Essential Politics: Will Taylor Swift end Ticketmaster’s dominance?
Ticketmaster’s website repeatedly crashed during a pre-sale for Taylor Swift‘s hotly anticipated Eras tour last week. Fans fought over tickets, and the ticket seller ultimately canceled its general public sale because of low inventory. Even Swift herself weighed in, expressing dismay over the situation and saying it was “excruciating” watching fans go through an awful ticket-buying experience with “no recourse.”
Buying concert tickets wasn’t always so hard.
When I was in middle school, scoring seats for great shows was relatively easy. To get to see top artists, all my friends and I had to do was rely on one person to buy tickets as soon as they went on sale. We saw plenty of stars, including Taylor Swift. But after Live Nation merged with Ticketmaster in 2010, scoring tickets seemed to get a lot harder.
I stopped buying concert tickets for a while after college, so it wasn’t until last spring, when I tried to buy tickets for Olivia Rodrigo, that I realized how difficult the process had become.
I thought my middle-school strategy would work. It did not. I did not even get to the screen where I could select seats — instead, I was asked to pay over $1,000 for tickets. This failure forced me to change my process. And, when I heard rumblings of a Swift tour, I organized two groups in two cities to improve my odds against other fans and bots who purchase tickets for scalpers.
I got my Swift tickets last week. But millions of others did not — and, in the process, put the spotlight on a ticket-selling monopoly that artists have long decried.
The whole debacle shined a light on antitrust regulation and the Washington officials charged with enforcing it. But can anything really change? Why does any of this matter? Can the federal government really break up Ticketmaster?
Hello friends, I’m Erin B. Logan. I’m a reporter with the L.A. Times covering national politics and the Biden administration. Today we are going to discuss antitrust, ticketing and my favorite artist, Taylor Swift — the greatest living lyricist.
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Why some fans will never ever get tickets
Artists have long complained about Ticketmaster and its parent company Live Nation. The two companies overwhelmingly control the ticketing process and own and ink exclusive deals with venues, leaving little room for competition or competitive pricing, their critics argue. Ticketmaster and Live Nation’s dominance frustrated artists even before they merged in 2010. In the mid-1990s, for example, Pearl Jam tried and failed to boycott Ticketmaster, showing that it’s likely impossible for big musical acts to mount a successful tour without the company.
The company’s supremacy also drives up costs, advocates say. The company often uses dynamic pricing for popular events, so that high demand can lead to higher ticket prices. Ticketmaster also charges what it likes for fees, which can sometimes make up as much as 78% of the cost of a ticket, according to calculations by More Perfect Union. At those rates, many average Americans simply cannot afford to see live music. My Taylor Swift ticket in Atlanta, for example, cost $199. I paid $51.55 in fees, about 25% of the total.
Can anything change?
Ticketmaster’s monopoly has captured the attention of not only the general public, but also lawmakers and attorneys general around the nation.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York tweeted that the company needed to be broken up.
Attorneys general in Tennessee and Nevada have said they are investigating the ticketing giant. In Pennsylvania, Democrat Attorney General and Governor-elect Josh Shapiro urged those having trouble getting Swift tickets to submit complaints. The U.S. Justice Department has said it will investigate the company.
Break Up Ticketmaster, an anti-monopoly coalition, applauded the news of the DOJ investigation and three Democratic senators told the Justice Department that an investigation alone would not resolve issues and that the companies should be broken up if ongoing issues are revealed.
This is not the first time the Justice Department has looked into Ticketmaster. Justice Department officials investigated Ticketmaster in the late 1990s at the behest of Pearl Jam and other groups that filed a complaint. They looked at the companies again in 2018 after allegations that Live Nation, which handles the touring side of the company’s business, had pressured venues to work exclusively with Ticketmaster.
In an interview, Christine Chabot, a legal scholar and interim director for the Institute for Consumer Antitrust Studies at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, said that Justice Department prosecutors could either address the issues by undoing the merger or by telling Live Nation to stop pressuring venues and artists to use Ticketmaster.
But telling Live Nation to avoid potentially anticompetitive practices “hasn’t worked before,” Chabot said. So, a structural remedy, aka breaking up the company, will likely be more effective so that the feds can “make sure that in the future promoters like Live Nation are making independent decisions as to which ticketing services they should use and trying to pick the ticketing service that is the best one for customers,” she added.
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The latest from the campaign trail
— The battles for California’s most competitive congressional races have effectively ended in a draw after months of campaigning and more than $100 million in advertising, Times writers Melanie Mason, Seema Mehta and Hannah Fry reported. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have so far ousted an incumbent or won new ground in their opponent’s territory — though a handful of races remain unresolved. Each party had higher aspirations this cycle than a continuation of the status quo. Democrats saw California as a beacon, a rare opportunity to play offense in a season that appeared increasingly ominous. Republicans, giddy with confidence of an easy takeover of the House majority, sensed an opportunity to run up the score in the state’s blue-tinted districts. Though neither side’s best-case scenario came to pass, both say there were bright spots to be found in the stalemate.
— Republicans who supported former President Trump’s lies lost bids for offices that help oversee voting in the six states that decided the last presidential election, as well as in races across the country, the Associated Press reported. But some won races to control local positions that run on-the-ground election operations in counties, cities and townships. Of the nine Republicans running for secretary of state who echoed Trump’s lies about 2020 or supported his efforts to overturn its results, three won — all in Republican-dominated states.
— Forget the scathing editorials from conservative media blaming Trump for the GOP’s mediocre midterm, Times writer Melanie Mason reported. Never mind their underwhelmed reception to his 2024 presidential launch. Disregard the major donors who are bailing this time around. Republican power brokers may be ready to break from Trump, but a significant slice of Republican voters? Not so much. As the 2022 midterm election wheezes to an end, the start of the 2024 campaign feels both uncharted and uncannily familiar.
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The view from Washington
— The Supreme Court on Tuesday denied Trump’s plea to shield his tax returns from being turned over to a House committee, Times writer David G. Savage reported. The decision came in a one-line order with no dissents. The court’s action has the effect of upholding a longstanding request from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) for six years of Trump’s tax returns. But the long legal battle is ending just as the Democrats are about to lose control of the House, raising doubts about whether Neal’s Republican successor will continue the effort.
— The Biden administration asked the Supreme Court on Friday to lift lower court orders and clear the way for the Education Department to forgive millions of student loans, Times writer David G. Savage reported. At issue is whether conservative lower courts can block the program indefinitely. In August, Biden said the government would forgive up to $20,000 in loans for qualifying borrowers, based on a 2003 law that granted relief to those affected by war or a national emergency. Both the Trump and Biden administrations cited the pandemic as a national emergency that justified a pause in loan repayments. But Republican state attorneys general and conservative advocacy groups say Biden did not have the authority to forgive $400 billion or more in loans.
— Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland named a special counsel on Friday to oversee the Justice Department’s investigation into the presence of classified documents at Trump’s Florida estate as well as key aspects of a separate probe involving the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection and efforts to undo the 2020 election, the Associated Press reported. The move creates a new chain of command over sensitive investigations seen as likely to accelerate now that the midterm elections have concluded. The announcement of veteran prosecutor Jack Smith’s appointment just three days after Trump launched his 2024 presidential campaign is a recognition of the political implications of two investigations that involve not only a former president but also a current White House hopeful.
The view from California
— With less than a month to go before he leaves office, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is pressing his effort to get the U.S. Senate to confirm his appointment as ambassador to India, a fraught campaign complicated by a Republican senator whose office is trying to renew doubts about whether the mayor and his staff mishandled sexual harassment allegations against a top aide, Times writers James Rainey and Dakota Smith reported. It has been more than 16 months since Biden nominated Garcetti as the U.S. representative to the world’s largest democracy. A vote on the appointment has never been scheduled, as Garcetti and his allies strain to reach the 50 votes needed for approval. L.A.'s mayor has waited far longer for confirmation — nearly 500 days — than all others whom Biden has designated to be ambassadors, according to the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.
— More than a year after it was secretly recorded and a month after it was leaked, a backroom conversation among three Los Angeles City Council members and a prominent union president continues to shake city politics, Times staff writers reported. It has triggered resignations, protests that halted much council business, and condemnations from the highest levels of the Democratic Party. The discussion among the four Latino political leaders was widely denounced as racist, and featured profane remarks and insults about Black people, Oaxacans, Jews, Armenians and others. They also plotted how to use the city’s contentious redistricting process for their own gain.
— A leaked audio of three council members using racists insults as they plotted to reshape district maps has upended City Hall and thrown into question how much neighborhood advocates can do in a district that’s in limbo, Times writer Rachel Uranga reported. Councilmember Kevin de León, the once powerful president pro tempore of the California Senate who ran for mayor in the primary election this year, refuses to step down despite deafening calls to resign, saying he won’t leave his constituents without representation. Once considered a trailblazer, De León has been politically isolated by the scandal, and his council colleagues are moving to cut off the little power he has remaining in the two years left of his term. Although a move to recall him is already afoot, it could take months to qualify for the ballot, if it does at all.
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