Did Taylor Swift Really Have a Choice to Work With Ticketmaster?
Maybe Live Nation chairman Greg Maffei’s statement that Taylor Swift and promoter AEG “chose” to work with Ticketmaster for her calamitous onsale earlier this week should have come with an asterisk.
On Thursday (Nov. 17), Maffei attempted to correct criticisms about Ticketmaster and its owner Live Nation operating as a monopoly by pointing out that Swift’s 2023 Eras Tour “is not actually a Live Nation promoted concert” but rather “promoted by one of our largest competitors.”
Maffei — who is also the president of Live Nation’s largest shareholder Liberty Media — continued: “AEG who is the promoter for Taylor Swift, chose to use us because, in reality, we are the largest and most effective ticket seller in the world. Even our competitors want to come on our platform.”
The thing is, AEG says it’s essentially forced to work with Ticketmaster because of the stranglehold it has over the touring business. “Ticketmaster’s exclusive deals with the vast majority of venues on the Eras tour required us to ticket through their system,” an AEG spokesperson told Billboard in a statement. “We didn’t have a choice.”
The debacle centers around Swift’s presale Tuesday for her Eras Tour, which initially crashed shortly after launch as 14 million fans and billions of bots flooded the site, causing service disruptions. The ticket crash caught the attention of Capitol Hill. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, both of whom criticized the outage at Ticketmaster and doubled down on claims that the Live Nation-owned ticketing service was a monopoly. The Justice Department is now reportedly investigating Live Nation, though the investigation reportedly pre-dated the Swift debacle.
AEG and Live Nation have a complicated relationship built around intense competition and steady cooperation going back decades. While AEG’s facility group relies on Live Nation for programming, AEG Presents, the company’s concert promotion wing, competes directly against Live Nation’s global touring team and has its own preferred ticketing system, AXS.
While AEG Presents prefers to use AXS, their partner in the Eras Tour, Louis Messina (Messina Touring Group is a 50-50 joint venture between AEG and Messina), is basically agnostic when it comes to ticketing systems — he will work with any ticketing company, based on where the show takes place. In North America, that means working with Ticketmaster, which is especially dominant in the NFL as it provides tickets to 27 of the NFL’s 32 teams. By choosing to stage her show in NFL stadiums – really, in choosing to tour stadiums in the U.S. — Swift and her partners at AEG and Messina Touring Group are effectively forced to use Ticketmaster due to its supremacy in North America.
In that sense, Maffei’s argument that AEG chose to work with Ticketmaster is misleading, but it would also be inaccurate to describe Swift or AEG’s relationship with Ticketmaster as one built upon coercion. Historically, it’s been more mutually beneficial.
AEG’s venue management company ASM Global — formed following the merger of AEG Facilities and SMG in 2019 to become the biggest such company in the country — expanded its partnership with Live Nation in 2021, allowing the use of Ticketmaster for any of the shows the promoter brings to ASM’s 300 clients. In this arrangement, both sides win, since AEG relies on Live Nation to bring content to its buildings and grants the company incentives to entice shows to their facilities.
Swift has worked very closely with Ticketmaster over the years — for her Reputation stadium tour, the COVID-19-canceled Lovers Fest and now the Eras Tour, building an entire fan verification and Taylor Swift-branded ticketing platform together. While Swift might have preferred to have had more options to sell tickets to her fans, she did partner with the company in a way that few artists have in the past.
Perhaps Ticketmaster and Swift will mend their relationship once they start counting how much money they made together. Or maybe, they’re never, ever, ever, ever getting back together.