Taylor Swift/Live Nation: superstar’s fury means headaches for ticket vendor

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Taylor Swift has a reputation for slaying those who cross her — metaphorically, at least. If her fans have anything to do with it, John Malone could be next.

Swift’s upcoming concert tour is as anticipated as any in recent memory. But when tickets went on sale last week, her fans — known as Swifties — mostly could not buy them or faced exorbitant prices. Cue furious attacks on Ticketmaster, the middleman between entertainment venues and fans. While tollkeepers can be unpopular, this one has a near stranglehold on its market.

The company’s position in concert business already courts controversy. TicketMaster’s parent is Live Nation, the dominant concert promoter with which it merged in 2009. This is listed and has an enterprise value of nearly $20bn. Live Nation’s largest shareholder is John Malone’s Liberty Media.

The Swift firestorm has renewed the debate on the propriety of that all-stock 2009 deal. At the time, the combined group had an enterprise value of just $2.5bn. Opponents of the transaction worried that a vertically integrated events business could pressure stadiums and arenas to use Ticketmaster services to ensure that Live Nation talent picked those venues.

There is a view that a long-running oversight agreement with US watchdogs has had limited effect upon Live Nation’s growing market power. And this year the group has been triumphant. During lockdown 2020, its revenue for the year collapsed to under $2bn. In the past 12 months, sales have rebounded to $15bn. Analysts forecast its full-year operating profits to double those of 2019.

Live Nation denies it exercises market power, arguing it has used its heft for innovations such as electronically scanned tickets. It blames the Swift ticket mess on heavy demand and internet bots clogging its systems.

All reasonable arguments, but Live Nation is deeply unpopular among audiences for its high fees and surcharges. “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate”, sang Swift. Live Nation understands this better every day.

Lex recommends the FT’s Due Diligence newsletter, a curated briefing on the world of mergers and acquisitions. Click here to sign up.

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