With COVID restrictions easing and the return of crowd-based entertainment approaching, multiple members of Congress are demanding an investigation into Live Nation and its Ticketmaster subsidiary.
These latest calls for an investigation into Live Nation’s “potentially unfair, deceptive, and anticompetitive practices” arrived in the form of an open letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, acting chair of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Five lawmakers signed the letter – including Representatives Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-NJ) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), who spearheaded an effort early last year (in the form of the BOSS Act) to regulate both the primary and secondary ticket markets.
Also in late February of 2020, a House of Representatives panel questioned executives from Ticketmaster, StubHub, Vivid Seats, and other companies about topics including why some concertgoers are required to pay an “exorbitant fee” as well as “what we can do to better protect consumers going forward.”
Of course, the mid-March arrival of the pandemic – and the corresponding pause on live events – largely shifted the focus of congresspersons and the public away from ticketing prices and practices, save for some pushback against refund policies. But the FTC, by kicking off 2021 with its first-ever ticket-scalping charges under the Better Online Tickets Sales Act (BOTS Act), appeared to signal a renewed government interest in regulating the space.
The initially mentioned letter to the attorney general and the FTC head indicates off the bat that there’s “overwhelming” evidence that the 2010 merger between Live Nation and Ticketmaster “has strangled competition in live entertainment ticketing and harmed consumers and must be revisited.”
“We have witnessed how pitfalls of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) consent decree has [sic] failed to protect competition and consumers. The DOJ itself has found that LNE [Live Nation Entertainment] has repeatedly violated the terms of the agreement over the course of the last 10 years by threatening venues and forcing the bundling of artists with ticketing services,” the text proceeds, before characterizing last year’s decision to extend the consent decree as “insufficient to protect consumers.”
“Not satisfied with its near monopoly of the primary sale of tickets,” continues the open letter, “LNE has tightened its grasp on the secondary market, making it one of the largest ticket resellers in the United States. The company is now leveraging its position in the primary channel to drive out competition in the resale market and allowing for potentially unfair and deceptive practices.”
The latter portion of the message takes aim at the Beverly Hills-based company’s SafeTix system (which launched back in May of 2019), stating that the company “is using this program to ensure that tickets can only be resold or gifted within the Ticketmaster system” and that “Ticketmaster has also used ‘SafeTix’ to cancel resold tickets minutes before showtime.”
“Your agencies must guard against one company dictating the conditions of the return of live events and cannot permit LNE to mask its anticompetitive instincts under the guise of public health,” the letter concludes. “We strongly urge the DOJ and FTC to protect consumers future access to live events by immediately launching an investigation of LNE’s potentially unfair, deceptive, and anticompetitive practices.”
Last week, Ticketmaster’s website crashed as a multitude of fans rushed to purchase tickets to Bad Bunny’s 2022 tour. In addition to demonstrating the strong pent-up demand for live music, the episode illustrated the potential pitfalls associated with this eagerness to resume enjoying traditional concerts, as many have indicated that profit-minded resellers secured a substantial portion of the passes.
At the time of publishing, the cheapest tickets to the opening show of the 27-year-old’s tour, a February 9th performance in Colorado, were priced at $489.78 apiece on Ticketmaster. Resellers had listed other passes (for better seats) for several thousand dollars each.