Monday, June 17, 2024

COLUMN: Live Nation's exploitative monopoly must end

March 19, 2024

"You Are Now in The Queue."

After being wait-listed and borrowing a friend’s Ticketmaster account, I anxiously sat in the queue of 3,000+ users for Olivia Rodrigo’s "GUTS" tour. This was the third day of sales. Relieved that I could finally get into the waiting room, I sat in anticipation, hoping to click on and buy whatever seats were available. 

"1 Person Ahead Of You."

I was left with a barren stadium of VIP seats no less than $400 each. 

If you are wondering, I did not get tickets.

Ticketmaster hosted this sale in September, along with the controversial sale for Taylor Swift’s "The Eras Tour" this past summer. Many users could not secure tickets to either concert due to Ticketmaster’s "Verified Fan" system, which forces users to enter a presale raffle with a verified account. Nowadays, even just the opportunity to pay for ridiculously overpriced tickets is a prize.

If they were one of the lucky few to get access, they would then have the possibility of incurring additional service fees up to 75% if they purchased tickets. 

"The Eras Tour" ticket sales led to "extraordinarily high demands," which Ticketmaster assured could be handled. They were not handled, however, and ticket sales halted.

With a company so oriented on maximizing profits, you would think more preparation would be put towards one of the most anticipated tours. Nonetheless, this led to a fan-inflicted lawsuit against Ticketmaster, but it was eventually dropped. It’s unclear whether or not this is because Ticketmaster paid anyone off. 

Ticketmaster, now part of Live Nation Entertainment, currently controls over 70% of major venue ticketing, granting the company monopoly power over the primary venues for artists and buyers. Dividing Live Nation Entertainment, similar to how AT&T split into the "Baby Bells" (an attempt to separate the company’s monopoly, giving other cell providers a chance), could provide enough time for competitors to take some claim over the market. 

Back in 2010, Ticketmaster Entertainment and Live Nation merged into what’s known as Live Nation Entertainment. Before that, in 1993, Microsoft’s co-founder, Paul Allen, acquired 80% of the company ... and we all know how Microsoft views monopolies.

According to Justice Department investigators, "Live Nation had threatened venues that it would withhold tours under the company’s control if those venues did not sign deals with Ticketmaster, in violation of a key provision in the decree."

That’s textbook bribery. This agreement creates a barrier to entry for every other competitor. It also ties the hands of performers, forcing them to work with Ticketmaster if they want to fill the best stadiums and arenas. The net result is a huge inconvenience for consumers, alongside an unreasonable escalation of prices.

Similar to Microsoft’s case, the United States appears severely ill-equipped to handle antitrust breaches in the modern and digital era. In 1994, the band Pearl Jam sued Ticketmaster on these very antitrust grounds. They brought up the aforementioned service fees and dominating power. Unsurprisingly, the case was dropped by the U.S. Department of Justice, the very department stating it’s "unlawful for any person to monopolize." 

With the ongoing monopoly cases against Google and Amazon, the government could now choose to set a precedent for taking charge against monopoly power — making it illegal to cheat your way out of competition with other providers through economic means.

If that is the case, Live Nation Entertainment needs to be put on the forefront for those very reasons. 

My sister and I bought nosebleeds for Billie Eilish’s "Happier Than Ever" tour for over $150 each on the first day of sales, as that was all that was left. Just trying to be cautious, we paid an additional fee for Allianz ticket insurance. "If you can't attend an event for a number of reasons like covered illness, airline delays, traffic accidents and more — you'll get 100% of the ticket price returned to you," is the reassuring message that accompanies this transaction. 

When my sister fell sick with the stomach flu the day before the concert, and we contacted Ticketmaster Fan Support before the event occurred, "we're sorry you were unable to attend your event. Please note that the Event Organizer is not allowing refunds at this time," was the far less assuring message we received.

Note that they forced us to provide a doctor’s note to go any further with the claim, while requirement of a doctor consultant is not noted anywhere in the insurance description on the Ticketmaster website and is only found in drop downs on an external site. This fact is not readily available intentionally to get as many fans in a situation without the proper means to get a refund, therefore making even more profit.

Such a failure to honor insurance policies is yet further proof of how companies behave when they manage to make themselves monopolies, profiting off of those suffering with illness or injury; utilizing fees and resale tickets as ways to loop buyers (frantic to get any ticket they can) into spending the maximum amount. 

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As with all monopolies, Ticketmaster also shares your personal data with their partners and with third parties. One way to start the downfall of exploitation would be to use new applications such as Permission Slip to order companies to delete your personal information — denying monopolies the ability to profit off of your data. 

You may share my question about why with StubHub, Livid Seats, AXS, etc. — commonly mentioned in the ticket market — there is even a need to address Ticketmaster.

Firstly, almost all the tickets sold on these sites are "resale." With the message, "The only way to know your tickets are the real deal is to buy Ticketmaster Verified Tickets directly from Ticketmaster or Live Nation" also appearing on livenation.com, that’s 70% of venues discouraging ticket buyers from shopping anywhere else, even for resale tickets. Considering the fact these other companies can basically only profit off of scaled up resales, there’s no chance of finding affordable options while Ticketmaster remains afloat.

With the "GUTS" tour, Ticketmaster instituted a new policy, allowing ticket access only 72-hours before the show. They claimed this policy would help ensure "all ticket purchasers have adhered to ticket limits and terms." In other words, scalpers who try to snag tickets only to resell them for profit.

This reasoning is the same one used for the Verified Fan system — a system which scalpers have perfected — causing even more tickets to be taken from fans than before. They do this through paying for thousands of verified Ticketmaster accounts and using special browsers to login to all of them at the same time. 

The new 72-hour policy will only further diminish competition; resale tickets will come with a fear that that ticket may never get into new hands, as the ticket being transferred is practically non-existent. Not to mention, the resale tickets for the "GUTS" tour start at $300+.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think the average person wants to spend $300 on a ticket they may never receive. I also wouldn’t trust that a new policy has the fans in mind from a company who profits off of those very fans’ illness and injury. 

Ticketmaster has live-updating QR codes, fan-to-fan resale and ticket access only 72-hours before the show. All of these, if not fully denying acceptance of third-party resale tickets (ones initially sold on Ticketmaster), make users much more skeptical. With a company whose products cost hundreds of dollars, the average person doesn't want to take that risk. Ticketmaster also utilizes their ticket insurance policy to include loopholes to bring in profits for buyers not even able to attend events.

This is why splitting up Live Nation Entertainment is necessary to give equal competition and to stop the penny-pinching of massive companies. We can only hope that "You Are Now in The Queue" will one day be a message reminiscent of a former monopoly.

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