Sticky Ticket Political Wicket: DOJ Probe, Senate Hearings, Bot Investigation Follow Taylor Swift Debacle

It was certainly a November to remember for Live Nation Entertainment.

It started out well, with the industry giant reporting a record third quarter Nov. 3, exceeding revenue expectations in every sector. Its subsidiary Ticketmaster reported its highest-ever gross transaction value quarter.

Less than two weeks later, Nov. 15, the glittering headlines that served as a microcosm of live’s roaring return in 2022 were replaced with recriminations as a shambolic Verified Fan onsale for Taylor Swift’s much-anticipated “The Eras Tour” crashed Ticketmaster’s servers under the weight of ticket-thirsty Swifties yearning for a seat to see the megastar. .ln
Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA), speaks at a news conference along with Reps. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J) and Peter Welch (D-VT), to oppose the Ticketmaster and Live Nation merger, saying it would lead to higher ticket prices, Dec. 16, 2009. Photo by Tom Williams / Roll Call / Getty Images

The crashes forced Ticketmaster to delay West Coast sales and a Capital One cardholder sale. By the end of the week, the company canceled the planned public sale altogether. On Nov. 18, with the company already facing wide-ranging outrage and criticism from fans, media observers and Swift herself, The New York Times reported the United States Department of Justice was investigating whether Live Nation was in violation of the consent decree it entered when it merged with Ticketmaster in 2010.

These are all watershed moments, but one other event – one that, on its face, has almost nothing to do with Ticketmaster – may prove to be the biggest headache of all.

The voice of the people, as the saying goes, is the voice of God, and the American people spoke with Delphic peculiarity on Nov. 8, rebuffing the Republican wave – expected by most pundits for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that the sitting president’s party almost always loses huge in the midterms – and returning a narrow Democratic majority in the Senate and a narrow GOP majority in the House.

In the short term, politicians did what politicians do: they made angry, righteous statements, this time about Ticketmaster’s hold on the ticketing biz. 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) channeled the trust busting crusaders of yore, tweeting “Daily reminder that Ticketmaster is a monopoly, [its] merger with LiveNation should never have been approved, and they need to be [reined] in. Break them up.” It is not coincidental that this “daily reminder” came on the day of the Swift Verified Fan sale and the crash it wrought.

The clique of New Jersey legislators who have been fighting for ticket transparency and more federal oversight over the industry for decades – generally prompted by Bruce Springsteen concert tours, naturally – joined in the cacophony. 

That the loudest, most social-media-savvy voices are always heard first is a truism in American politics, particularly these days. It doesn’t matter, necessarily, that the usual guests on Fox or MSNBC make a lot of noise; it matters when the lawmakers with the gavels do.

Thus, it was indeed news when Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mike Lee (R-UT), chairwoman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust and Consumer Rights, announced their panel would hold hearings in the lame duck session about Ticketmaster’s hold on the industry.

Days later, bipartisan unity once again washed over the Senate as conservative firebrand Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee joined with Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut Democrat who regularly ranks as one of the most progressive senators, to urge the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the Better Online Ticket Sales Act, which seeks to eliminate the use of bots – hence the law’s name – to buy up large numbers of tickets for resale. Among other factors, Live Nation blamed bots infiltrating the Verified Fan sale for the Swiftageddon, even though the entire purpose of the system is to prevent such underhandedness.

Ticketmaster-directed vitriol has united America – and her Congress – in a way few issues have in the last decade or so (though the effort to protect America’s independent venues also received broad bipartisan support). 

None of this is meant to convict the ticketing giant, which has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and insists it is still in compliance with its consent decree.

“The live entertainment industry is more competitive than ever, and we always welcome the opportunity to discuss the important issues facing the industry. We believe there are many industry reforms that would make the ticketing experience better for fans and artists, and we look forward to working with policymakers who want to advance legislation that improves ticketing,” Live Nation Entertainment said in a statement.

Industry insiders say the reason so many of them rely on Ticketmaster is due to the fact that it is the most efficient, reliable system in place; after all, “The Eras Tour” is promoted by AEG, Live Nation’s prime competitor, and even they turned to Ticketmaster.

But the respect Ticketmaster has inside the industry, even if it is often a begrudging respect, hardly matters now that the politicians have it in their sights.

And that brings us back to Election Day.

It is going to be painfully difficult for President Joe Biden to move his legislative agenda forward with a split congress. It’s going to be painfully difficult for presumptive Speaker Kevin McCarthy to advance his agenda even in the Republican-controlled House due to his tight margins and an increasingly recusant right wing. And it’s not like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is going to be in any hurry to hustle along the House GOP’s legislation, much as McCarthy isn’t going to do Schumer any favors.

That the U.S. with a balky, mucked-up Congress with little chance of advancing much of anything because no one agrees with anybody.

Except, it seems, on Ticketmaster.

It doesn’t take a political soothsayer to divine a scenario where lawmakers realize they’ll have to go back to the voters having delivered almost nothing due to both intransigence and circumstance. If only there was an issue that stretches across the political divide and unites the loud and powerful on both sides of the aisle.

Take your pick: the fight against bots, the trust-busting instincts of AOC, Klobuchar and Lee, or the general anger against the ticketing fees — already a target of the executive branch — into which numerous parties dip their beaks. 

Something is going to come out of the 118th Congress that aims straight at Ticketmaster, if for no other reason than it’s deliverable and understandable to voters who are, at best, annoyed with and, at worst, totally distrustful of the company. No one has an “I love Ticketmaster” bumper sticker on their car.

And never discount the power of the Swifties. Klobuchar certainly doesn’t, as she told NPR, “A whole bunch of Swift fans is, you know, something that no one’s ever dealt with in Congress.” Can they handle a bunch of Swift fans better than Ticketmaster?