.

“One would think that with their endless list of fees, Ticketmaster could have a working website,” he said tweeted on Thursday, echoed comments he made on Tuesday. “Break the Live Nation Ticketmaster Monopoly.”

According to Ticketmaster, the sale broke records – and its website

In its statement on Thursday, Ticketmaster explained how it was preparing for the pre-sale phase, noting that 3.5 million people had pre-registered for the Verified Fan program, the largest such number in its history and one that “the decision influenced the artist team to add more “dates” to the tour.

The company says its use of verified fan invite codes has helped manage the volume of users visiting the site to purchase tickets in the past, although that was not the case on Tuesday.

“The staggering number of bot attacks, as well as fans who didn’t have invite codes, drove unprecedented traffic to our site, resulting in 3.5 billion total system requests – four times our previous peak,” it said, adding that there were some sales slowed down and pushed others back to stabilize its systems, resulting in longer wait times for some users.

It is estimated that around 15% of interactions on the site encountered problems, which is “15% too many”. But it also said a record-breaking number of fans were able to buy tickets: More than 2 million were sold Tuesday for Swift’s tour, the most ever for an artist in a single day.

Ticketmaster acknowledged that on-demand sales pose technical challenges and says that even if it didn’t, many fans would still be left without tickets.

“For example: Based on the amount of traffic to our site, Taylor would have to do over 900 stadium shows (nearly 20 times the number of shows she does),” it said. “It’s going to be a stadium show every night for the next 2.5 years.”

Ticketmaster’s largest shareholder also seemed to blame Swift in an interview on Thursday.

Greg Maffei, CEO of Liberty Media, which owns a majority stake in Live Nation, told CNBC screeching in the street that the company sympathizes with the fans, but the demand was just too great, which he says was because Swift hadn’t toured in five years.

“It’s a feature of Taylor Swift,” he said. “The page should open up to 1.5 million verified Taylor Swift fans. We had 14 million visitors to the site, including bots that weren’t supposed to be there.”

Fans did not take this statement well when the outpouring of angry tweets was any hint. Swift hasn’t publicly commented on the Ticketmaster fiasco, though a quick scan of her Instagram account reveals that her bio still bears the lyrics of one of her latest hits: “I’m the problem, it’s me.”

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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