How Taylor Swift is challenging Ticketmaster's grip on the music industry


Taylor Swift vs. Ticketmaster: How the mega-star and her fans are challenging the company’s 50-year grip on the music industry

The ticket giant’s prices and fees have been a sore point for fans and entertainers.

Taylor Swift vs. Ticketmaster: How the mega-star and her fans are challenging the company’s 50-year grip on the music industry

The Ticketmaster site crashed on Tuesday after about a bazillion of the gazillion Taylor Swift fans tried to buy tickets to her new Eras Tour.

Ticketmaster has been a thorn in the side of entertainers and fans alike for years, with service fees often adding 25 percent or even more to the original ticket price. For example, a recent ticket to the Jane’s Addiction/Smashing Pumpkins concert that cost $196 ended up being $231.

Fans trying to get tickets to an in-demand concert found some unlikely allies: politicians pushing an antitrust agenda. Self-described democratic socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted a “reminder” that “Ticketmaster is a monopoly, it’s merger with LiveNation should never have been approved, and they need to be reigned in.”


Ticketmaster is nearing its 50-year mark, maintaining dominance through massive changes in the music revenue business. The ticket giant purchased Live Nation, the events promoter and venue operator, in 2010 and owns exclusive rights to first sales of a good number of concerts.

The deal was not a big company buying a competitor, but instead the predominant ticketing company for the live events industry (Ticketmaster) and a concert promotion company (Live Nation).

Ticketmaster’s influence over concerts and the rising costs of event tickets haven’t gone unnoticed. Earlier this year, “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver called Ticketmaster “one of the most hated companies on earth.”

And it’s certainly not new to criticism from musicians either. Pearl Jam famously filed an antitrust complaint against Ticketmaster in 1994 — long before the company merged with Live Nation in 2010. The result? The band was quite literally left out in the rain trying to avoid using the ticket giant — including a show that was canceled in Utah due to weather and another one in Eddie Vedder’s hometown, San Diego, when a local sheriff said the security issues were too much. The Justice Department investigated whether Ticketmaster’s exclusive contracts violated antitrust laws based on Pearl Jam’s claims and ultimately decided they did not.

“The boss” has gone after Ticketmaster as well. After a technical issue with Ticketmaster in 2009, Bruce Springsteen criticized the merger: “The one thing that would make the current ticket situation even worse for the fan than it is now would be Ticketmaster and Live Nation coming up with a single system, thereby returning us to a near monopoly situation in music ticketing.” But recently, tickets for a Springsteen concert were going for upward of $5,000 on Ticketmaster.


Ticketmaster has been criticized and investigated — but still rules the world of ticket sales in the entertainment industry

The antitrust concern with Ticketmaster is about its 2010 merger with Live Nation. The merger immediately drew hackles from critics for potentially giving Ticketmaster an unfair advantage in the entertainment ticket industry.

It went through only after the Justice Department under President Barack Obama completed a lengthy antitrust investigation that required the merged company to comply with some conditions to do the deal. That included signing an agreement that barred them from “retaliating against any venue that chooses to use another company’s ticketing services or promotional services.”

But problems persisted almost a decade later, according to the Justice Department. And Live Nation agreed to extend its original agreement not to force venues to use Ticketmaster through 2025.

Earlier this year, Ticketmaster and Live Nation were sued by a class of ticket-buyers for allegedly violating antitrust rules by maintaining an “illegal business arrangement under which Live Nation, the largest concert promoter in the U.S., threatens to withhold shows from major venues if they do not select Ticketmaster as their primary ticketing service provider,” the Hollywood Reporter wrote in a January article.

A Live Nation representative issued a statement in response to the complaint, that said, “Plaintiff’s attorneys have made prior, unsuccessful attempts to bring nearly identical class actions. We are confident in the judicial process.” The case is currently in progress.

A similar case ended up being routed through arbitration in accordance with Live Nation’s terms of use.

Even if a fan is able to grab a Taylor Swift presale ticket, they’ll still have to pay processing and service fees — which can quickly add up to make a ticket that is seemingly affordable on its face much more expensive when it’s time to pay for it.

Critics say even with Justice Department oversight, the company is still functioning as a monopoly.

How does Ticketmaster/Live Nation stay on its throne? “Because Live Nation manages more than 500 major music artists, the company can demand that venues interested in hosting performances with those artists exclusively use Ticketmaster as their ticketing service, thus eliminating any potential competition,” the nonprofit American Economic Liberties Project wrote in a report. The group has advocated for the Justice Department to undo the merger.

The company also contributes to political campaigns with a fairly hefty lobbying budget.

— Matthew Zeitlin


Politicians have tried to take on Ticketmaster, but without much luck

The occasional politician has tried taking on the company as well. In March of this year, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wrote a letter to the Justice Department arguing there isn’t much evidence that the live ticketing market is any more competitive than it was a decade ago when the merger happened. They added that the processing fees were exorbitant. (Blumenthal also included a nod to Swift fans that “consumers deserve better than this anti-hero behavior.”)

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), who was trying to get tickets to the concert for his granddaughter, joined AOC on Twitter, saying, “You’d think all these service and convenience fees could go to a working website.” Pascrell also called on the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice to rein in the company.

— Matthew Zeitlin


Ticketmaster doesn’t have the infrastructure to handle the number of people that need to use it

Ticketmaster’s dominance in the ticket space creates a basic technology issue: If there’s only one main place to buy tickets for an event, any technical problems with Ticketmaster’s site or platform will negatively impact ticket-seekers. Tuesday’s presale for the Eras Tour was a case in point — and one I experienced personally.

At the start of the presale, fans took to Twitter to report that their individual access codes weren’t working. Others reported that they were experiencing issues with their place in the queue, account logins, seat selections or attempts to complete their purchases. Overall functionality on the Ticketmaster site was also an issue, as fans surged online to buy tickets, seemingly overwhelming the site. The result: multiple outages. (Notably, an Amazon Web Services outage last December also caused problems for fans trying to buy Adele presale tickets on Ticketmaster.)

“There has been a historically unprecedented demand with millions showing up to buy tickets for the TaylorSwiftTix Presale,” Ticketmaster said in a statement posted on Twitter. “If you are currently in a queue, please hang tight — queues are moving and we are working to get fans through as quickly as possible. … Thank you for your patience as we continue managing this huge demand.”

By the time my access code was finally able to unlock seats, I had trouble selecting them. The times I was able to choose specific seats and move on purchasing tickets, I received pop-up messages saying they were no longer available. After hours, I, like many others, left the presale empty-handed.

My direct message to Ticketmaster Fan Support on Twitter Tuesday about the issues I was experiencing has not gotten a response.

— Cameron Hood

Thanks to Lillian Barkley for copy editing this article.

  • Matthew Zeitlin
    Matthew Zeitlin

    Domestic Economics Reporter

    Matthew Zeitlin is an economics reporter at Grid focused on the domestic impact of major stories such as coronavirus, the supply chain and economic volatility.

  • Cameron Hood
    Cameron Hood

    Newsletter Editor

    Cameron Hood is the newsletter editor at Grid.

  • Suzette Lohmeyer
    Suzette Lohmeyer

    Senior Editor

    Suzette Lohmeyer is the senior editor at Grid, where she focuses on daily news.


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