The Great Live Nation Entertainment Swindle

Editorial Column

By Tampa Earl Burton – Rock At Night Columnist

The Great Live Nation Entertainment Swindle 

Back in 1980, someone thought it was a great idea to put together a “mockumentary” based on the British band The Sex Pistols. Now, never mind that the band itself broke up in 1978, but it was a chance for the band members (who all had parts in the film) and their auteur Malcolm McLaren to take one last bite of the capitalist cake that they railed against. It was appropriately titled The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, something that could be applied to an international conglomerate in today’s cutthroat concert world. 

Ticketmaster was once a humble little organization, content with selling tickets out of the Customer Service area at Sears in the Seventies. In the Eighties, however, they realized the potential of the concert industry and moved to Los Angeles. Simultaneously, they started signing contracts with major concert venues to be the exclusive provider of tickets to their shows.

Now, if Ticketmaster would have stayed in this lane, they probably wouldn’t have become the hated entity that they are today. Instead, they chose to merge with Live Nation, only the largest events promoter in the U. S., to put a hammerlock on the concert industry as Live Nation Entertainment. How, might you ask? By shutting out their competition and giving the customers no other routes to purchase tickets. (Today, “Ticketmaster” exists in name only – it is a subsidiary of Live Nation Entertainment.) 

Since the merger of these two companies, they have ramrodded any artist or group who has wanted to perform to have to be involved in either their venue management (Live Nation), their ticket processing (Ticketmaster), or both. Rare is the opportunity to avoid having to collaborate with these companies because they control virtually every large venue in the U. S. and many around the world. The conglomerate uses that position to ravage not only the performing acts but also those that would like to see them.  

When you look at a concert ticket these days, there is a multitude of charges on each stub. Up front, the performing act has the price that they want to charge for the show (the “face value”). After that point, it is completely up to Live Nation Entertainment how high the ticket price goes. They can charge a “facility fee” that is for the venue hosting the concert. They can charge a “delivery fee” on how you receive the tickets (mail, in most cases) and can also add credit card fees for the purchase. Toss in “service fees,” which can cover virtually anything, and each singular ticket can cost over $100…even for the nosebleed seats. 

This is not just applicable to music concerts. Theater productions, sporting events, Monster Truck rallies and Supercross races, speeches…they all fall under the Live Nation tentacles. If it involves someone doing something in public, then Live Nation – and by extension Ticketmaster – have their fingers in the dirty pie. And they have become even worse since they merged. 

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In 2016, Live Nation “urged” the artists to increase their pricing on their offerings, citing the fact that third-party resells – the act of buying a ticket at list price and selling it for more through another means (technically “scalping” the ticket) – were “money that the artists are missing out on,” according to a Financial Times report that quoted Live Nation CEO and President Michael Rapino. Strangely enough, who were the ones making the most out of that “scalping?” Well, would you believe it was Ticketmaster? 

It would be easy to continually rant on Live Nation/Ticketmaster except it seems that some artists were getting into the swindle themselves. In 2017, the band Metallica’s ticketing “consultant”, Live Nation president of U. S. concerts Bob Roux, and a third-party reseller conspired to drive up the prices for the 2017 Metallica World Wired North America tour, splitting the profits from the resells amongst each other. Artists even in 2023 have continued to take part in the scam, with “dynamic pricing” (which artists and groups can opt out of, it must be noted) driving tickets for Bruce Springsteen’s 2023 tour north of $5000 at some venues and the upcoming Taylor Swift “Midnights” tour crashing the Ticketmaster servers while “dynamic pricing” drove some tickets OVER $30,000. 

There is no better example of this than an experience that I recently had with the concertgoing industry. The Florida Strawberry Festival usually books several “legacy” acts – bands that have seen their time pass and the “state fair” circuit pays the bills. For 2023, however, the festival has struck into current artists that are extremely popular today. For every Wayne Newton, The Jacksons, or The Gatlin Brothers on their concert roster, they have for King and Country (a popular Christian act) and hard rockers Halestorm. 

Now, I have wanted to see Halestorm for quite some time. Singer/guitarist Lzzy Hale can rip the roof off buildings with her voice and the band itself has churned out some of the best rock of the last fifteen years. When I saw that Halestorm was a part of the Strawberry Festival, I put my prejudices aside (as I said, these things are normally heavily populated with “legacy” acts) and looked to see what the tickets were going for.  

Live Nation L.A. office

If I bought the tickets directly through the Strawberry Festival, the cost was $45 (with a $4.95 processing fee). I was absolutely stunned – the very same band, Halestorm, had come to Tampa in the summer of 2022 headlining a tour with Evanescence and either Plush or The Warning (forget which), and the CHEAPEST ticket was $100…guess what the bulk of the ticket price went to? If you guessed “fees,” then you are seeing the picture. 

It is time for someone to step up and take on the Live Nation monopoly. In the Nineties, the band Pearl Jam took on Ticketmaster to try to keep them from becoming the behemoth that they would become. They refused to work with the ticket sellers, instead opting for venues that sold their own seats. For those that might not know, Coachella was a direct protest of the Ticketmaster monopoly – their first show back in the late Nineties sold directly to the audience. 

So, what happened? Although Pearl Jam won in the courts at every step, they did not have enough ammunition to continue fighting with the newly minted Live Nation monopoly – they would eventually succumb to the machine. As for Coachella, it also knuckled under to the only company that could provide them the services they required to grow into one of the biggest festivals in the world.  

Live Nation Entertainment directly controls 270 event venues and the ubiquitous Ticketmaster machine, which accounts for a huge part of the concert industry. They also have “subsidiaries” that, should Live Nation be broken up, would suddenly either have to fend for themselves or die trying. Live Nation is also intertwined with the festival industry around the world. The demise of Live Nation would have a seismic effect on the concert industry, the venues, the bands, and artists, and on down the line.

The government could do things to prohibit the exorbitant prices, however. They could limit fees to the same level as the base ticket price. In the example I stated with Halestorm, the base ticket was $45 – limit the “fees” that mount up to equal the base price of tickets at max (some would say set the bar even lower). The government could also investigate breaking up the monopoly on venues that Live Nation has – but the government hasn’t exactly been diligent in performing such oversight.  

Originally, a person or ownership group was limited in ownership of television, radio, and newspaper outlets. It was usually one FM radio station, one AM radio station, or a singular newspaper and television entity. This allowed for excellent local coverage instead of a “profit-driven” model. In the Nineties, however, deregulation of the broadcasting industry saw a feeding frenzy that saw only a handful of companies become media conglomerates (iHeart Media being the most prominent, NexStar Media Group (owns 197 television stations), or even the Disney Corporation) that owned nearly every media venue in a city.  

The bottom line is there is only one way for Live Nation – and, yes, even the artists and bands themselves – to get the message. The fans must vote with their wallets – if they cannot afford to go to these shows, then there are going to be swaths of empty seats and lost revenues for these entities. The problem becomes that one person’s “it costs too much” is another person’s “I can afford that,” and the beast continues to be fed.  

Tampa Earl

Forest Live Festival – UK

Forest Live Festival – UK

Manchester Psych Fest – UK

Manchester Psych Fest – UK

Totally Tubular Festival

Totally Tubular Festival