“Ticketmaster ought to look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m the problem. It’s me,’” said Blumenthal
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, questioned Live Nation Entertainment President and Chief Financial Officer Joe Berchtold on Ticketmaster’s control of America’s ticketing market and its failure to protect consumers, artists, and venues. Titled, “That’s the Ticket: Promoting Competition and Protecting Consumers in Live Entertainment,” the Committee’s hearing followed Ticketmaster’s disastrous November launch of ticket sales for the Taylor Swift Eras Tour, where fans encountered site crashes, hours long wait times, fluctuating ticket prices, and other disruptions.
“You have clear dominance, monopolistic control. This whole concert ticket system is a mess. It’s a monopolistic mess,” Blumenthal told Berchtold. “Ticketmaster had the temerity to imply that the debacle involved in pre-ticket sales was Taylor Swift's fault because she was failing to do too many concerts. And may I suggest respectfully that Ticketmaster ought to look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m the problem. It’s me.’”
“You are the ones ultimately responsible for the astronomically rising prices, the exorbitant hidden fees, the sold out shows, the bots and scalpers,” Blumenthal continued. “And I think that consumers and artists and venues are all fed up with the system that exists right now.”
Citing his work in introducing the BOSS Act to provide consumers with transparency about hidden fees and reports that the Department of Justice is taking steps to investigate Live Nation for possible antitrust violations, Blumenthal called for action to address these failures in the ticketing market.
“If you are angry and frustrated, you have the power to demand action, and we should act with new legislation,” said Blumenthal. “If the Department of Justice establishes violation of the consent decree, unwinding the merger ought to be on the table. If the Department of Justice establishes facts that involve monopolist and predatory abuses, there ought to be structural remedies, such as breaking up the companies. We will see what the Department of Justice finds.”
Blumenthal also discussed the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act, legislation he cosponsored to prohibit ticket scalpers from using software to purchase high volumes of tickets. While the bill was signed into law by President Obama in 2016, Blumenthal urged the Federal Trade Commission to strengthen its enforcement and called on Live Nation to take action against predatory bots.
Video of Blumenthal’s remarks is available here. The full text of Blumenthal’s remarks and exchange with Berchtold is copied below.
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal: Thanks so much Chair Klobuchar. And thank you for your great work on this issue and so many others involving antitrust. And my thanks as well to Senator Lee. Thank you to everyone for being here today.
Mr. Berchtold, I want to congratulate and thank you for an absolutely stunning achievement. You have brought together Republicans and Democrats in an absolutely unified cause. And may I suggest respectfully that unfortunately your approach today in this hearing is going to solidify that cooperation, because as I hear and read what you have to say, it’s basically, it’s not us. It’s everyone but us. And the fact of the matter is Live Nation-Ticketmaster is the 800 pound gorilla here. You have clear dominance, monopolistic control. This whole concert ticket system is a mess. It’s a monopolistic mess. And the numbers refute many of your arguments. That is the reason we have had two, count them, two consent decrees and why the Justice Department is now investigating violations of that second consent decree.
Ticketmaster had the temerity to imply that the debacle involved in pre-ticket sales was Taylor Swift's fault because she was failing to do too many concerts. And may I suggest respectfully that Ticketmaster ought to look in the mirror and say, “I’m the problem. It’s me.” And the reason is quite simply that you are the ones ultimately responsible for the astronomically rising prices, the exorbitant hidden fees, the sold out shows, the bots and scalpers.
We just had an exchange with Senator Blackburn. You’ve reported once over this entire history, once an instance involving bots. I agree with Senator Blackburn that there needs to be stronger enforcement by the FTC. It has taken almost no action against the bots despite our support for the BOTS Act. And that is the reason why I am supporting legislation talking about remedies, legislation called the BOSS Act which would require transparency, accountability for hidden fees, for bots. Will you support the BOSS Act?
Berchtold: Senator, we absolutely agree there are a lot of problems in this industry and as the leading player we have an obligation to do better.
Blumenthal: Will you support the BOSS Act?
Berchtold: I don't know all of the specific elements. I know there are many elements we agree upon. I believe there are some issues that we have differing views and we have offered to discuss those, we’d like to continue to discuss those going forward.
Blumenthal: Will you support legislation to require complete transparency all in, to provide stronger enforcement powers against bots and scalpers?
Berchtold: We absolutely support all end pricing. We absolutely support greater enforcement, greater penalties and expansion of the prohibition on bots.
Blumenthal: You know, the FTC has failed in some of its enforcement duties but that is because Live Nation-Ticketmaster have failed to do the reporting that enable enforcement. And I think that really betrays the contention that you have been active against it. And I think that consumers and artists and venues are all fed up with the system that exists right now. And I think to the people who are fed up, I would say continue your criticism. If you are angry and frustrated, you have the power to demand action, and we should act with new legislation. If the Department of Justice establishes violation of the consent decree, unwinding the merger ought to be on the table. If the Department of Justice establishes facts that involve monopolist and predatory abuses, there ought to be structural remedies, such as breaking up the companies. We will see what the Department of Justice finds. And to the FTC, we owe the duty of providing resources that are needed for more effective enforcement and the incentives and kinds of encouragement and support for action in this area. Let me ask you, will you support other kinds of legislation that would enable more transparency in this area?
Berchtold: As a general concept, absolutely. We support more transparency. And I also commit if you pass harder laws on bots with greater enforcement that I will commit that we will do our part to support them.
Blumenthal: And will you take action against the bots?
Berchtold: If we get the laws that are going be supported and have real teeth and have penalties against people, we will do our part.
Blumenthal: But you have power right now to take action, why haven't you done it?
Berchtold: We have a limited level of power on something that has not been consistently enforced.
Blumenthal: You have unlimited power to go to court under the current BOTS Act which we have supported. We have given you the right of action. You are the only ones who have the resources and the knowledge to take effective action right now. Why haven't you done it?
Berchtold: We would love the support of further laws, of working with the FTC, getting other information on the actual sale of the bots, generated tickets on the various secondary platforms.
Blumenthal: If you are concerned about artists, consumers, venues and about the public interest, you would take action under current law. You have the right of action, you have the resources and you have the kinds of legal authority to do it. And so that is why I come back to where I began. Your approach seems to be, “It’s everyone else who’s responsible here and not us.” And I hope that approach will change here in the future. Thank you Madam Chair.