The Senate’s Taylor Swift Caucus Has Arrived, and It’s Very Mad at Ticketmaster Too


The senators had done their homework—or maybe it happens to be that there are a lot of Taylor Swift fans in the Senate, which turned its attention this week toward figuring out what went so wrong when the singer-songwriter attempted to sell tickets to her highly anticipated Eras Tour. This was a Senate Judiciary committee hearing about antitrust—the legacy of the 2010 merger between Live Nation and Ticketmaster—but it was also a hearing for the fans, the Swifties, and the senators were ready to indulge them. Amy Klobuchar said she knows that industry consolidation affects competition, “as an ode to Taylor Swift…all too well.” Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal said, “May I suggest, respectfully, that Ticketmaster ought to look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m the problem, it’s me,’” referencing Swift’s most recent hit, “Anti-Hero.”

It was Mike Lee who dug the deepest for his callouts; Republicans’ failure to win the Senate majority meant Klobuchar “was cheer captain, while I’m on the bleachers,” he said. Regulating ticket transfers to deter scalpers could be “a nightmare dressed like a daydream,” Lee added. And then there was his most obscure reference—a bit more of a taunt directed at Joe Berchtold, the Live Nation president and chief financial officer who testified on behalf of the entertainment behemoth. “I have to throw out, in deference to my daughter Eliza, one more Taylor Swift quote,” Lee said. “‘Karma’s a relaxing thought. Aren’t you envious that for you it’s not?’”

It’s not entirely surprising for politicians to chase after cultural clout (see: Olivia Rodrigo talking up vaccines on the White House Instagram). Perhaps more striking was the truly bipartisan shellacking senators delivered Live Nation Entertainment, the monolith that controls anywhere from 50% to more than 70% of ticket sales, depending on who you’re asking to do the estimate. Klobuchar underscored how the fear and a lack of transparency in the live-events business had allowed concerns about the company’s practices to go unreported. She said she’d heard from venues who were afraid to come forward with complaints, or that even if Live Nation is “not out there threatening them, they are afraid to go to someone else because then they are not getting the acts that they want.” Then she uttered the sentence Live Nation likely wanted to hear the least: “This is all a definition of monopoly,” Klobuchar said. Republican Josh Hawley used the same word. “This is how monopolies work,” he said. “You leverage market power in one market to get market power in another market—and it looks like you’re doing that in, frankly, multiple markets.” 

Joe Berchtold, president and chief financial officer of Live Nation Entertainment Inc., is sworn in to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, DC, US, on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023.  By Al Drago/Bloomberg/ Getty Images.

Berchtold denied that his company had any monopolistic power. “The bottom line is that US ticketing markets have never been more competitive than they are today,” he said, “and we read about new potential entrants all the time.”

Though antitrust crusading has had a left-leaning image for more than a century, the machinations behind individual mergers have often made for strange bedfellows. When Barack Obama’s Department of Justice approved the merger between industry stalwart Ticketmaster and management and promotion heavyweight Live Nation in 2010, it anticipated issues related to the company’s outsize market share, and placed the company under a consent decree that aimed to restrict the types of deals it could make. By 2019, when the DOJ decided to extend the consent decree after an investigation, the company had become the poster child for how a laissez-faire attitude toward antitrust law in both parties had run amok. Progressives became interested in making antitrust “sexy” again, as Klobuchar has put it, but increasingly, Hawley and a band of self-described national conservatives have begun to call for the right to take on the mantle of breaking up the monopolies, at least when it comes to certain industries, like big tech. Tuesday’s hearing was a sign that bipartisan rhetoric over antitrust is possible, so long as the company is near universally reviled.

As Klobuchar admitted, the Senate panel had no power to enact the one alteration that even the staunchest conservatives seemed open to discussing—an unwinding of the merger. For that to happen, the DOJ would have to get involved. Still the committee forced Live Nation to explain its practices, and give insight that the company had so far appeared intent on keeping murky. 

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