On Tuesday, November 15, the presale for Taylor Swift’s latest tour began. Millions of fans attempted to secure a ticket for the tour, and in a matter of minutes, the presale descended into chaos. Outrage from disappointed Swifties ensued.
Almost immediately, thousands of people reported problems accessing the website for Ticketmaster, the giant ticket vendor responsible for the tour’s tickets. Tuesday’s sales weren’t even open to the public — it was a presale, with the main sale set to occur on Thursday. Due to the overwhelming popularity and botched rollout of the presales, however, Ticketmaster ran out of tickets during the presale and ended up canceling the sale for the general public.
It wasn’t long before high-profile politicians followed Swift’s fans in putting Ticketmaster in their crosshairs. Senator Amy Klobuchar, chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust and Consumer Rights, sent a letter to Ticketmaster, outlining their abuse of their position of power. Klobuchar wrote:
Ticketmaster’s power in the primary ticket market insulates it from the competitive pressures that typically push companies to innovate and improve their services. That can result in the types of dramatic service failures we saw this week, where consumers are the ones that pay the price.
The attorney general of Tennessee, Jonathan Skrmetti, announced an investigation into potential antitrust violations related to the Swift tour presale. Representative Bill Pascrell of New Jersey tweeted out his dismay over missing out on getting tickets for his granddaughter. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez advocated for the dissolution of Ticketmaster, saying on Twitter, “Daily reminder that Ticketmaster is a monopoly, [it’s] merger with LiveNation should never have been approved, and they need to be [reined] in. Break them up.”
Daily reminder that Ticketmaster is a monopoly, it’s merger with LiveNation should never have been approved, and they need to be reigned in.
Break them up.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) November 15, 2022
AOC’s criticism is not new — Ticketmaster’s 2010 merger with event promoter and venue operator Live Nation has been criticized since its inception. Since the merger, ticket sales for events have been fraught with issues. Processing fees have increased, concert promotion has plummeted, and ticket prices have skyrocketed. Prior to the merger, Ticketmaster was already a main contender in ticket sales, but it now controls a whopping 70 percent of all ticket sales. By merging with Live Nation, it was able to corner the market for both concert promotion and ticket sales.
Ticketmaster’s status as virtually the only major concert promotion company allows them to set the rules, prices, and times when tickets are sold. This has allowed the company to champion a “dynamic pricing” model where ticket prices fluctuate wildly with demand. A ticket that costs $500 one day could cost upward of $1000 the next if enough people are vying for it.
Ticketmaster takes advantage of artists and fans alike to amass enormous profits. By controlling both the ticketing and venue side of concerts, Ticketmaster exerts pressure on musicians, controlling which venues they can book (venues that are Ticketmaster owned and approved). Artists lose out on exposure and profits, with most of the revenue from sales going to Ticketmaster.
AOC’s well-timed tweet suggests something that, in retrospect, should have been obvious all along: left-wing candidates should run on abolishing Ticketmaster. And there’s no time to waste — the Left certainly shouldn’t let Republicans like Skrmetti and centrists like Klobuchar run away with the issue.
Destroying Ticketmaster is politically a clear winner, as the blowup over the Swift tour and the resulting pile-on by elected officials across the political spectrum has shown. In our era of heightened party polarization, red and blue state voters don’t agree on much — but they can agree on hating giant corporations that price-gouge them and prevent them from seeing their favorite musicians.
The anti-Ticketmaster stance is also in line with the Left’s moral principles. Among those principles is the idea that everyone is entitled to enjoying life’s pleasures.
Brazilian president-elect Lula da Silva eloquently made this case on the campaign trail this year, as the New York Times reported:
“They think that the poor don’t have rights,” he told a crowd of supporters in one of São Paulo’s poorest neighborhoods last week. But he would fight for their rights, he said. “The right to barbecue with family on the weekend, to buy a little picanha, to that piece of picanha with the fat dipped in flour, and to a glass of cold beer,” he shouted to cheers.
That argument should extend to the ability to enjoy culture that moves and entertains us — including, yes, Taylor Swift concerts, for those who are into that kind of thing. Concerts shouldn’t be reserved just for people who can afford Ticketmaster’s exorbitant fees.
Another core left-wing value is opposition to domination and unjust hierarchy, a commitment that has long led progressives and socialists to decry private monopoly and monopsony power. That power allows corporations, freed from the normal competitive pressures of the marketplace, to pad their profits by offering shoddier products and services at higher prices and forcing their employees to accept exceptionally low wages. Where private monopolies exist, left-wing politicians should aim to get rid of them.
But breaking up monopolies into smaller firms isn’t always the best solution. Socialists think private monopoly power is bad, but we oppose private capitalist power in general. While breaking up Ticketmaster into smaller firms would likely be a step in the right direction, it’s far from clear that this would mean an end to ticket vendors mercilessly squeezing artists and fans. After all, Ticketmaster came under fire for predatory pricing years before its merger with Live Nation.
Instead of breaking Ticketmaster up, socialists should seriously consider nationalizing the service and turning it into a public utility. Such a policy might allow fans and musicians to enjoy the convenience and efficiency offered by having a single vendor for all tickets and venues across the country, while eliminating perverse incentives created by the profit motive and creating democratic “checks and balances” on how the service operates.
But whatever the specific policy proposal might be, “Swiftgate” has made one thing abundantly clear: Ticketmaster has to go. It may not be the most pressing problem facing Americans, but it does matter, and it’s a unifying issue. Left-wing politicians across the country should seize the moment and call for an end to this hated institution.