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There’s Bipartisan Agreement on One Thing: Ticketmaster Sucks

In the most polarized Congress probably ever, there are still plenty of Taylor Swift fans, and the Senate will hold a hearing on the monopoly ticket-peddler Tuesday.

Senators Amy Klobuchar and Mike Lee
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images
Senators Amy Klobuchar and Mike Lee are holding a hearing Tuesday on Ticketmaster.

The partisan divisions we’ve become used to on Capitol Hill are if anything even more stark in the new 118th Congress. But so far, there is one thing Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate seem to agree on: Ticketmaster is a problem.

“In terms of their monopoly power, I’m concerned about it,” Senator Josh Hawley told The New Republic in December. “I think we should look into it.” Finally, the Senate is going to. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Mike Lee, the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee that oversees antitrust issues, jointly announced a hearing for Tuesday that will be assisted by committee Chair Dick Durbin and ranking member Lindsey Graham. “I look forward to hearing more about how we got here, and identifying solutions,” said Graham in a statement.

Ticketmaster has a dark history of confronting political rivals within the music industry. Pearl Jam was the last major live act to challenge the company in Congress in 1994. Pearl Jam filed a complaint with the Justice Department accusing Ticketmaster of being a monopoly. In an obscure House subcommittee, the complaint became an open airing of grievances on MTV by the band and its music industry allies against Ticketmaster CEO Fred Rosen, who, in turn, wrecked the Seattle grunge band’s subsequent tours with last-minute ticketing shenanigans.

The government all this time has done nothing to rein in the company. In fact, quite the opposite: In 2010, the Justice Department approved Ticketmaster’s merger with Live Nation Entertainment, the company that owns the venues (and therein the concessions) where live music acts Taylor Swift and Bad Bunny perform for millions of adoring fans.

For the world’s biggest acts, Live Nation offers an all-in-one vendor that can pack stadiums for the artist who, in turn, doesn’t have to deal with a galaxy of local players in the live events space, like venue owners, concert promoters, food and beverage vendors, public officials, and other hometown luminaries looking to dictate terms for the show. Taylor Swift doesn’t have to negotiate a show in every city. Live Nation can do that for her, for fees Congressman Chip Roy finds outrageous.

“I’m a live music guy,” the Texas Republican told The New Republic. “It strikes me as being kind of problematic that they’re the only game in town. It is concerning as a user of the service.”

Ticketmaster botched Bad Bunny’s show at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, the largest soccer stadium in Latin America, so badly the country’s president asked the Puerto Rican reggaeton star to come back for a free state-funded concert in Zócalo Square, after hundreds were turned away with valid tickets.

Billboard reports that federal authorities are demanding a refund for these fans plus 20 percent and that the company might face additional fines. “It made us very emotional to see sad young people who couldn’t enter because their tickets were cloned, because they were cheated, some crying,” said Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. “They saved for a long time to be able to buy their tickets.”

Bad Bunny’s woes with Ticketmaster Mexico came after the company botched distribution for Taylor Swift’s “Eras” concert tour. Of the nearly three dozen lawmakers The New Republic asked about Ticketmaster over the last month, none mentioned the Puerto Rican pop star. Most mentioned Swift.

“I want Taylor Swift tickets!” exclaimed the disgraced freshman Congressman George Santos when I asked him about Ticketmaster. “There is a monopoly,” Klobuchar told MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski of Ticketmaster and its parent company, Live Nation Entertainment, in the days after the Taylor Swift ticketing fiasco in November.

The New Republic asked 15 senators, including four on Klobuchar’s subcommittee, about Ticketmaster. None had anything good to say about it or Live Nation Entertainment. “I know that you had a number of Americans that had a bad experience with Ticketmaster wanting to go to the Taylor Swift concert. That’s all I know,” said Senator Todd Young, an Indiana Republican. “I guess, as with most things, we should probably do a hearing if it’s important, before we act.”

Across the Capitol in the House of Representatives, Congressmen Ken Buck and David Cicilline are expected to lead the House Subcommittee of Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law in the new term. Cicilline tells The New Republic he is “very interested” in looking at Ticketmaster in the new Congress.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said she is willing to work with Republicans to hold Ticketmaster accountable and that this may provide a rare area of agreement. “There is some small consensus around antitrust,” said the New York Democrat, who called for Ticketmaster’s merger with Live Nation to be broken up. “I’m supporting unwinding that merger. I don’t believe it should’ve been approved in the first place. My hope is that the [Department of Justice] investigation is going to reveal how grave the abuse of market share and power is,” she told Rolling Stone in November.

Ticketmaster is not going down without a fight. In 2022, Live Nation Entertainment hired 26 lobbyists, paying them a total of $800,000 to defend the company’s interests in Washington. The company’s lobbying expenditures will surely grow if Congress moves aggressively against Ticketmaster.

It’s unclear if outcry from fans of musicians like Taylor Swift or Bad Bunny will compel any of today’s top live acts to take on Live Nation Entertainment in the policy space. A source close to Bad Bunny, using the star’s given name, said his fans shouldn’t get their hopes up. “Benito makes the vast majority of his money from touring, so it would not be a good business decision for him to be involved,” the source said. Last year, Bad Bunny’s world tour grossed nearly $400 million.

Klobuchar’s team would not say if any artists had been booked as witnesses for Tuesday’s hearing, or who replaced Senator Patrick Leahy on the subcommittee—only that the hearing will begin promptly at 10 a.m. “If Ticketmaster actually shows up, bring popcorn,” said a senior aide to a GOP senator on the subcommittee. And if not? “Pray for Bad Bunny.”