US hearings on Taylor Swift ticket fiasco could benefit Canadian customers, expert says

Canadians could enjoy the benefits of the work of a US Senate committee if changes to Ticketmaster are imposed, an expert says.

A Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington is investigating the ticketing giant’s dominance of the industry, with some suggesting the US government forced the company to split up, 13 years after Ticketmaster and the promoter of Live Nation concerts will merge.

“The fact is that Live Nation/Ticketmaster is the 800-pound gorilla here,” US Sen. Richard Blumenthal said during a hearing on Tuesday. “This whole concert ticket system is a disaster, a monopoly disaster.”

Ticketmaster is the world’s largest ticket seller, processing 500 million ducats each year in more than 30 countries. About 70 percent of tickets to major concert venues in the US are sold through Ticketmaster, according to data from a class action lawsuit filed by consumers last year.

Fans and artists have alleged that the company’s comfort as a dominant player in its industry has resulted in it taking customers for granted and exploiting artists.

If the US government takes steps to clean up the alleged “mess,” it could be profitable for Canadian customers, said Vass Bednar, executive director of McMaster University’s master of public policy program in digital society.

The benefits could include greater transparency in ticket purchases, paying less for tickets and fewer opportunities for ticket scalpers, Bednar suggested.

“If there end up being significant changes to the structure of the company or its business practices, that would have spillover effects in Canada,” he said. “I can’t see how the changes would be limited to the US.”

The committee was started last November when the Ticketmaster site crashed during a pre-sale event for Taylor Swift’s upcoming tour. According to the company, bots trying to buy tickets to resell them and a rush of fans caused a malfunction that caused thousands of people to lose tickets after waiting hours in line in line.

Live Nation President and CFO Joe Berchtold apologized for the incident and vowed to improve the service. The company said it has already spent $1 billion over the past decade on security enhancements.

Berchtold also agreed that the industry should be more transparent about fees and said authorities should focus more on fraudulent practices, such as scalpers offering tickets that have not yet officially gone on sale.

But the senators were in no mood to praise the company’s efforts. Republican Marsha Blackburn said banks and power companies are also frequent targets of bots, but they don’t experience service failures.

“They have figured it out, but haven’t you? This is incredible,” Blackburn said during the hearing. “We have a lot of people who are very unhappy with the way this has been addressed.”

Other senators spoke about the fees charged by the company, which are sometimes as high as 75 percent of the ticket’s face value and average 27 percent of its value.

Ticket scalping was also an issue raised during the hearing. In 2018, a joint Star-CBC investigation revealed that Ticketmaster was seeking to do business with those who resold tickets rather than making concerted efforts to stop them.

The company also had to pay fines and costs of $4.5 million in 2019 after an investigation by the Canadian Competition Bureau into misleading pricing.

A Ticketmaster competitor, SeatGeek CEO Jack Groetzinger, told the committee that even if Live Nation doesn’t own a venue, it hampers competition by signing arenas and concert halls to multi-year contracts to provide ticketing services; if those venues do not agree to use Ticketmaster, Live Nation may retain the acts you are promoting.

“The only way to restore competition is to split up Ticketmaster and Live Nation,” Groetzinger said.

Ticketmaster did not respond to a request from the Star for comment and details about its Canadian operations on Tuesday.

Bednar said it’s encouraging to see US officials take a look at the company and “regulators are wondering if Live Nation has abused its power over the live music industry and if they have a monopoly on ticket sales.” said.

In Canada, meanwhile, an appeals court decision on Tuesday upheld the $26 billion merger of Rogers and Shaw, quashing an effort by the competition bureau to halt telecommunications company nuptials.

Bednar said the committee in Washington is an example of how Canada often takes advantage of foreign governments’ decisions on such competition issues. He added that Canadians seem fed up with this country’s long history of letting big Canadian business rule.

“We’re having more of a competitive moment in Canada, where people no longer accept our lack of dynamism as part of our heritage,” he said. “People are angry, more angry with grocery stores and telecom, but the lack of competition in Canada goes beyond grocery stores, telecom, banking and airlines.”

With files from Associated Press


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