On Thursday, Live Nation and its ticket broker subsidiary Ticketmaster announced a bold pledge. The company would be transparent with its captive consumers about how much it will extract from them for live entertainment. Ticketmaster’s junk fees would be exactly the same, but buyers would learn about them before checkout, instead of after.
The White House took a victory lap.
“[These] new commitments today will improve the purchasing experience for tens of millions of customers annually,” the White House said in a statement before a meeting with executives from Live Nation, SeatGeek, and other ticketing platforms. But though the consumer experience might be better, it’s not clear whether the ultimate price tag will be.
Live Nation’s pledge came in a response to President Biden’s State of the Union address, which singled out deceptive junk fees as a scourge inflicted on consumers across the economy. Biden has since directed agencies to make targeting fees a priority in their respective agendas, and urged Congress to pass legislation on the issue.
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Other ticketing companies, as well as lodging platform Airbnb, have also begun displaying full prices up front before checkout. The CEO of Live Nation first said the company would implement all-in pricing during his testimony at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing six months ago. Now, the company claims it will finally do so, beginning in the fall.
Live Nation’s announcement does not entail eliminating or even cutting down on the exorbitantly high junk fees it places on sales. Currently, consumers only discover fees late in the process of checking out for tickets for concerts and sporting events, but the platform will now display the full price up front, without adding additional costs later on. Depending on how it is displayed, an all-in up-front price could actually obfuscate how much the company charges for fees, rather than making it transparent.
Ancillary fees average about 27 percent of face value, according to a 2018 Government Accountability Office report. Fees can even reach as high in some cases as 82 percent depending on the cost and peak pricing. During the Cure’s recent tour, fans reported that fees were surpassing the ticket prices.
“I like to compare [the all-in pricing pledge] to sticker shock at the start of the checkout process versus the end, with no actual difference in the overall experience,” said Krista Brown, senior policy analyst at the American Economic Liberties Project.
AELP along with the Break Up Ticketmaster coalition blasted the announcement for failing to address the core issue with the platform: its monopoly power. One benefit supporters of all-in pricing claim is the ability to comparison shop on an apples-to-apples basis. But transparency in fees alone won’t fix rampant price-gouging, if for most live music shows there’s only one platform to purchase tickets from. That eliminates the comparison-shopping advantage.
At the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this year, Live Nation’s CEO refused to say how many venues the platform holds under contract, but claimed that there was plenty of competition. A new report from AELP rebuts that, revealing the extent to which Live Nation has rolled up the live concert business into its orbit and crushed competitors. The report gathers data on ticket sales and other information from the top 300 concert amphitheaters and arenas, totaling around half of all concert revenues from 2022. The findings show that Ticketmaster dominates contracts for ticketing and other services for each venue category. Live Nation controls operations for 64 percent of the top-grossing U.S. amphitheaters, 77 percent of ticketing services, and nearly 80 percent of ticketing for arenas. No other competitor serves more than a small handful.
“This analysis leaves no room for doubt: Live Nation-Ticketmaster maintains monopoly control over concert venues,” said Brown in a press release.
Senate testimony had already revealed that Live Nation controls 87 percent of ticketing contracts at NBA/NHL arenas, and 93 percent at NFL stadiums, which are also used for music performances. The Live Nation monopoly squeezes venues and crowds out competitors, which can contribute to a worse concert experience for fans. Live Nation has been alleged to force venues into exclusive deals, while using its market position to expand into numerous lines of business, including concert promotion, ticketing, artist management, and even venue operations. Its vertical integration over the live concert business allows it to dictate exploitative terms to performers.
In addition, for concertgoers, fees are just one problem associated with Ticketmaster’s monopoly. The platform collects data on users and allows for rampant scalping on secondary markets, as well as the proliferation of bots that drive up prices.
Ultimately, Live Nation’s all-in pricing scheme appears to be a classic face-saving move, one often used by companies to stave off regulation or other government action. The Department of Justice initiated an antitrust investigation into Live Nation in October of 2022, and other regulatory agencies have begun rulemaking to crack down on junk fees. Even the White House, while lauding the company’s voluntary measures, said President Biden would continue pushing Congress to pass legislation. Biden specifically referred to mandates for all-in up-front pricing, rather than voluntary measures. But truly alleviating the exploitation of concertgoers would require more than just disclosure.