Survey: Ticketing Practices Called Out in Senate Hearing Irk Consumers 

Ticketmaster logo on a phone
Illustration: VIP+: Adobe Stock

You know your industry has issues when you’re summoned to a Senate hearing. 

That’s the situation Ticketmaster owner LiveNation has found itself in following the aftermath of the Taylor Swift ticket debacle, when millions of fans were unable to purchase tickets to her first tour in years. 

In a Tuesday hearing, the Senate Judiciary Committee scrutinized Ticketmaster’s role in the chaos on a largescale bot attack, involving automated scripts attempting to scoop up as many tickets as possible for resale at marked-up prices. 

Bots are also a key consumer concern, as laid out in exclusive consumer data on the state of ticketing, provided to VIP+ by leading consumer insights firm Maru. Close to two-thirds of consumers said they associated the online ticket-buying process with bots taking all of the tickets as soon as they go on sale. 

The BOTS Act, signed into law in 2016, makes it illegal for tickets bought by bots to be resold (but not for bots to buy tickets). One might reasonably expect Ticketmaster, an entity that controls an estimated 80% of the U.S. ticket selling market for live concerts, does all it can to prevent tickets from being sold to participants legally unable to sell them again. 

Thus, the Judiciary Committee is examining whether the market dominance of Ticketmaster has seen the company be somewhat laissez-faire in implementing anti-bot protection for regular consumers. While Ticketmaster has invested in measures to prevent bot abuse, clearly more must be done. 

During the hearing, Senators appeared incredulous that Ticketmaster had not developed an algorithm that could tell a bot from a person, with Senator Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, noting that even local energy companies have the capacity to do so. 

The greatest ticketing concern from consumers, per the Maru poll, was the paying of high fees and taxes when purchasing a ticket. With Ticketmaster on track for $2 billion in revenue in 2022, it’s easy to see why the Senate is also casting an eye at these charges. 

Another aspect of ticketing a majority of consumers associated with purchases were paying marked-up prices on secondary markets like StubHub. This is related to the bots issue, as a source of resale tickets are bot purchases. 

StubHub has said that it does remove a sale from a bot if alerted. However, the current situation is passive monitoring and more needs to be done to prevent sales to bots in the first place (a ticket bot version of trickledown economics). 

There is another solution to consider. 

Digital ticketing — a more consumer-friendly term than “NFT ticketing” (see VIP+’s initial analysis of the industry) — offers many benefits to consumers that traditional ticketing does not. Chief among these is the implementation of the smart contract technology unique to NFTs that, as well as kicking back a secondary markup to the artist, can cap the markup amount. 

After seeing an explanation of the benefits to digital ticketing — chiefly reducing fraud, limiting bot purchases, limiting secondary hikes — close to three-quarters of consumers think they are fairer to consumers than traditional tickets. 

A much greater margin of consumers would also opt to buy a digital ticket ahead of a traditional one, showing that innovative companies like YellowHeart are ahead of the curve when it comes to spotting the issues with the current market and trying to make the ticket purchase process much more convenient and less stressful for consumers. 

It is pretty clear at this moment that, with the concentration of power in the primary and secondary ticket markets being what it is, there has been a failure by the market to police itself and limit bots to the degree necessary to not impact consumers.  

The Senate’s tone during the Ticketmaster hearing suggests that they will be considering legislative changes to protect consumers. In VIP+’s opinion, this should include making it illegal to sell a ticket to a bot (not just for ticket gained by a bot to be resold), frequent updates to bot detection measures that must be demonstrated, and a legal cap to resale tickets limiting their price increase to 10% of face value. 

Ending rent-extractive practices in ticketing is key if traditional ticket outlets want to prevent upstarts like YellowHeart from gaining a larger foothold in the business. Equally important is the fact that consumers do not feel like current practices are necessarily fair, with over half in Maru’s poll labeling the ticket-buying process as stressful. It’s clear that a change is needed, the question is whether it is enforced by government or brought about by the industry itself.