Essay: Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour debacle illuminated Ticketmaster’s unchecked power

I joined millions of self-proclaimed Swifties around the world in hopes of purchasing tickets to Taylor Swift’s first tour in five years last month. But much to my dismay, I was unsuccessful after sitting in a queue behind thousands of people as part of Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan presale for hours on end. Countless others who received a code for presale access also ended the day empty-handed. Because of Ticketmaster’s negligence, billions of system requests backlogged and crashed the ticket site while thousands of software bots scooped up the remaining seats in what became an absolute blunder of a concert ticket sale.

Thanks to a 2010 merger between Ticketmaster and Live Nation – two formerly independent ticket sellers that together became Live Nation Entertainment – a once-thriving live music industry has decayed into an anti-competitive monopoly. While it is impossible to know Ticketmaster’s true intentions, it is clear that their unchecked power displayed by the Eras Tour debacle has slowly but surely dismantled and corrupted live music as we know it. And things will only continue to worsen unless our elected officials take proper action and urge the Department of Justice to break up these companies and return to a competitive market.

Despite the widespread disappointment following the Verified Fan presale, fans still held onto hope for the general sale, where the majority of seats opened for purchase. But in a shocking move, Ticketmaster decided to cancel the general sale one day before it opened last month because of “extraordinarily high demands on ticketing systems and insufficient remaining ticket inventory to meet that demand.”

In a statement issued the day after the presale, Ticketmaster officials said that 1.5 million of the 3.5 million fans who signed up for the Verified Fan presale received a code to purchase tickets for the 52 North American show dates scheduled to begin in March. But instead of limiting the presale site to those with a code, Ticketmaster kept the platform open for a flood of 3.5 billion system requests – quadruple their previous record – due to what it claims was a “staggering number” of bots.

Ticketmaster has maintained that more than two million tickets were sold during the Verified Fan presale, but the number of real fans versus bots that bypassed the queues without codes is up for debate. Countless tickets sold in the presale are currently listed on third party resale sites like StubHub for more than $20,000 apiece, compared to the $49 to $499 limit Swift placed on the original tickets on Ticketmaster.

Swift called out Ticketmaster’s mishandling of the sale the day the general sale was canceled in a statement on Instagram, saying “I’m not going to make excuses for anyone because we asked them, multiple times, if they could handle this kind of demand and we were assured they could.”

Ticketmaster claims its Verified Fan system is put in place to prevent bots, but as they continue to hog their website, it’s no coincidence that the increased demand is a surefire way to maximize their profit. Ticket brokerage firms have suggested over the years that Ticketmaster creates its own bots, which sell tickets in third party markets to earn a higher profit.

Swift’s Eras Tour presale illuminated an issue that has been swept under the rug for more than a decade – if Ticketmaster’s reign on the music industry has the ability to control arguably the biggest artist in the world, its barriers on smaller artists and venues are unfathomable. To combat this injustice, members of Congress must listen to their constituents’ calls to take action against Live Nation Entertainment and dismantle the merger. Lawmakers ought to enforce antitrust laws like The Sherman Act of 1890, which prohibits any attempt to monopolize a line of commerce, to put a stop to these anti-competitive practices.

Since the DOJ approved the merger between Ticketmaster and Live Nation, ticket prices on the site have more than tripled with about 27 percent of revenue coming from fees alone, essentially monopolizing the live music and entertainment industry. The new company’s partnerships with most major venues in the country leave artists with no other choice but to sell their tickets through Ticketmaster if they choose to hold live performances. Just two days after the Verified Fan sale, the DOJ opened a long-overdue antitrust investigation into Live Nation Entertainment to determine whether the merger of the two companies has created an abuse of power in the live music and entertainment industry, with the support of elected officials across party lines.

In addition to advocating for antitrust laws, Democrats and Republicans have called on the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act of 2016, which is designed to counteract people who misuse software bots to sell concert tickets for exceedingly high profit margins. But the FTC has allowed insurmountable numbers of tickets to be listed on third party websites. These exorbitant sales have continued unabated on third party websites on the FTC’s watch without any legal repercussions against these users. The disintegration of live music boils down to Ticketmaster’s broken system, which perpetuates bot market manipulation, and lackluster enforcement from the federal government, which allowed this unfair merger to occur in the first place.

In 2009, a year before Ticketmaster merged with Live Nation, I saw Swift in concert for the first time when I was just eight years old. Back then, tickets were easy and painless to acquire online. Of course, Swift’s popularity has exploded since her first North American tour, but she was emerging as one of music’s biggest names even then. Thankfully, my friend was able to miraculously secure us tickets to an Eras Tour show in Philadelphia – but most of my peers weren’t so lucky.

Swift’s fans are widely regarded, both online and off, as a massive and persistent force. They want a chance to see her perform her greatest hits on tour and will do anything they can to make their dreams reality. And if any fanbase has the ability to lead a revolution in antitrust laws over ticket sales, it’s Swifties.

Julia Koscelnik, a senior majoring in political science and minoring in journalism and mass communication, is the contributing culture editor.

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