The problem with Ticketmaster


Drew Angerer

Protesters demonstrate against Live Nation Entertainment and Ticketmaster outside the US Capitol on January 24, 2023, in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Cameron Tollefson, Editor

In mid-November of 2022, millions of Taylor Swift fans attempted to buy tickets for her Eras tour through Ticketmaster, a website for buying and selling live event tickets, after the release of her album, “Midnights.” During pre-sale, when “verified fans” were given a pre-sale code, people waited in queues for hours, only to be repeatedly kicked out of the browser and forced to start over. Others managed to get through only to find all tickets sold out within an incredibly short amount of time. And for many, ticket prices were exorbitant, with some tickets costing over a thousand dollars. Ticketmaster then canceled the ticket sale for the general public in a tweet that cited the “extraordinarily high demands on ticketing systems and insufficient remaining ticket inventory.” Soon after, tickets were going on resale sites for as much as 20,000 dollars.

Though Ticketmaster has experienced its fair share of complaints over the years, the Taylor Swift tour incident has likely made it one of the most hated corporations around. 

So, what’s the deal with Ticketmaster? How did it fail? And how is its chokehold on the entertainment industry negatively affecting fans?

Ticketmaster began in 1976 as a software company that created and sold programs to help colleges and retailers sell tickets to customers. By the mid-80s, Ticketmaster had already grown and surpassed its main competitor and predecessor in the ticket industry. In 2010, Ticketmaster merged with Live Nation, the largest event promoter at the time to form Live Nation Entertainment. This merger created a whole new kind of juggernaut and today, Live Nation Entertainment controls roughly 70% of the “ticket and live events market.”

Not only do Ticketmaster and Live Nation have a monopoly on the live entertainment industry, but Live Nation also owns many venues across the country. Because of this market dominance, it’s nearly impossible for an artist or band to go on tour without collaborating with Ticketmaster. Rock band Pearl Jam, at the height of their fame in the 1990s, attempted to go on tour independently which led to a lot of venues in odd locations with a small number of seats. With encouragement from the Department of Justice, they filed an antitrust complaint against Ticketmaster in 1994. The Department of Justice later dropped the case. 

One of the major complaints with Ticketmaster is the fees, with some fees even exceeding the price of the ticket itself. Since Ticketmaster does not say how much fees will be until checkout, one has no way of knowing how much they’re actually going to have to spend on a ticket. There are also no laws dictating how much a site like Ticketmaster is allowed to charge for a service fee; there is nothing to stop them from adding obscene costs to already expensive tickets. These service fees allegedly go to venues and promoters, but when Live Nation owns a lot of these stadiums and theaters, Ticketmaster is basically putting money back into its own pockets. 

Another problem with Ticketmaster is that a lot, or even most, of tickets in a venue are not released to the general public. According to the New York Attorney General’s office in 2016, for most of the big concerts and shows happening “less than 25% of tickets were…released to the general public…” The rest of the tickets are reserved for credit card companies and other resellers. This limits access to the general public, which is where professional resellers come into the mix. If you’ve ever attempted to buy tickets to a concert and it seems like everything has sold out within minutes, it’s likely due to resellers who have bots mass buying tickets so they can sell them later at a scalped price. These tickets are often sold on places like SeatGeek, StubHub, and Ticketmaster itself. 

While it’s true that when buying tickets a person is usually limited in the number of tickets they can buy, there is no restriction on having more than one account, so it’s easy for a reseller to have several different accounts. These resellers sell scalped tickets with a price increase, on average, of 49% according to the New York Attorney General’s office. For Ticketmaster and sites like it, this is a profitable business decision since they get a cut of the earnings from a resold ticket sale.

So, what can an average ticket buyer do about it? Unfortunately, the answer is not a lot. Ticketmaster’s system is designed to exploit people. But some legal action has been happening that could potentially shake things up. 

In January of 2023, Ticketmaster was called to testify in a Judiciary Committee hearing in Congress. Executives of Ticketmaster were asked about the company’s monopoly. It was one of the few issues that both Democrats and Republicans both recognized as a problem. Theoretically, Congress has the power to break up the merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster, though it seems unlikely that they will do that. The Department of Justice has reportedly been investigating Ticketmaster for antitrust breaches for a period of time but has yet to make any official move. 

However, there are people attempting to take legal action against Ticketmaster. A group of Taylor Swift fans who were frustrated back in November filed a lawsuit against Ticketmaster in a California court in December of 2022. The fans are citing California’s Unfair Competition law and are asking for 2,500 dollars per violation of the law. Though there are only 26 official plaintiffs as of right now, at least 400 other people are keen to get involved. In late March, there was a status hearing, which was mainly bureaucratic. 

It will be interesting to see if or what consequences will happen for Live Nation Entertainment. For a company as large and as profitable as Ticketmaster, even expensive fines are unlikely to cripple it. However, if the plaintiffs win the lawsuit, it could encourage other disgruntled fans to take action. But unfortunately for now, if you want to see your favorite artist, you’re going to have to deal with Ticketmaster.