The head of ticketing platform SeatGeek called for the breakup of Ticketmaster and Live Nation at a congressional hearing Tuesday, joining senators from both parties and antitrust advocates who hammered the merged companies as a monopoly that uses threats to dominate the industry and hurt 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 for a committee hearing after a debacle last year surrounding sales for Taylor Swift’s “Eras Tour,” which saw consumers deal with website outages and long wait times in a fruitless 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 note during the hearing.
Since then, the combined company — called Live Nation Entertainment — has been regularly accused of threatening venues that don’t use Ticketmaster with the loss of acts promoted by Live Nation.
“When speaking with people who either own or manage venues, their biggest fear is that when they leave Ticketmaster, they will lose content,” said Jerry Mickelson, the 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’m not going to get all the shows I would like to have.”
The company has also been blamed for charging exorbitant fees, which can make up 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 at Live Nation Entertainment, defended his company at the hearing, insisting it does not threaten venues and arguing the industry has sufficient competition from SeatGeek and others.
He apologized for the mishandling of Swift ticket sales, blaming the snafu on technical issues.
“We were hit with three times the amount of bot traffic than we’ve ever experienced,” Berchtold said. “That’s what led to a terrible consumer experience, which we deeply regret. We apologize to the fans. We apologize to Ms. Swift. We need to do better, and we will.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) sarcastically praised Berchtold for a “stunning achievement.”
“You have brought together Republicans and Democrats in an absolutely unified cause,” said Blumenthal, who also made a reference to some of Swift’s lyrics. “Ticketmaster ought to look in the mirror and say: ‘I’m the problem. It’s me.’”
Though 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 anti-competitive practices in the industry.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who chairs the Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcomittee, used a Swift reference of her own to argue that the Justice Department should look at breaking 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 we know all too well.”