Scalper bots caused Taylor Swift ticket chaos, Senate panel hears in testimony

The president of Ticketmaster’s parent company, Live Nation, testified in front of the US Senate judiciary committee on Tuesday, saying a flood of scalper bots were responsible for its mishandling of ticket sales for Taylor Swift’s latest tour.

Live Nation merged with Ticketmaster in 2010, making it the main conduit between artists and venues in the US. While the company has been under criticism over the last decade for its dominance of the live events industry, it has come under fresh and intensified scrutiny after fans trying to get Swift tickets in November experienced crashes and glitches of the ticketing service.

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In his opening statement to the committee, Live Nation’s president and CFO, Joe Berchtold, said a torrent of scalper bots have been the cause of the company’s technical glitches, making it harder for the company to get tickets to real fans.

Berchtold said that there was “unprecedented demand for Swift tickets” when tickets for her Eras tour – her first tour in five years – went on presale in November.

“We knew bots would attack the on-sale, and planned accordingly. We were then hit with three times the amount of bot traffic than we had ever experienced, and for the first time in 400 Verified Fan on-sales, they came after our Verified Fan access code servers,” Berchtold said. “While the bots failed to penetrate our system or acquire any tickets, the attack required us to slow down and even pause our sales.”

“This is what led to a terrible consumer experience, which we deeply regret,” he said.

Berchtold said there were “several things we could have done better, including staggering sales over a longer period of time and doing a better job setting fan expectations for getting tickets”, but he encouraged the senators to take seriously “industrial scalpers breaking the law, using bots and cyber-attacks to try to unfairly gain tickets”.

While Berchtold emphasized Ticketmaster’s issues with bots, senators on the committee emphasized Live Nation’s dominant behavior in the market, questioning the power it has over competitors.

Amy Klobuchar, chair of the US Senate’s anti-trust subcommittee, said in opening remarks on Tuesday that Live Nation not only dominates ticketing, but it also owns venues and “lock[s]” other venues into exclusive agreements.

Venues are “afraid to go to someone else because they’re afraid they won’t get the ask they want,” Klobuchar said. “This is the definition of a monopoly because Live Nation is so powerful that it doesn’t even need to exert pressure, it doesn’t need to threaten because people just fall in line.”

There are “few consequences for failing to deliver the service”, she said. Taylor Swift “is just one example. Whether it’s Bruce Springsteen, or BTS, or Bad Bunny, or in the past Pearl Jam or the Pixies, fans, artists and venues are facing real issues with Live Nation.”

Klobuchar said that the hearing was “a bipartisan endeavor” with interest from both parties over the issue.

Senator Richard Blumenthal told Berchtold that Live Nation pointing fingers at scalper bots ignores the control the company has in the market. Blumenthal pointed out that Live Nation could go after scalpers by reporting them to officials.

“You have unlimited power to go after bots – you have the resources and knowledge to take effective action right now,” Blumenthal said, referring to the Better Online Tickets (Bots) Act passed by Congress in 2016 that fines scalpers who use bots. “If you are concerned about artists, consumers, venues and about the public interest, you would take action under current law.”

Berchtold said Live Nation supports stronger enforcement of bots but “we have a limited level of power on something that hasn’t been consistently enforced”.

“We absolutely agree there are a lot of problems in the industry, and as the leading player, we have an obligation to do better,” he said.

Jerry Mickelson, co-founder of Jam Productions, a promoting company, criticized in his witness testimony Ticketmaster’s inability to handle bots.

“As a ticketing company, one of the things they’re supposed to do is have solutions to bots. And for the leading ticket company to not be able to handle bots is a pretty unbelievable statement,” he said.

Mickelson pointed out that Ticketmaster, when selling tickets for artists like Taylor Swift, makes more money as tickets get more expensive through dynamic prices.

Jack Groetzinger, CEO of SeatGeek, a Ticketmaster competitor, said in witness testimony that Live Nation has been putting venues in longer contracts – often 10-year contracts instead of the standard five-year ones – to ice out competitors. Venues often worry about losing concerts if they go with a Ticketmaster competitor.

“We want competition in this industry. It is already going to be very hard to change. Longer contracts make that harder, and that is what [Live Nation] has been pushing for recently.”

Millions of Taylor Swift fans struggled to get tickets to her Eras tour after glitches with the Ticketmaster presale. Though Ticketmaster utilized its Verified Fans program – meant to ensure tickets were going to fans instead of scalping bots – tickets quickly began to resale online for as much as $22,700.

Ticketmaster ultimately cancelled sales to the general public, citing extremely high demand. The company said it ultimately has sold more than 2m tickets for the tour and could have filled 900 stadiums with demand for tickets.

In a statement, Swift slammed Ticketmaster, saying that “it’s really difficult for me to trust an outside entity with these relationships and loyalties, and excruciating for me to just watch mistakes happen with no recourse.

“I’m not going to make excuses for anyone because we asked them, multiple times, if they could handle this kind of demand and we were assured they could. It’s truly amazing that 2.4 million people got tickets, but it really pisses me off that a lot of them feel like they went through several bear attacks to get them.”