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Another Congressman jumps on the Ticketmaster touting exposé

By | Published on Thursday 11 October 2018


A long-time critic of Live Nation and Ticketmaster in US Congress has written to the country’s Department Of Justice to find out more about its reported investigation into the live giant’s operations. Oh, and to make sure that the government department saw all the hoo haa that followed that recent report in the Canadian media about Ticketmaster’s ongoing dabblings in the secondary ticketing business Stateside, via which it works with the touts, or ‘scalpers’ as they are called in North America.

Bill Pascrell, a member of the House Of Representatives for New Jersey, wrote in a recent letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions: “I commend the Department Of Justice for opening an investigation into Live Nation’s anticompetitive behaviour and write to bring to your attention new investigative reporting and further lines of inquiry. The Canadian Broadcasting Channel conducted a new investigation that reveals the ways in which Ticketmaster appears to collude with ticket scalpers to sell higher volumes of tickets on its platform – distorting the marketplace and harming consumers in the process”.

The Congressman also referenced allegations in a New York Times report earlier this year that Live Nation may be in breach of the consent decree commitments it made to the US DoJ back in 2010 when the concert promoter and venue operator merged with Ticketmaster. Those reports, back in April, also referenced the DoJ investigation.

In his letter, Pascrell wrote: “We respectfully request more information regarding the Department’s investigation into Live Nation. Specifically, are you investigating potential violations to the 2010 consent agreement, as mentioned above? If the consent decree has been violated, is the DOJ prepared to take further action?”

He then added: “Lastly, are you investigating additional monopolistic abuses resulting in higher prices and anticompetitive market distortions, like ticket holdbacks that drive up prices and colluding with scalpers to collect higher fees from consumers?”

Pascrell called for the merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster to be blocked back in 2010 and has continued to publicly criticise the company in the subsequent years. It’s also thought he helped persuade the US Federal Trade Commission to organise an open session discussing the state of the ticketing market next March.

Concluding in his letter to AG Sessions, the Congressman wrote: “The concentrated market power of Ticketmaster has made it a behemoth with little incentive to protect consumers in the live event industry. DOJ can, and should, thoroughly investigate and take strong steps to address any and all consent decree violations and anticompetitive practices of Ticketmaster/Live Nation. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter”.

Ticketmaster’s President in the US, Jared Smith, has been busy in recent months responding to the various allegations made against his company. His responses have come in interviews, via blog posts, and in the occasional letter to critics in Congress.

Although Smith is yet to respond to Pascrell’s missive, he has written to two other Congressmen, Senators Jerry Moran and Richard Blumenthal, who wrote to Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino following the CBC exposé. They were behind the US-wide ban of ticket touting bots that was introduced towards the end of Barack Obama’s presidency.

The CBC report focused on an inventory management service Ticketmaster offers ticket touts called TradeDesk. In their letter last month, Moran and Blumenthal wrote “given our ongoing interest in protecting consumers from unfair and deceptive practices, we seek clarification on the use of [the TradeDesk] programme”.

It then asked four specific questions about TradeDesk and how the company enforces the ticket limit policies on its primary site. In the CBC piece, a TradeDesk rep was seen being very blasé about how his clients – ie touts – routinely break the rules on that limit how many tickets any one person can buy.

Smith had pretty much addressed most of the criticisms of TradeDesk in earlier interviews and blog posts, but goes back through all the key points in his letter. And that includes his much repeated insistence that: “Ticketmaster does not have, and has never had, any product or programme that allows ticket scalpers, or anyone else, to buy tickets ahead of fans and circumvent the policies we have on our site regarding on-line ticket purchasing limits”.

According to Billboard, which published the letter, elsewhere Smith insists that Ticketmaster remains a big supporter of the bots ban, adding that: “Through a combination of data science, enterprise grade software and new technologies, we are now blocking an average of five billion bot attempts per month, and over 60 billion per year”.

As for people breaking the rules and trying to buy more tickets than they are allowed on, Smith says the firm has blocked millions of such attempts in the last year, and that they continue to invest in new technology to get even better at it.

It remains to be seen if Moran and Blumenthal are placated by the letter. Though it seems likely that, even if Smith does also address Pascrell’s concerns, he’s unlikely to win that particular Congressman round.