Year In Ticketing: Megatours Make Headlines So Politicians Keep Talking Ticketing

DUTCH TREAT: Beyoncé performs onstage during the “Renaissance World Tour” at the Johan Cruyff Arena on June 17, 2023, in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Photo by Kevin Mazur / WireImage / Parkwood

Ticketing is a politically scrumptious topic and we can expect the politicians to keep feasting.

In a fractious environment where the sides sometimes disagree on the mechanics of the constitutional order – policy disputes are quaint compared to big-picture debates on the nature of the republic – going after Ticketmaster, in particular, is a rare place of agreement.

For the country’s sake, it’s good that there are still calm waters of cross-party consensus. Live Nation might agree with that sentiment, but they’d likely prefer not to be the target of a bipartisan cannonade.

As it stands, 2023 began with a LN executive facing down a uniformly discontented Senate subcommittee and it seems it may end the same way.

Selling tickets is easy: just look at the numbers throughout this issue. Recessionary fears seem unwarranted and discretionary spending isn’t suffering, particularly for artists at the top of the market. Post-pandemic demand has now extended so far beyond the end of the pandemic proper that it seems what once was merely “pent up” is just the normal course now.

Selling tickets is easy, yes, but ticketing itself is hard – especially with record demand, a flourishing secondary market and bots gumming the works – and having to defend the process is no cakewalk either.

A little more than a year ago, Ticketmaster was seemingly caught wrong-footed by the demand for Taylor Swift tickets and what hath Tay wrought?

Live Nation President / CFO Joe Berchtold was hauled before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January for a scolding and testified: “In hindsight, there are several things we could have done better.” – but the contrition did little to ease the pressure. Republican stalwarts provided no relief: Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri called LN a monopoly; Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana all but said the company was “dumb.” The Senate is entitled to call anyone they want to testify, of course, and the made-for-TV hearing wasn’t a court of law, so the other witnesses weren’t balanced – no one should have expected them to be – so Berchtold took the slings and arrows. It was no doubt a comfort that Live Nation reports record-setting revenue quarters with the regularity of a metronome and Ticketmaster, in particular, can proudly boast of moving hundreds of millions of tickets with new marks for gross transaction value every three months.

Ticketing was caught in the greater catchment of the Biden Administration’s battle against fees. The war against add-ons goes far beyond live, but the variegated grumbling about tickets included fees, too. In June, Live Nation agreed to move to all-in pricing for tickets – a policy they’ve advocated for years – for events sold via Ticketmaster at the company’s owned-and-operated venues. A few months later, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat who chaired the January hearing, asked LN why it had reneged on that promise. The company insisted it had not – it cannot and will not force venues it doesn’t own to implement any sort of ticketing policy – but Live Nation is an easy political target, so Klobuchar got herself a few days in the headlines. No one lost an election being mean to Ticketmaster, after all.

Meanwhile, many state legislatures overhauled or tweaked ticketing laws. Federalism is a beautiful thing until it creates a patchwork of contradictory regulations. Ticketing is hard and inconsistency makes it harder. And all of this while the Department of Justice was investigating Live Nation for alleged antitrust violations and abrogation of the consent decree that allowed the merger with Ticketmaster.

And now, LN President/CEO Michael Rapino may have to go before the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations, which issued a subpoena for thousands of pages of the company’s records. LN says it has turned over 10,000 documents but is withholding others as it waits for a confidentiality agreement from the committee. The Senate calls it stonewalling. LN says it’s a matter of fairness.

The dispute is likely to end up in court. And another LN executive may face the rarest foe: Democrats and Republicans united.