Taylor Swift fans set to protest ahead of Senate Ticketmaster hearing

The Senate Judiciary Committee holds its much-anticipated hearing Tuesday on Live Nation and the lack of competition in the ticketing industry.

And while lawmakers are putting entertainment executives and antitrust experts to the test, some of Ticketmaster’s most vocal critics will be protesting just steps away on the grounds of the US Capitol: Taylor Swift fans.

Critics have long accused Ticketmaster of being a monopoly, particularly after its controversial merger with Live Nation (now its parent company) in 2010. But outrage reached new heights after Swift’s The Eras Tour botched pre-sale process in November, when long waits arose , exorbitant fees and website outages left thousands of fans frustrated and empty-handed.

After years of complaints about high fees, opaque resale practices, and other issues, the incident seemed to shake up fans and lawmakers alike. Attorneys general in several states launched consumer protection investigations, many Democratic lawmakers called for Ticketmaster to be disbanded, and dozens of Swift fans sued the company for fraud and antitrust violations.

The company did not respond to NPR’s request for comment on this story. In a public apology to Swift and its fans at the time, Ticketmaster blamed overwhelming demand for its site’s crash.

“The biggest venues and artists are turning to us because we have the world’s leading ticketing technology – that doesn’t mean it’s perfect, and for Taylor Swift The Eras Tour onsale it definitely wasn’t,” it said at the time. “But we are constantly working to improve the ticket buying experience. Especially for high-demand ticket offices that are constantly testing new limits.”

Live Nation issued a statement in November denying monopoly allegations and saying it “does not engage in conduct that might warrant antitrust litigation, let alone injunctions that would require changing fundamental business practices.” It has also been argued that the industry has not fundamentally changed in the 12 years since regulators approved the merger of the companies.

Protesters made anti-Ticketmaster t-shirts for Tuesday's event.

Jenn Landry/Jennifer Kinder

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Protesters made anti-Ticketmaster t-shirts for Tuesday’s event.

Jennifer Kinder, the Dallas-based attorney representing Swift fans in their lawsuit, told NPR Monday that both legal action and legislative changes will be important in holding Ticketmaster accountable.

Kinder helped organize Tuesday’s protest – and flew in from Texas to attend – to send a message to leaders of the company and the committee investigating it.

“We hope so, is that Sen. [Amy] Klobuchar, Sen. [Dick] Durbin is really starting to ask very tough questions about Ticketmaster and how consumers are treated and how artists are treated,” she said. “Now we only had four days in advance to organize a protest, but we hope that people will come and together with their voice Ticketmaster sees us, knows we are here and not going away.”

A hearing can accomplish three important things, Klobuchar says

Klobuchar, D-Minn., the chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust and Consumer Rights, told the Morning Edition early Tuesday that asking tough questions is exactly what she’s up to — especially when it comes to fees and technology spending .

Acknowledging that bands have been trying to take on Ticketmaster for decades, Klobuchar says the picture is different in 2023.

“What’s different right now is that this isn’t a singular problem,” she explains. “We’ve seen consolidation in 75% of industries in this country, and people are starting to do it. Taylor Swift fans certainly got it. I will find all the allies I need for this case.”

Klobuchar sees three main problems with Ticketmaster: it controls more than 70% of the ticketing and live events market, it controls much of the advertising for these events, and it owns or has year-long exclusive deals with many major venues.

“So that’s a trio of problems leading to two things,” she says. “One thing is what you see — it’s not just Taylor Swift, it’s Bad Bunny, BTS, Bruce Springsteen, Harry Styles, all these artists have trouble selling tickets because there’s no incentive when you’re a monopoly. Second, fees, hidden fees. A recent government study found that 27% of the ticket price was fees, which you can’t even figure out what they are from this company.”

So what exactly can the Senate do? Klobuchar says the hearing will give the public a chance to see what’s going on and also create evidence under oath that could be useful for future investigations (like a Justice Department report said to have been started before the Swift). ticket sales).

Also, she adds, it will educate legislators and empower them to pass legislation.

“There are Republicans right now that are interested because of the fees, because of the fact that they’re trying to get these multi-year contracts,” she says. “All of these things are ripe for legislation.”

And she says the Justice Department has a variety of tools at its disposal to dilute the power of big corporations, from enforcing and strengthening consent decrees to breaking up corporations.

“Our markets and our economy are based on competition,” she says. “When you don’t have competition, things like what happened with the Taylor Swift concert happen because you have nowhere else to turn.”

Protesters say this is an issue for anyone to hide behind

Protesters are hoping to send a message Tuesday, and attorney Kinder says she sees T-shirts and banners with all sorts of slogans: Ticketswindle, Ticketmonopoly, Stay Mad Swifties, a Ticketmaster logo with a line through it.

A sign tells Ticketmaster, “Your reputation has never been worse,” and references a Swift song, Kinder said. Another quoted another Swift caption, “If it feels like a trap, you’re already in one,” above a large image.

“And it’s the … big photo of what we’ve all experienced, the line that says, ‘You’re in line over 2,000,'” she said.

Kinder had help organizing the protests – including from activists linked to Free Britney, the movement calling for the end of Britney Spears’ conservatorship.

One of those advocates, Melanie Carlson, has been researching the subject for years and claims Live Nation benefited directly from Spears’ conservatory.

“It’s shocking that she was able to perform in front of thousands of people and everyone in the industry knew about it, and yet no one said anything,” Carlson said in a phone interview with NPR Monday. “And that is the level of power that should be broken. And that is our fight against Ticketmaster and Live Nation.”

Additionally, Carlson said she’s seen various artist fandoms get mad at Ticketmaster over the years, from complaints about costs about scalpers to “the possibility of even having a chance of getting tickets.”

Carlson has been trying to unite these groups for the past few months, and isn’t surprised it took an artist of Swift’s caliber to finally pull it off — even as Carlson has seen disappointed Swifties widely derided as “only privileged young ones.” Women who need to get a life.”

“People tend to scoff at interests that are overwhelmingly female… And what people need to step back and see is this: Don’t they have a favorite band? And aren’t some of those concerts the best moments of your life?” Carlson says. “So if we come together, we’ll all be able to enjoy music more freely and artists will also have more freedom because the monopoly controls artists through management, promotion and venues [and] Ticketing.”

Carlson says this is the “least partisan issue” they’ve ever been involved in, noting Ticketmaster’s widespread unpopularity. When the US Capitol Police Officer asked Carlson if they were expecting counter-protesters Tuesday, she laughed.

“I thought, ‘No, everyone hates Ticketmaster. It’s probably the most impartial, neutral movement in the whole world,'” adds Carlson. “So yeah, I think it’s so doable to separate them.”

Carlson doesn’t expect Tuesday’s hearing itself to change anything because the legislative process is taking so long. But she hopes the rally outside of that will provide impetus for more people to come together and push for a just system.

“What I do know is that fans at the local level would be better served if their economies benefited from having more small businesses involved in the music industry,” adds Carlson. “That money stays in the economy instead of being sucked into Beverly Hills, California by mega-corporations. And they have a better chance of going to more concerts because they are more affordable.”

Not expecting a large turnout on such short notice, the protest organizers are also encouraging people to show up online by tweeting the hashtags #FansUnite and #BreakUpTicketmaster.

And they also say they hope people will continue to speak out against Ticketmaster. They are likely to get another opportunity to do so when plaintiffs in the fraud lawsuit have their first court hearing in mid-March.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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