If Ticketmaster’s Taylor Swift presale catastrophe taught us anything about the state of online ticket sales, it’s that the real market for live music experiences is not the market fans think they’re dealing with.
In the aftermath of the slow queues and last-minute platform crashes that left thousands of fans emptyhanded, Ticketmaster blamed a combination of overwhelming demand and bot attacks.
What it failed to explain was why the verification process the company told fans to follow failed so miserably. Unsatisfied, fans and watchdogs erupted in unison with a message for Congress: It’s time to break up Ticketmaster.
Prepare for blockbuster hearings
Congress is listening. Antitrust leads in the Senate have already promised to investigate, and advocates for both consumers and sellers are preparing for blockbuster hearings.
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The problem is that antitrust investigations won’t resolve the underlying issue that caused November’s meltdown. To do that, Washington needs to take on the bots.
In 2016, I fought for federal legislation called the BOTS (Better Online Ticket Sales) Act that made it illegal for tech savvy scalpers to use software programs (“bots”) to circumvent online sales restrictions. The law now prohibits scalpers from selling tickets purchased with bots on the secondary market and gives the Federal Trade Commission authority to go after scalpers.
However, the FTC has only used its BOTS authority once. In January 2021, the FTC fined three New York-based brokers more than $31 million after an investigation revealed they had used bots to suck up tens of thousands of coveted tickets before selling them on the secondary market. It was a solid win that should have deterred other shady dealers.
It didn’t. And since then, the FTC has let the bots run wild.
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Inaction from the Federal Trade Commission
With more and more of our lives moving online, the FTC's inaction opens the door for scalpers to make secondary markets the only option for normal consumers.
Ticketmaster itself has suggested that scalpers can obtain 60% of the most desirable tickets by using bots to request up to 200,000 tickets a day, which they immediately relist at a colossal markup.
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In some cases, concert tickets have gone for as much as $40,000 on secondary ticket sales sites. Right now, any business balancing scarcity and popularity is vulnerable, but we should not assume that bot operators will resist entering new markets if they see an opportunity to profit.
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Recently, I demanded answers from the FTC about its failure to enforce the law and its plans to get serious about bot attacks. This is the investigation Congress should focus on without delay.
Fans and artists deserve to know why the process for purchasing a concert ticket has morphed into a chaotic shakedown when we’ve already given those with the power to stop it everything they need to fight back.
Marsha Blackburn represents Tennessee in the U.S. Senate and is the state's senior senator. This column previously ran in The Tennessean.
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This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Taylor Swift Ticketmaster fiasco shows FTC's failure to hunt for bots