In today’s pantheon of serious societal problems, the inability to get hold of tickets for Taylor Swift’s new concert tour ranks pretty low. But last week’s Ticketmaster debacle, which enraged hundreds of thousands of “Swifties” who spent hours trying fruitlessly to navigate the online service as it repeatedly crashed, has exposed the broader problem with the company’s monopoly in the live events industry. . The call for the breakup is increasing, as it should be.
The problems with ticket presale for Swift’s “Eras” tour were quite simple: so many people signed up on the Ticketmaster platform that it crashed repeatedly. In the end, more than 2 million tickets were sold, but many other potential buyers were thwarted. Ticketmaster canceled plans to sell any remaining tickets last Friday because of the issues.
Ticketmaster has essentially blamed Swift’s popularity. But that ignores the fact that the situation was easily predictable – Swift is indeed one of the world’s hottest music stars. That, in turn, raises the question of why Ticketmaster was not better prepared and more effective in responding to the problem.
Surely one answer must be: why should they? No other online ticketing company is big enough to do what Ticketmaster does. Where else do fans go?
As a result of last week’s publicity over the issues, some members of Congress are calling for a reconsideration of the approval of Ticketmaster’s merger with concert promotion company Live Nation more than a decade ago. That merger doesn’t seem to have had a direct impact on last week’s mess, as Swift isn’t represented by Live Nation. But the scenario critics worried about when the merger was first approved — that the concert promoter could pressure its musical acts to use Ticketmaster — has always been an obvious problem.
More broadly, the merger has helped make Ticketmaster (and its ticket resale partners) essentially the only place buyers go to for tickets to major events, meaning the company doesn’t have to worry about annoyed customers going to an competitor flights.
Ticketmaster said in a statement: “The biggest venues and artists turn to us because we have the leading ticketing technology in the world.” And how well did that technique work out last week? As Swift herself pointed out in a frustrated post, even those who managed to get their hands on tickets “feel like they went through several bear attacks to get their hands on them.”
The real reason venues and artists turn to Ticketmaster is because for major events they are basically the only option. This is the definition of a monopoly. And last week’s collapse was a perfect demonstration of the problem with monopolies.
The Justice Department has reportedly opened an antitrust investigation, one of which predates this latest outage. That’s good to know, and congressional calls for hearings should continue. Whether it’s tech services, oil companies, the phone company, or a millennial’s greatest hits, competition is always better for the consumer.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS AFTER SHIPPING
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