The head of ticketing platform SeatGeek called for the breakup of Ticketmaster and Live Nation at a congressional hearing on Tuesday, joining senators from both parties and antitrust advocates who criticized the merged companies as a monopoly that uses threats to dominate the industry and harm consumers.
“The only effective remedy now is a structural one: the dissolution of the common ownership of Ticketmaster and Live Nation,” SeatGeek CEO Jack Groetzinger told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “To improve our industry, we must restore competition.”
Senators had called a committee hearing after a debacle last year surrounding sales of Taylor Swift’s “Eras Tour,” which saw consumers deal with website outages and long wait times in an unsuccessful search for tickets.
Ticketmaster, which sells tickets, and Live Nation, which promotes concerts, merged in 2010 with the approval of then-President Barack Obama’s Justice Department, something Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and other Republicans made sure to point out during the audience.
Since then, the combined company, called Live Nation Entertainment, has regularly been accused of threatening venues that don’t use Ticketmaster with the loss of Live Nation-promoted acts.
“When talking to people who own or run venues, their biggest fear is that when they leave Ticketmaster, they will lose content,” said Jerry Mickelson, CEO of Jam Productions, a Chicago-based music promoter. “Whether it’s said or not, it’s implied that if I don’t use Ticketmaster, I won’t have all the shows that I would like to have.”
The company has also been blamed for charging exorbitant fees, which can be 25% or more of the cost of a ticket, and for failing to adequately handle demand for popular events like Swift’s concerts.
Joe Berchtold, the chief financial officer of Live Nation Entertainment, defended his company at the hearing, insisting that it does not threaten venues and arguing that the industry has enough competition from SeatGeek and others.
He apologized for Swift’s mishandling of ticket sales, blaming the problem on technical issues.
“We were hit with three times the amount of bot traffic we’ve ever experienced,” Berchtold said. “That is what led to a terrible consumer experience, which we deeply regret. We apologize to the fans. We apologize to Ms. Swift. We have to do better, and we will.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) sarcastically praised Berchtold for an “astonishing achievement.”
“You have united Republicans and Democrats in an absolutely unified cause,” said Blumenthal, who also referenced some of Swift’s lyrics. “Ticketmaster should look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m the problem. It’s me.'”
Although the fiasco surrounding her tour prompted the hearing, the singer did not testify. And many senators looked beyond Ticketmaster’s failures in that incident to focus on broader anticompetitive practices in the industry.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who chairs the Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, used a reference of her own to Swift to argue that the Justice Department should look into splitting up Ticketmaster and Live Nation.
“To have a strong capitalist system, you have to have competition. You can’t have too much consolidation,” Klobuchar said. “Something that unfortunately for our country, as an ode to Taylor Swift, I will say that we know very well.”