Ticketmaster came under fire for its failure to handle sales for Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour. Fans reportedly waited for hours with little success, making tickets even more coveted and resulting in exorbitantly high resale prices. Legislators—especially those eager to strengthen antitrust laws—have pointed to Ticketmaster as an example of the perils of markets without competition. Rep. David Cicilline described it as a “symptom of a larger problem,” while Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called the company a monopoly that “need[s] to be reined in.” The Attorneys General of Tennessee and North Carolina, in addition to the Department of Justice, are currently investigating.

This situation puts antitrust in a new spotlight. Until recently, the conversation surrounding monopolies has revolved around Big Tech and the size of the companies. Congress is finally talking about misconduct: market dominance causing actual harm. 

In 2010, Ticketmaster merged with Live Nation to become Live Nation Entertainment, a company that both oversees ticket sales and operates entertainment venues. Shortly before the merger, singer Bruce Springsteen criticized the online vendor due to similar technical difficulties causing frustration among concertgoers. He went on to write that “one thing that would make the current ticket situation even worse for the fan than it is now would be Ticketmaster and Live Nation coming up with a single system, thereby returning us to a near monopoly situation in music ticketing.” Springsteen’s cautionary illustration has since proven prophetic. For big-time artists that need large venues, the online ticket vendor is the primary service. This means that fans have no choice but to deal with service issues and high fees, or resort to a secondary market that takes advantage of these poor conditions.

Nevertheless, it’s unclear whether Ticketmaster holds a true monopoly. According to a 2018 report from the Government Accountability Office, the company controlled more than 80% of the primary ticket market in 2008 and was still the “market leader” in 2017. This is not enough to determine dominance; courts have held that share levels alone are insufficient to make conclusions about monopoly power. Evidence of consumer harm is paramount to antitrust analysis and, as noted by Jennifer Huddleston of NetChoice, “The existing consumer welfare standard of antitrust policy is designed to deal with this, and Ticketmaster’s behavior likely meets its requirements. Should policymakers wish to address this, the FTC and DOJ could bring such a case right now.”

Others are less convinced that this is a clear-cut antitrust violation. An article in The Economist reasoned that, despite regulators’ interest in aggressive enforcement, “irate Swifties would need proof of anti-competitive behaviour. Shoddy service is not enough.”

While it remains to be seen whether Ticketmaster has violated any laws, the response from legislators reveals clear inconsistencies in the antitrust debate. Senator Amy Klobuchar, one of the most outspoken proponents for antitrust reform, wrote on Twitter that “what is going on with Ticketmaster is an example of why we need strong antitrust enforcement… Monopolies wreak havoc on consumers and our economy.” Yet her bills, including the American Innovation and Choice Online Act making its way through Congress, would do little to remedy the situation. Most of her proposals are solely aimed at Big Tech companies, appealing to politics and public opinion more than consumer welfare. 

Congress shouldn’t overhaul our laws and the economy because of Taylor Swift. But there is some good to come out of this situation. Perhaps public outcry against the ticket vendor will prompt a more well-rounded conversation about the role of antitrust in protecting competition.