For decades, Live Nation Entertainment has maintained an outsized role in the live event industry: To scan social media after concert tickets for a hugely popular act quickly sell out is to find endless fiery hashtags cursing high prices, processing fees, and a buggy site. But the company’s dominance of the ticket business has proved unstoppable, even more so after they merged with Live Nation in 2010. They’ve been able to shrug off politicians’ saber-rattling and concertgoers’ outrage. But Ticketmaster may have finally pushed things too far by pissing off Taylor Swift fans. With many shut out of tickets for her first tour since 2018 due to Ticketmaster technical errors, their rage and pain was so vocal that now the U.S. Justice Department is conducting “an antitrust investigation” related to Ticketmaster and Live Nation, according to the New York Times.
But after pre-sales for Taylor Swift’s upcoming tour proved calamitous, the concert giant finds itself mired in controversy. Per The New York Times, the DOJ investigation presaged the Taylor ticket disaster, but will likely factor that chaos into the proceedings.
On Tuesday morning, seats for the first batch of Swift’s stadium shows went on sale for those who achieved “Verified Fan” status as per Ticketmaster’s alleged random lottery. The Verified Fan program, in which only those sent a unique code can buy tickets in the presale, is meant to block bots and scalpers. However, the rush for tickets was so strong that the site experienced a myriad of issues: fans experienced endless or frozen queues, and, when some finally did reach the front of the line, abrupt crashes that resulted in them being put in the back of the line. And as they waited for hours, fans saw tickets being posted on resale sites for thousands of dollars by scalpers that the Verified Fan was meant to outsmart. Ticketmaster cited “historically unprecedented demand” as the cause of the problem, and in a since-deleted blog post stated that 3.5 million people registered as Verified Fans, with 1.5 million being selected “to participate in the on sale.” Greg Maffei, CEO of Liberty Media, which holds the largest share of Live Nation stock, told CNBC that even though only 1.5 million people had codes, the site buckled because it was flooded by 14 million user accounts, most of which were bots. (The Times cited the number as 3.5 billion.) That said, a problematic part of the process was that Verified Fans did not need to enter their code until after they’d selected seats, which meant these bots could still flood the queue and stall the selection process.
Swift herself addressed the controversy in an Instagram story post on November 18. Though she did not explicitly name Ticketmaster, the musician made it clear that she was frustrated by her fans’ experience dealing with the company’s website. In her post, she said that the company stressed they could handle the level of demand her tickets would create, and that she is “trying to figure out how this situation can be improved moving forward.”
“It goes without saying that I am extremely protective of my fans. We’ve been doing this for decades together and over the years, I’ve brought so many elements of my career in house. I’ve done this specifically to improve the quality of my fans’ experience by doing it myself with my team who care as much about my fans as I do,” Swift wrote. “It’s really difficult for me to trust an outside entity with these relationships and loyalties, and excruciating for me to just watch mistakes happen with no recourse.”
In a social media statement released on November 17, Ticketmaster wrote, “Due to extraordinarily high demands on ticketing systems and insufficient remaining ticket inventory to meet that demand, tomorrow’s public on-sale for Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour has been canceled.” This follow-up sale for unverified fans was supposed to be for any tickets that had not been bought in the presale period, but it’s unknown whether such tickets even exist.
People have tried and failed to fight Ticketmaster in the past. In 1994, Pearl Jam famously filed an antitrust lawsuit against the company in 1994, and for years only played at venues that did not have a Ticketmaster contract, to the band’s own detriment. (The Justice Department ultimately did not pursue the lawsuit.) Nearly 30 years later, Swift’s passionate fans have given the anti-Ticketmaster crusade new energy. Several prominent politicians, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and David Cicilline, seized the moment to criticize Ticketmaster on social media. (“Daily reminder that Ticketmaster is a monopoly, [its] merger with LiveNation should never have been approved, and they need to be reigned in. Break them up,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote.)
While the antitrust investigation was just opened, the Times reports that the Justice Department had already had an investigation in the works over the past few months. In talking to venue owners and other members of the ticket world, their concern seems over whether Ticketmaster owns a monopoly on the industry.