Witnesses Announced for Tomorrow’s Ticketmaster Senate Hearing, as Opposing Sides Square Off

U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Mn.) and Mike Lee (R-Ut.) have announced the witnesses for the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing examining the lack of competition in the ticketing industry titled “That’s the Ticket: Promoting Competition and Protecting Consumers in Live Entertainment,” taking place tomorrow (Jan. 24) at 10 a.m. ET and will be livestreamed here.

Scheduled witnesses include:

·         Joe Berchtold, President and CFO, Live Nation Entertainment (which owns Ticketmaster)

·         Jack Groetzinger, CEO, SeatGeek (a New York-based ticketing platform and Ticketmaster competitor, which recently lost a seven-year contract with Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to Ticketmaster after just a year)

·         Jerry Mickelson, CEO and President, JAM Productions (a Chicago-based concert promoter, founded in 1972)

·         Sal Nuzzo, Senior Vice President, The James Madison Institute (a Florida-based free-market think tank)

·         Kathleen Bradish, Vice President for Legal Advocacy, American Antitrust Institute (a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that aims to promote competition for the benefit of “consumers, businesses, and society”)

·         Clyde Lawrence, Singer-songwriter for the band Lawrence

While Ticketmaster’s foes have been circling this hearing for the past few days and strong words and accusations may be aired, it is unclear how much change may actually come from it unless evidence is presented of certifiably anticompetitive practices by Ticketmaster — i.e. it can be proved that they unfairly pressured venues to use their services and not those of a competitor.

While JAM is a major regional promoter and SeatGeek is a strong competitor, the reluctance of many in the industry to criticize Ticketmaster before Congress is indicated by the artist who is listed as a witness: While Lawrence is a long-running New York-based sibling duo who are signed to Beautiful Mind, a label founded by Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Jon Bellion, it’s not on the level of having a Taylor Swift or member of Pearl Jam take the stand.

Clouding the matter further is the fact that the flashpoint for this hearing, the catastrophic rollout of tickets for Taylor Swift’s “Eras” tour later this year, which suffered significant service failures and delays on Ticketmaster’s website in November left thousands of fans frustrated if not infuriated over being unable to purchase concert tickets. However, that incident had little to do with anti-trust and more to do with simply putting too many tickets on sale at once, along with astronomical demand.

However, Sen. Klobuchar in particular has been a long advocate in the anti-trust realm as well as live entertainment — she played a pivotal role in getting the “Save Our Stages” bill passed in 2020, which brought $16 billion in federal pandemic relief to independent music venues and theaters. In November, Klobuchar wrote a letter to Ticketmaster expressing concern about the lack of competition in the ticketing industry and questioning whether the company is taking necessary steps to provide the best service it can to consumers.

According to documents released Monday, Ticketmaster is likely to point to increased competition in the ticketing industry, particularly in the secondary market; the fact that venues take a major share of the controversial service fees that do not appear until late in the purchasing process; and the fact that Live Nation has invested $1 billion to improve Ticketmaster via infrastructure, anti-bot technology and tactics to eliminate fraud and defeat predatory actors on the secondary market.  

The hearing will be held before the full Senate Judiciary Committee with Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and incoming Ranking Member Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

In statement last week announcing the date for the hearing, Klobuchar said, “The issues within America’s ticketing industry were made painfully obvious when Ticketmaster’s website failed hundreds of thousands of fans hoping to purchase tickets for Taylor Swift’s new tour, but these problems are not new. For too long, consumers have faced high fees, long waits, and website failures, and Ticketmaster’s dominant market position means the company faces inadequate pressure to innovate and improve. At next week’s hearing, we will examine how consolidation in the live entertainment and ticketing industries harms customers and artists alike. Without competition to incentivize better services and fair prices, we all suffer the consequences.”

Klobuchar, who has been especially outspoken in her criticism of the ticketing giant since the Swift ticketing debacle in October, spoke with Variety at length about the issues last month. “As they’ve said publicly, they should have done better on the Taylor Swift ticket sales. We know that, but we believe it’s not enough. I believe that we need to get to the bottom of the problems in the ticketing industry,” she said. “What happens with monopolies is the people who get hurt by them also are afraid of them. They don’t want to come forward because they think they’re going to get screwed.” 

“American consumers deserve the benefit of competition in every market, from grocery chains to concert venues,” said Lee. “I look forward to exercising our Subcommittee’s oversight authority to ensure that anticompetitive mergers and exclusionary conduct are not crippling an entertainment industry already struggling to recover from pandemic lockdowns.”

Variety will have much more on the hearing as it develops on Tuesday.

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