Arts, Music, Off Campus, Column

Ramirez: Music Lovers Beware: Live Nation Eyes Monopoly

You would think you’d stop getting so much trouble at the door after you graduated college, but the classic “Who do you know here?” question took on a different form for Black Keys fans at the Wiltern in Los Angeles. “Who sold you your tickets?” became the critical question on Thursday night, and not all answers secured eager fans entry.

The Los Angeles Times reported that “hundreds” of fans were denied entry after buying tickets from resale sites, including StubHub, SeatGeek, and VividSeats—all of which are generally considered reliable vendors of resale tickets. The caveat, in the case of The Black Keys, is that Ticketmaster and Live Nation, the original ticket sellers, made the tickets non-transferable. The Los Angeles Times report stated that each time the purchaser checked the ticket in-app, the barcode on the ticket updated, making all screenshotted tickets void. 

In a statement to The Los Angeles Times, a representative for the band stated that the tickets were set at the low price of $25 for the intimate show, and the band decided to make the tickets non-transferable in order to prevent price hikes by third-party vendors. Some fans told The Los Angeles Times they spent upwards of $700 to buy tickets to the show, and the third-party vendors blamed Ticketmaster’s lack of communication about the policy for the mishap. 

The Black Keys aren’t alone in the fight against skyhigh resale prices. For a 2017 show at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., U2 made U2 fanclub and general admission tickets non-transferable, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. The San Francisco Chronicle’s report played up the vendor side of the issue, detailing one fan’s struggle to resell his ticket after he discovered he wasn’t going to be able to attend—Ryan Bezerra was faced with the choice of losing $379 or going to the event to present his credit card when the resale buyer entered with the ticket.

Making tickets non-transferable is an admirable attempt to prevent price inflation on behalf of performers. Resale ticket prices can balloon to cost fans hundreds more than their original price. Last week, I wanted to see Lizzo at Agganis Arena but tickets on StubHub were going for a whopping $200, an unusually high price for the venue. Tickets for various upcoming Agganis Arena shows—including Bad Bunny and Brockhampton—range from $30 to $115 on Vivid Seats right now. Agganis Arena partners with Live Nation for many of its high profile concerts.

On the flipside—and as described by The San Francisco Chronicle—non-transferable tickets put a hefty burden on fans to clear their schedules. Artists often sell tickets well in advance of the actual concert: The Black Keys first announced their Let’s Rock tour in March 2019, and the first show of the tour took place last week. The lapse of time between the purchase and the date of the concert makes it even harder for fans to predict what obligations they might have the night of the show. (I personally would do anything but skip a final to see The Black Keys, but I understand that others might be quicker to come up with an excuse.) 

Aside from day-to-day obligations, life happens. Last year, I was in the hospital on the night of the Mumford & Sons concert at TD Garden, a concert to which I considered buying tickets. If I purchased tickets, I would have wanted to get my money back by selling the tickets—spending three days in the hospital is bad enough, I don’t want to lose $150 on top of that.

The Black Keys debacle is further convoluted by allegations that Ticketmaster and Live Nation have been violating antitrust laws since merging in 2010. At the time of the merger, then Assistant Attorney General Christine A. Varney suggested that the merger could lead to lower service fees for consumers, and that “there will be enough air and sunlight in this space for strong competitors to take root, grow and thrive,” according to a 2018 New York Times report

Things went sour in August 2019 when Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) called on the Department of Justice to investigate its ticketing practices. The senators alleged that the consent decree—which states that the Live Nation cannot withhold shows from venues that don’t use Ticketmaster or retaliate against venues that issue tickets through other venues—is ineffective and, as a result, the two companies have been able to unfairly dominate the ticket market. 

On Sept. 17, the DOJ confirmed that it is investigating potential violations of the consent decree on behalf of the two companies. Making tickets non-transferable and thus preventing other ticket vendors from facilitating sales adds to these accusations of anti-competitive behavior. 

The Black Keys are slotted to perform with Modest Mouse at TD Garden in Boston on Oct. 11. While fans who purchase tickets for the balcony sections have the option of mailing tickets to their address—indicating they could easily be resold—tickets for the floor are available only on mobile devices. The purchase screen displays the following message: “Your phone’s your ticket. Locate your tickets in your account—or in your app. When you go mobile, your tickets will not be emailed to you or available for print.” Floor seats for the event are currently available on StubHub, SeatGeek, and Vivid Seats. It is not clear at this time if Ticketmaster used the same updating barcode for these tickets.

Until the DOJ is able to conclude its investigation, artists shouldn’t count on Live Nation to protect consumers—consumers that are dollar signs for the ticket market monolith, but the voices that sing and hands that clap at live performances.

Featured Image by Easy Eye Sound

September 23, 2019