Taylor Swift Ticketing Tiff Kept AEG From Signing Live Nation’s Anti-Scalping Pact
The country’s two leading concert companies, Live Nation and AEG, are at odds over how Congress should address the future of ticketing after a disagreement over Taylor Swift’s record-breaking The Eras Tour.
Long before the pop star’s Nov. 15 sale dominated the news cycle, where hundreds of thousands of Swift fans experienced service disruptions that kept them from buying the tickets they wanted, the two companies had signed an agreement that many thought might take AEG out of the ticketing business entirely. In 2021, when AEG announced that its facility management division ASM had struck a deal to make Ticketmaster its preferred ticketing partner, many assumed that meant the company was on the way to shutting down its own ticking platform, AXS Tickets.
Instead, ASM’s contract with the Live Nation-owned Ticketmaster would pave the way for an expansion of AEG’s AXS, thanks to a provision in Ticketmaster’s exclusive agreement that granted AEG the right to use AXS to sell tickets to AEG-promoted shows at ASM venues, sources tell Billboard. AEG tours like Kane Brown, Elton John and Luke Combs could opt out of using Ticketmaster when playing ASM-client venues such as Soldier Field in Chicago, U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis and Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Ariz., and use AXS instead. This marked the largest carve-out in Ticketmaster’s exclusivity contract to date, potentially allowing hundreds of arenas, stadiums and performing arts centers to use AXS for the first time, like the new Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas — the highest grossing stadium on Billboard’s 2022 year-end Boxscore chart.
The provision was a sort of double victory for AEG, Live Nation’s leading competitor: The company was able to leverage its control over 350 ASM venues to get those clients large payouts for re-signing with Ticketmaster without forsaking its own ticketing service. AEG officials had also hoped this might mark the beginning of a more open ticketing ecosystem away from the sorts of exclusive deals that have helped Ticketmaster gain such dominance in the space. But less than two years later, AEG and Live Nation find themselves at odds, divided over the handling of Swift’s The Eras Tour.
AEG is now refusing to join a coalition of music companies supporting Live Nation’s Fair Ticketing campaign, a piece of proposed anti-scalper legislation born out of the bot attack on Ticketmaster’s Nov. 15 presale for Swift’s tour. While Universal Music Group, Red Light Management, Irving and Jeffrey Azoff, and all four major talent agencies are backing the FAIR Ticketing reforms to ban scalping practices like “speculative” ticket selling and mandating all-in pricing across all ticketing marketplaces nationally, AEG has been taking a different approach to what they see as some of ticketing’s biggest problems. Sources tell Billboard that AEG executives have been quietly lobbying the Department of Justice to investigate Ticketmaster’s use of exclusive ticketing contracts to lock up the ticket market as a possible violation of its consent decree governing its merger with Live Nation in 2010. AEG leadership is also lobbying politicians to include restrictions on such exclusive ticketing practices in new legislation that could be introduced as soon as this week.
Sources say Live Nation executives have been careful not to engage with AEG publicly about its exclusivity agreements. Privately, they have accused AEG of trying to have it both ways, accepting the money that comes with exclusive ticketing contracts, while trying to expand AXS ticketing beyond the ASM deal into all NFL stadiums ticketed by Ticketmaster.
“This is a bad look for them,” one source at Ticketmaster tells Billboard.
Since Live Nation merged with Ticketmaster in 2010 and AEG launched its own ticketing platform in 2012, both companies have found they can earn more from the concerts they promote if they also control the ticketing, collecting more fees for themselves, while keeping data generated by the concert in house. The additional revenue for a promoter like AEG could be substantial, especially for an artist like Swift, who sold a total of 2.4 million tickets for The Eras Tour.
With Swift’s tour, sources say AXS was expecting to handle some of the ticketing under the ASM-Ticketmaster provision, since AEG was a co-promoter with partner Messina Touring Group. ASM managed five stadiums, representing 12 shows on the 52-date trek, and sources say AXS officials were hoping its ties to the tour could lead to it getting some, if not all of the tour. Except that Ticketmaster executives said their exclusive contracts with more than a dozen NFL teams (and the venues they own) superseded AXS’ claim. Under that reading of the deal, two of the 12 ASM dates — a pair of concerts at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. — would be ticketed by SeatGeek under its exclusive deal with the Arizona Cardinals. Making matters worse, two of ASM’s management clients decided to partner with Ticketmaster for the sale.
Down to just five shows at two stadiums, AEG dropped the matter. According to a source, AEG executives have since spoken with the Department of Justice, encouraging them to look at Live Nation and Ticketmaster’s use of exclusive contracts as anti-competitive.
Relations only worsened in the days following The Eras Tour presale. After the fiasco, Live Nation chairman Greg Maffei appeared on CNBC to defend Ticketmaster and cited the company’s arrangement with AEG in response to claims of monopolistic behavior. “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,” he said. “Even our competitors want to come on our platform.” AEG leadership was quick to respond with a statement, saying the promoter had no choice but to use Ticketmaster. “Ticketmaster’s exclusive deals with the vast majority of venues on The Eras Tour required us to ticket through their system,” an AEG spokesperson said. “We didn’t have a choice.”
AEG hopes its private lobbying of politicians and anti-trust officials will lead to regulatory change that could include abolishing exclusive ticketing contracts in the United States and ultimately move toward an industry more similar to Europe, where promoters generally don’t sign exclusive ticketing deals and work with multiple partners to sell tickets.
Despite the disagreement, the ASM-Ticketmaster deal remains in place, and AEG officials have had success convincing buildings like the Greek Theater in Los Angeles and the Quicken Home Arena in Cleveland to avoid exclusive ticketing agreements and remain open to multiple systems.
Live Nation and AEG declined to comment for this story.