Too Big to Fail?: Ticketmaster and the Live Entertainment Debacle

Zulay Valencia Diaz

Associate Editor

Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2024

After months of near-total silence, Beyonce opened Black History Month with a bang when she finally blessed the Beehive with what they had been impatiently waiting for since the release of her seventh studio album: the announcement of the Renaissance World Tour. Her loyal fans have been anticipating this news since Renaissance was released too much acclaim at the end of July 2022. However, alongside anticipation, fans are battling a strong feeling of anxiety at the prospect of not being able to secure tickets for the coveted shows. And no wonder. Ticketmaster – the vendor through which tickets for the Renaissance tour are being sold – recently, and very publicly, bungled another highly awaited ticket sale. 

Swift gate

On November 1, 2022, Taylor Swift announced her sixth concert tour, Eras. For the next week, prospective ticket buyers were able to register for Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan Program. Through it, a select number of registrants received a code that gave them access to the November 15 presale. Unfortunately for hundreds of thousands of fans, Ticketmaster’s website crashed during the presale. According to the ticket seller, demand for the Eras tickets had far exceeded the website’s capacity. 3.5 million people registered through the Verified Fan Program and 1.5 million presale codes were distributed but around 14 million people visited the site that day.

Fans had to deal with massive delays as they attempted to purchase their tickets. In the end, two million tickets were sold, but due to insufficient ticket releases, most of them found themselves sans tickets. They were further disappointed when Ticketmaster canceled the general sale, citing an insufficient quantity of tickets.

Swift backlash

Ticketmaster was immediately and roundly criticized for how it bungled the presale. Fans made the fiasco trend on social media platforms like Twitter and Taylor Swift herself took to Instagram to express her frustration with the ticketing platform. But public discontentment was the least of Ticketmaster and Live Nation’s problems after this incident.

In early December, a group of 26 fans sued Ticketmaster and Live Nation in a LA court for fraud, misrepresentation, and anti-competition policies. The latter is because it operates both as a direct ticket seller and as a ticket resale platform..Consequently, plaintiffs argue that it has a monopoly on the ticket sale market. They are asking for $2500 per violation of California’s unfair competition law.

A similar class action lawsuit was filed a few days later in a federal court. Its focus is on Live Nation’s and Ticketmaster’s violation of federal antitrust laws. It states that by allowing bots and scalpers to participate in the Verified Fan Program and to flood the website during the actual presale, it deliberately mislead consumers about the ticket buying process. Scalpers are people who purchase tickets, often through the use of bots, for the sole purpose of reselling them.

Is it time to break it up?

Although the legal response to this disaster was swift, actual regulatory consequences have been nearly nonexistent. Admittedly, lawmakers from both parties took note of the public blunder and immediately demanded answers. For example, the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote a letter to Live Nation’s president chastising him for botching the Eras presale and requested both a briefing of what occurred and a list of actions the company would take to ensure that this would not occur again. At the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing Live Nation was ordered to attend, senators from both parties expressed serious concerns about its powerful influence over the live entertainment industry and even suggested that the company should be broken up. But the principal commerce regulatory agency, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been predominantly, and conspicuously, silent.

The FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection is responsible for ensuring that consumers are protected from, among other things, unfair business practices. The complaints being levied against Live Nation, e.g., price fixing and misleading consumers about the ticket buying process, fall under the Bureau’s purview. As such, it has the authority to launch an investigation, enact necessary regulations and sue Live Nation. For example, after conducting a thorough investigation of Ticketmaster’s business practices and consumers’ complaints, it could enact regulations that requires them to let consumers know the total number of tickets available before they go on sale or closing the Verified Fan Program registration when the number of registrants has reached the number of available tickets. Another possible regulation is financially penalizing Ticketmaster when it either knows or has good cause to suspect that bots are signing up for presale but do nothing to stop them. If none of these solutions work, the FTC should exercise its antitrust enforcement power and break the company up so consumers can once again benefit from healthy competition.

While it is true that the FTC and the Department of Justice (DOJ) Antitrust Division have joint authority to enforce antitrust laws, and that the DOJ is currently investigating Live Nation, it is clear they are not doing enough. It was the DOJ that, despite vocal opposition from artists like Bruce Springsteen (who raised concerns about the creation of a large concert monopoly), approved the 2010 Live Nation -Ticketmaster merger. To assuage these concerns, the DOJ made it a condition of the merger that until 2020, Live Nation could not penalize venues for using ticketing providers other than Ticketmaster. However, a 2019 investigation revealed that Live Nation repeatedly violated this term. Rather than break up the merger, the DOJ elected to extend the decree to 2025. This latest investigation is a sign that the DOJ is too reluctant to sanction Live Nation for it to be a real incentive to follow laws and regulations.

Holding our breath

Ticketmaster’s policies and supposed commitment to improving the ticket buying process will soon be put to a huge test, as the sale for Beyonce’s Renaissance World Tour is underway. The Senate Judiciary Committee has already issued a warning over this upcoming sale. But unfortunately, unless the FTC decides to act, there isn’t much that can be done except wait and see how this plays out.