How tight is Ticketmaster's monopoly? (do they have one?)

Perhaps I could have put this in Factual Questions but let’s face it there is no way anyone is going to stick to the strict questions I’m asking, so I’ll put it here.

There has been plenty of recent brouhaha over Ticketmaster’s additional fees, airline style pricing, scalping enablement etc. Here is a relevant article concerning tickets for The Cure (which also mentions tickets for Taylor Swift amongst others).

Both Robert Smith and Taylor Swift have expressed (purported?) horror at how their fans are being treated but how much of a monopoly is Ticketmaster? I don’t mean to be cynical* but if these artists were really so concerned about something other than their back pocket, could they not have sold their tickets some other way? Or is it the practical reality that Ticketmaster have such a tight monopoly on the infrastructure for selling tickets for major tours that there is no other practical option?

*really Princhester? You actually expect your fellow 'dopers to believe that?

In many cases, Ticketmaster (via Livenation) owns the venue or has an exclusive contract to sell tickets for that venue. You literally can’t just walk up to the box office and buy a ticket from the venue without going through Ticketmaster.

Does Ticketmaster have all the venues locked up so tight that artists couldn’t use alternate venues?

The venues large enough to host a Taylor Swift concert, yes. Pretty much every MLB or NFL stadium, so far as I know, exclusively does business through Ticketmaster.

How far down the list of venues does one have to go though? If these artists chose to play two nights (or five) at a smaller venue could they get around Ticketmaster?

In my experience in the Seattle area, the only venues that don’t use Ticketmaster are small theaters, ballrooms, and clubs that can host less than 1,000 people. I can’t imagine Tay-Tay deciding to run a 50-night stand to make up for not being able to play a stadium.

It’s helpful to keep in mind that Ticketmaster started life as software for venues to manage their ticket sales. In the 80s and 90s, I might go to the mall or to a venue to buy tickets and the person selling them would look up the event in a big ring binder (seriously), locate seats, and then print the tickets…all using Ticketmaster.

It isn’t the case that Ticketmaster was born as an on-line direct-to-you ticketing system. The venues had a very tight relationship with them for decades. And what’s the main business of a venue? Selling tickets. It shouldn’t be surprising that Ticketmaster would take advantage of that to integrate by buying or leasing the venues themselves.

Pearl Jam fought Ticketmaster, and Ticketmaster (mostly) won.

Based on the events I couldn’t attend without Ticketmaster, my feeling is that they are allowed to monopolize too many of the tickets. When tickets for big events go on sale, you have to be poised over your keyboard because they are sold out incredibly fast. Ticketmaster, however, seems to have a wealth of tickets available. Hamilton was almost immediately sold out for the entire darnn season, but for several hundred dollars a ticket, I had no problem getting them from Ticketmaster.

From an explanation of the Justice Dept.'s agreement to allow Ticketmaster to buy Live Nation:

Now consider the Ticketmaster / Live Nation transaction. As I think you all know, Ticketmaster is dominant in primary ticketing for major concerts, and entry by new competitors appears to be difficult for reasons of both technology and reputation. (7) Notably, Ticketmaster has maintained a market share of over 80% in this market for the past 15 years. In 2009, this long-term dominance faced its most existential threat when Live Nation sought to use its standing as a major promoter and venue owner to sponsor entry by a new ticketing system. Indeed, Ticketmaster proposed to buy Live Nation just months after Live Nation launched such a platform. In so doing, Ticketmaster recognized that Live Nation sought not only to service its own venues and clients, but also to lure business away from Ticketmaster at third party sites. (8)

(Bolding added) - source: The TicketMaster/Live Nation Merger Review And Consent Decree In Perspective | ATR | Department of Justice (from 2010)

Seems like there are few alternatives to Ticketmaster/Live Nation

Ticketmaster alone was bad enough but the merger with Live Nation really was a step too far. It will be interesting to see if they do get broken up.

The only effective alternative is to not attend large shows at all, but that’s not something many people are willing to give up.

I think the popular media is either in on the game or just starstruck themselves. I heard the stories of outrage by the artists that their fans couldn’t get tickets, blah, blah, blah. I haven’t hear of these artists not taking the money from the source that they frowned on. I haven’t heard of them renting venues on their own or just creating them for all their fans to bask in their presence at reasonable prices. They are crying all the way to the bank over the great unfairness for the limited high price tickets available to their fans which will cost even more next time.

I believe that there are monopoly considerations here, and ways that Ticketmaster could increase efficiency and/or build flows that favor certain kinds of access to tickets, but I don’t believe that breaking the Ticketmaster monopoly would solve the problem folks seem upset about: a limited luxury good with an ever increasing number of interested customers leads to scarcity and expensiveness.

As long as (making up numbers) there are 20 million people who are interested in 1 million tickets, there will be folks who are not wealthy enough to get a ticket. And the ticket price will naturally rise to what those wealthiest 1 million can afford.

Monopoly be as it may, I suspect that the real issue is simply that people are willing to pay the prices.

If people wouldn’t pay $400+ for tickets then the tickets wouldn’t sell for $400+.

Ticketmaster is 100% a monopoly and it’s criminal that the government has watched/enabled their abuse of the system they created.

Ultimately the problem isn’t “the price” it’s the deceptiveness of the pricing and the fact that there is no competition for the services. It’s an industry that has truly no need for a monopoly, there is no economies of scale to speak of, no identifiable benefit to having a single provider.

Selling show tickets is just not that hard.

Item 1: I find it bizarre that any business is allowed to advertise pricess that are materially different than cost-to-consumer. I don’t care what the industry is, “service fees”, etc represent accounting choices and should be rolled into any advertised price.

Item 2: I don’t quite follow how competition for services works in this context. Is it that customers should be able to buy tickets for a concert from multiple retailers? Is it that venues should be able to choose among multiple vendors for ticket sales? Is it that performers should be able to choose from among more venues for their 20k-ticket event in Saratoga?

I’m not arguing the point, I just struggle to get my brain around how the TM monopoly impacts consumers in a way that some version of a non-monopoly wouldn’t.

Way back , before Ticketmaster, there was Ticketron. Ticketron was able to charge extra for using a credit card over the phone or at a “remote” location* back then because it was a convenience fee - you could go to the box office without having to pay the fee. You didn’t have to pay a shipping fee if you went to the box office in person. There were no facility charges or order processing fees. You could , if you wanted to, go to the box office and pay exactly the face value of the tickets so you really were paying for the convenience and the shipping . But the biggest difference was that Ticketron charged the venue a fee for each ticket sold while Ticketmaster paid the venues in exchange for being the exclusive ticketing platform ( and initially, I believe Ticketmaster required the venue to close the box office the day the tickets went on sale.) A lot of that doesn’t change if there isn’t a “monopoly” - no venue is going to sell tickets through multiple companies - they will at most sell through their own box office and one other company. But it doesn’t really matter if that company is Ticketmaster or AXS - I (the consumer) am stuck with whichever company the venue has chosen and their fees. The only competition is on the other end, where the venue chooses the platform.

* “remote” as in someplace other than the box office - there were Ticketron locations in department stores and record stores etc.

The ability to transfer digital tickets across vendors isn’t liable to happen on its own without legal mandates. So, to the extent that I would want to have apps for multiple ticket trading platforms (which I don’t - just like I don’t really want to have to work with different brokers to manage my investments), it wouldn’t be very useful anyways since once I have tickets to show X, I’m stuck trading on the platform who issued me the tickets. And, what I want from that platform is for it to have the largest possible user base, so I know that I can find a buyer if I end up needing to ditch the tickets. I don’t want that market to be segmented. I don’t gain anything from selling on the marketplace that’s more ethically pure but only has 10 people, spread across the entire country.

The market wants a single marketplace. You would need legislation to force a separation between the trading front-end and the marketplace backend - with the backend running as some sort of open non-profit - so that any party could come in and offer a front-end to the market.