A great example of why monopolies are bad can be seen in the practices of the two companies Ticketmaster and Live Nation. The merger of the two has resulted in them wielding enormous power when it comes to live concerts. As a result, consumers get both price-gouged and lousy service.
Back in 2009, New Jersey congressperson Bill Pascrell, Jr., among others, warned that allowing the merger would be bad but the Obama administration waved it through. In 2018, Pascrell wrote an article saying that all their dire predictions had come true.
When President Obama was deciding in 2009 whether to approve a merger between the world’s largest concert promoter, Live Nation, and the biggest ticket provider, Ticketmaster, a group of bipartisan lawmakers pleaded with his administration to block the deal. This coalition, which included me, understood that the joint company would strangle competition in live entertainment.
Obama’s top antitrust regulator at the time, then-assistant Atty. Gen. Christine A. Varney, reassured critics that “there will be enough air and sunlight in the space for strong competitors to take root, grow, and thrive.” The merger was waved through and became final in 2010.
Eight years later, there are no strong competitors taking root, growing or thriving. The online ticketing market, now a $9-billion business, is still dominated by Live Nation-Ticketmaster. In 2008, the two companies held more than 80% of the market share. Combined, the new company, Live Nation Entertainment, has grown even larger, acquiring other ticket companies, promoters and festivals, including Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo.
Live Nation Entertainment controls “nearly every aspect” of the ticket business, producing record-high ticket prices and onerous fees, according to an investigation published last month by the New York Times. The Department of Justice is now looking into complaints that the company, which also manages hundreds of top artists, tried to coerce venues into using Ticketmaster.
The whole pricing and selling system is so opaque that the rank gouging that is going on is hidden. In the latest episode of his show Last Week Tonight John Oliver exposes what is going on behind the scenes and why it is that concertgoers are paying such huge prices for tickets.
I haven’t been to a live concert for close to 20 years. When it became apparent that tickets were being sold to scalpers before the general public I decided to not participate. Not likely to change any time soon.
I stopped going to concerts in the 1980s, when brand-new Ticketmaster seized control of all tickets To buy tickets at a concert venue literally across the mall parking lot from the mall itself, you had to go to the mall and stand on an endless line, then pay Ticketmaster the face value of the concert ticket PLUS a $10 parking charge (to park at the free parking lot mall) and a $3.50 “convenience charge” (this was the only way to buy tickets and it certainly wasn’t convenient). If that weren’t bad enough, you could camp out all night and be first in line when the ticket stand opened…but nearly all the tickets would have been given out to radio stations and/or scalpers, leaving the worst seats in the house for the general public to buy.
I understand in the 2000s, “singers” like Taylor Swift made preteen fans buy multi-concert ticket packages and/or the singers own merchandise in the hopes of being able to score the chance to get a ticket to the show.
The OP and comments seem to be about what are known as “stadium concerts” — broadly, large (10s to 100s of thousands of attendees) at a huge venue, either purpose-built (albeit possibly temporary) or repurposed (e.g., a sports stadium).
I myself have only ever been to one such “concert”. It was awful. I won’t name the band, or even the (purpose-built permanent) venue, as the awfulness wasn’t their fault per se. (The venue’s architect and the sound engineers are in for a good bollocking, however.) The tickets were purchased from a licensed reseller, broadly, a licensed (legal) scalper, who very much lied to me about the quality of both the venue and the seat I purchased. From memory, they obtained their supply of tickets from Ticketmaster.
What I did and still do attend are small concerts, generally at, for want of a better word, “clubs”: Jazz, folk, a pub, etc., sometimes “free”, sometimes not (but rarely expensive), and almost always with tickets (if required) available at-the-door on-the-night. No (obvious) Ticketmaster in sight.
The quality is highly variable, from walk-out horrible to internationally-recognised. An example of the is a pub which usually had a weekend session from a famous jazz / funk artist & band for free, no tickets required. It was always packed, and the drinks prices weren’t inflated. They did send a collection bucket (literally a bucket!) around for donations to the band; I have no idea how much the band actually collected (nor how much the pub paid them), but using a bucket was necessary.
“why it is that concertgoers are paying such huge prices for tickets.”
Is “because they want to” not a possible answer? I mean… nobody is putting s gun to their heads (or are they? It is the USA after all I suppose). I can’t work up any anger about the cost of something so very optional, not when petrol is £1.80 a litre and my home has bill is going to double next month.
Gas bill. Fucking autocorrect
I agree with BLF. Why spend big bucks to stand in endless lines of people and then be so far from the act that you need a telescope to see them, when I guarantee you that there are dozens to hundreds to thousands of highly talented performers (depending on how rural or urban your locale is) who are dying to perform for you?
Here’s a tip: Go visit a Renaissance Faire. They are everywhere these days, and they are the new Vaudeville. Yes, you probably will see some less than polished performances, but you will also probably see some world-class live theater.
Marcus Ranum says
As long as the rich are served, who cares about free markets?
Remember what happened to churches after the lockdowns? In some places, people stopped going because they (a) liked their free time, and (b) liked not forking over money every weekend. Too bad the same hasn’t happened to concerts.
There’s also sports. Some fans have realized they get better entertainment value by watching the minor leagues than the “big leagues”. It’s cheaper and friendlier, just as enjoyable, and the same is true of local or regional bands that don’t command US$200 per ticket. I’ve gone to concerts here where I’m paying NT$500-1500 (US$17-53) and enjoy it more than a “big” group playing at an arena.
Rob Grigjanis says
Oh, I thought it said ‘monopoles’. That might have been interesting.
johnson catman says
Gotta say that I am definitely on the Hate Ticketmaster train. Their interface sucks, their fees are outrageous, and there is no alternative. Around 1981, I bought eight tickets for The Who for $12 each and sold seven of them to my friends for $18 each. With the profit, I provided transportation to the show and a bag of pot for us to consume before, during, and after the show. My wife and I just this week purchased tickets for one of our favorite bands that is coming to the area again in September. With the fees, etc., the tickets were more than $150 each. And just getting through the interface to purchase the tickets was a rage-inducing event. It is like that EVERY time I have to go on their website.