It’s not every day that a pop star’s fans are so rabid they break the internet. But that’s sort of what happened this week when the ticket sales website Ticketmaster crashed because so many Taylor Swift fans tried to buy tickets for her upcoming tour at once.
This has proven chaotic for many distressed fans. But it’s also got some progressive lawmakers up in arms, attacking the company and even calling for it to be broken up. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example, responded to the crash by tweeting: “Daily reminder that Ticketmaster is a monopoly, it’s merger with LiveNation should never have been approved, and they need to be reigned in. Break them up.”
Daily reminder that Ticketmaster is a monopoly, it’s merger with LiveNation should never have been approved, and they need to be reigned in.
Break them up.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) November 15, 2022
The congresswoman is referencing a merger Ticketmaster conducted in 2010 with LiveNation, at the time its chief competitor and calling for it to be “broken up” through federal government intervention known as “antitrust.”
Ticketmaster may or may not be a monopoly. It now reportedly has up to 80% market share according to some sources, although its executives have claimed they only have about 30%. (To be clear, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a business having a near monopoly so long as it emerges naturally without special government favors or subsidies, like it appears to have in this case. Some industries can even be structured in a way where a monopoly is the most efficient way to supply the good.)
Regardless, for Ocasio-Cortez and others to blame the Taylor Swift crash on Ticketmaster’s possible monopoly is actually rather dumb. The number of vendors wasn’t the problem—it was the insane surge in customer demand that probably would’ve crashed any website or multiple websites.
Executive Director of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance Patrick Hedger, an antitrust expert, said that when “millions of people [are] trying to get just 60,000ish tickets all at once… that’s going to suck for most people no matter what.”
“The real ‘monopoly’ problem is that there’s one Taylor Swift who can play one show in one place with a fixed capacity,” Hedger explained. “Not sure what six companies selling 10,000 tickets each does at the margins. Maybe slightly better fees? But do the fees matter to the resale market?”
“Basically you’re stuck allocating this extremely fixed supply either based on prices or who gets there first,” he concluded. “There’s no getting around that tradeoff. And in the digital world, who gets there first with this level of demand is basically a DDOS attack.”
“One thing that’s getting conflated is a technical failure, a crash, because the real monopoly is Taylor Swift,” the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Jessica Melugin similarly told BASEDPolitics. “Everyone wants to see her. There’s only one of her, that’s a very scarce resource. That’s a very big challenge when you’re trying to sell seats and everyone wants one.”
“Websites crash for excessive use often in different industries,” Melugin added. “That doesn’t indicate a monopoly problem… it’s just an excuse to talk about Ticketmaster. 20 sites selling tickets might have had the same problem. Ticketmaster’s actually probably in a lot better position to handle that kind of volume than smaller websites or an artist’s own website.”
The truth is Ticketmaster’s monopoly status doesn’t really have anything to do with its being crashed by millions of “Swifties.” (Taylor Swift fans). Progressives like AOC are just using this as an excuse to push their anti-free-market agenda.
It’s not actually fair or wise to “revisit” the merger and “break up” Ticketmaster.
On one level, it would just be fundamentally unfair, a form of double jeopardy. Because the federal government had every chance to block the merger when it went down in 2010 and chose not to do so. To later say “just kidding” and reverse course would cause enormous economic disruption. Melguin said that to do so would “depart from the rule of law” and ultimately hurt consumers.
“It’s not like they’re running them like 2 separate companies still next to each other,” she explained. “How do you go through them with a scalpel and re-separate them again? If there’s a huge cost associated with untangling companies, that’s eventually going to get passed along to the consumer.”
So, cracking down on Ticketmaster with antitrust wouldn’t address the current problems Taylor Swift fans are experiencing. And it might backfire in any number of ways. Progressive attempts to exploit this incident to revisit Ticketmaster’s merger should be seen for the cynical political gambit they truly are—not mistaken for any actual policy solution for distressed Swifties.