Anyone who’s tried to buy a concert ticket in the past three decades knows what a frustrating price-gouging and seemingly corrupt process it is — many major concerts are sold out literally seconds after the tickets go on sale, and the only recourse is to go the secondary market, where fans must pay exponentially more than face value, which happens even when they can get them directly, due to a battery of mysterious “fees.”
Ticketmaster, the largest broker in the business, is at the center of this morass and has been essentially bulletproof for decades — in 1995, Pearl Jam, arguably the biggest band in the world at the time, assailed the high prices and tried to go on a Ticketmaster-less tour, and failed. Even Congress, often led by New Jersey Congressman Bill Pascrell, has gone after the company — and even after the pandemic decimated the touring industry, Ticketmaster remains as strong as ever.
Yet sometimes it takes a fresh perspective to refocus outrage on a longstanding inequity, and John Oliver did exactly that on “Last Week Tonight” on Sunday, delivering a scathing, 20-monute broadside against Ticketmaster — which he called “one of the most hated companies on Earth” — and the live-entertainment industry over these longstanding practices.
He puts it in much more dramatic relief than we could — watch the full video below — but here are some takeaways that he points out. Ticketmaster and its parent company, Live Nation, told Variety a response is forthcoming.
The average price for a popular concert has more than tripled since the mid-1990s — and that is its face value, not the secondary-market price;
Fees can amount to as much as 78% of the ticket’s face value;
Those fees usually go to venues, promoters, sometimes the artists — and often Ticketmaster;
Ticketmaster frequently holds back the vast majority of tickets — 90% or more — from the general public for the secondary market, usually to professional brokers charging outlandish markups, which a 2018 government report said can range from an average or nearly 50% to an astonishing 7,000%;
The report cited a 2018 video showing a Ticketmaster rep cooperating with such brokers, although the company later said that employees comments “were not reflective of [its] policies”;
Oliver concluded by saying that “the reason tickets are so hard to get when they’re on sale is that they’re often not on sale, and the reason they cost so much on the secondary market is that you’re paying exorbitant fees to the platform. And at the center of all of this is Ticketmaster, because it turbo-charged many of these shitty practices that have now become industry standard.”