John Oliver Rips Ticketmaster and Live Music Costs: ‘One of the World’s Most Hated Companies’ | John Olivier
John Oliver delved into the industry of sky-high prices for live events on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight show, and in particular the company Ticketmaster – or, as he called it, “one of the companies the most hated in the world”.
The average price of a popular gig has more than tripled since the mid-1990s, far outpacing inflation, and that’s ahead of the resale market. As the biggest player in the ticket market, Ticketmaster says that “they strive to put the fans first and the people we care about the most are the fans,” explained Oliver. “And yet, as anyone who’s ever bought from them knows, that’s not usually the feeling you get when dealing with them.”
It starts with ticket fees, which “can range from boring to downright crazy,” Oliver said. His research team found a ticket to a 2019 Kidz Bop concert with a fee of 75% of face value; the fee for a Tyler, the Creator concert in Florida next week was 78% of face value.
Ticketmaster said their fees are determined “in conjunction with our customers” who “share a portion of the fees we collect” – venues, promoters and sometimes the performers themselves. But some of those “other parties” also include Ticketmaster, because in 2010 the company merged with Live Nation, which owns or operates most of the top music venues in the United States. The company has had “a bit of a grip” on live entertainment since, Oliver explained, pointing to a Department of Justice memo 2020 alleging that the company had venues heavily armed to use Ticketmaster and retaliated against venues that refused its services.
This investigation also revealed that Ticketmaster often withholds the vast majority of tickets from the general public for the resale market, where they are primarily purchased by professional ticket brokers with bots – “as you’ve all assumed, all of these stupid ‘Are you a robot?’ the tests didn’t stop them all from getting in,” joked Oliver.
Brokers flip these tickets on the secondary market for a huge markup on sites like SeatGeek, Stubhub and Ticketmaster, again. “These sites really want you to think of them as fan-to-fan marketplaces,” Oliver said. “But the truth is, resale sites aren’t fan-to-fan at all.” A government responsibility report from 2018 found that the “overwhelming majority” of ticket sales on these sites were made by professional ticket brokers, tag ranging from 49% (average) to 7,000% (a One Direction concert).
“Ticket sites go out of their way to meet the needs of their broker customers because they make a lot of money for them,” Oliver continued. For example, the company would not crack down on ticket brokers with multiple accounts to circumvent purchase limits. To quote a Ticketmaster representative, interviewed by a undercover journalist at a 2018 note broker conference, how many brokers use multiple accounts: “I would say almost every one of them.”
“Now I have to tell you that Ticketmaster insists that it spends millions on technology to eliminate bad behavior and that this employee’s comments did not reflect its policies,” Oliver said. “But even taking them at their word – which I’m not inclined to do – their whole system is designed to be opaque”, especially on secondary sellers, who are kept anonymous.
Finally, there’s the “uncomfortable fact,” Oliver said, of what a ticket is actually worth. “An economist will tell you it’s worth what people will pay,” he explained. “So if someone is willing to spend over $2,000 including fees for an Adele ticket” – the going price for a ticket to their Vegas residency – “that’s what it’s worth, as disgusting as But if Adele doesn’t want to charge for that, there will be a gap between the face value of the ticket and what someone can get for it, and an entire industry will race to exploit it.
“When you take it all together,” he later concluded, “the reason tickets are so hard to get when they’re on sale is that they often aren’t on sale, and the reason why they are so expensive in the secondary market is that you pay exorbitant fees to the platform and you may be buying from a broker or, in rare cases, even from the artist themselves.
The whole ticketing ecosystem “enriches a lot of people who don’t contribute anything to the actual spectacle you’re paying to see,” he added. “And at the center of it all is Ticketmaster, because it has accelerated many of these shitty practices that have now become the industry standard.”
What can be done? Oliver called on Congress to pass policies that would force transparency on ticket sites, “but the truth is that a lot of the power here is actually in the hands of the artists. Because the bigger ones might do things to stifle the secondary market,” like making their tickets non-transferable or providing platforms for fans to resell tickets for no profit, like Pearl Jam did before his 2020 tour was cancelled.
“But if regulators don’t act and artists don’t have the power or the inclination to require companies to put these safeguards in place,” he concluded, “I I’m afraid you, as a fan, are left vulnerable to the worst parts of this system.