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Dozens of Taylor Swift fans sue Ticketmaster in the wake of its ticket sale fiasco

Taylor Swift poses with her trophies at the 50th Annual American Music Awards in Los Angeles in November, just days after the botched ticket presale.
Valerie Macon
/
AFP via Getty Images
Taylor Swift poses with her trophies at the 50th Annual American Music Awards in Los Angeles in November, just days after the botched ticket presale.

Taylor Swift fans are dressing for revenge — or at least legal damages. More than two dozen disappointed Swifties have filed a class-action lawsuit accusing Ticketmaster and its parent company, Live Nation, of fraud, misrepresentation and antitrust violations over its botched Eras Tour ticket sale.

Lawyers for the 26 plaintiffs, who live in 13 states across the U.S., filed the complaint in L.A. County Superior Court on Friday. It alleges that the ticketing platform has a monopoly on primary and secondary markets and accuses it of engaging in fraudulent practices and various antitrust violations, including price discrimination and price fixing.

"Defendant's anticompetitive behavior has substantially harmed and will continue to substantially harm Taylor Swift fans, as well as competition in the ticket sales marker and the Secondary Ticket Services Market," it reads.

It seeks $2,500 for every violation of California's Unfair Competition Law, which prohibits false advertising and illegal business practices.

Ticketmaster and Live Nation Entertainment have not responded to NPR's request for comment.

Jennifer Kinder, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, told NPR over email that almost 400 people have expressed interest in joining the case since the complaint was first filed and will be added as plaintiffs, most likely before the end of the week. She expects the interest will continue to surge.

"Until transparency and fairness is won in live entertainment ticket purchases, the Great War continues," she wrote, referencing a song from Swift's latest album, Midnights.

Kinder sent NPR an updated complaint on Monday that names 50 plaintiffs (almost double the original number).

A quick refresher on the Swift debacle

When sales opened in mid-November, scores of loyal fans persisted through hours or even days of long waits, website crashes and fluctuating prices only to end up without tickets. They — and numerous Democratic lawmakers — blame those issues on Ticketmaster being poorly prepared for the heavy demand for Swift's upcoming tour, which will be her first since 2018.

First, many of the 3.5 million registered "verified fans" were sent to waitlists, while those who did receive the coveted codes logged into a website that quickly crashed under what Ticketmaster called "unprecedented traffic" from both bot attacks and fans without codes.

After a second day of presale tickets — for Capital One card-holders — went similarly, Ticketmaster canceled sales to the general public a day before they were supposed to open, citing "extraordinarily high demands on ticketing systems and insufficient remaining ticket inventory to meet that demand."

Swift eventually issued a statement in which, without naming Ticketmaster, she called the situation "excruciating" and said her team had been assured multiple times that "they could handle this kind of demand."

Ticketmaster has apologized to Swift and her fans. In a statement explaining what happened, it said that it had sold 2.4 million tickets (including a record 2 million in a single day), but acknowledged there had been issues with the process and said it is "working to shore up our tech for the new bar that has been set by demand" for Swift tickets.

The concert chaos also prompted consumer protection investigations from multiple state attorneys general and calls from prominent Democratic lawmakers to break up the company. Critics say it is behaving like a monopoly, especially in the years since the controversial 2010 merger of Ticketmaster and event promoter Live Nation.

The lawsuit is by, and for, live music fans

After Kinder, a lawyer based in Dallas, tried unsuccessfully on multiple days to get tickets for herself and her preteen daughter, she turned to social media and saw thousands of frenzied fans expressing similar frustrations.

She and her associate put out a Google form for people to submit details about their own experiences and gauge interest in a possible class action lawsuit, as she told the Washington Post and D Magazine (their legal team now also includes a lawyer from California).

Julie Barfuss, the lead plaintiff,told the Post that she had taken the day off work to buy tickets, and tried to check out some 41 times — so many times, in fact, that a customer service agent she chatted with told her the website had identified her as a bot.

Barfuss didn't manage to get any of the tickets in her cart, though her card did get charged thousands of dollars for all 41 attempts (the charges were later scrubbed).

"Ticketmaster's service is not superior or reliable; the massive disaster of the Taylor Swift presale is evidence enough of this," the lawsuit reads. "Ticketmaster does not charge high prices to give a better service, it charges higher prices because it has no real competition and wants to take every dollar it can from buyers."

The plaintiffs are far from the only die-hard fans who ended up empty-handed. In Ticketmaster's memo explaining what had transpired, it estimated that 15% of interactions across its site experienced issues. Even if there hadn't been tech problems, it added, the demand for Swift tickets was simply too high to satisfy everyone.

"For example: based on the volume of traffic to our site, Taylor would need to perform over 900 stadium shows (almost 20x the number of shows she is doing) ... that's a stadium show every single night for the next 2.5 years," it said. "While it's impossible for everyone to get tickets to these shows, we know we can do more to improve the experience and that's what we're focused on."

Ticketmaster's practices have taken center stage

The lawsuit is one of several efforts to hold the ticketing giant accountable, as the Swift fiasco has renewed scrutiny of its dominant position in the market and the merger that put it there.

The attorneys general of Tennessee, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Nevada have launched investigations into the situation, while a number of Democratic lawmakers — including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) — have publicly called for the company to be broken up.

And the U.S. Department of Justice is pursuing a broader antitrust investigation into Ticketmaster's parent company that predates the Swift snafu, the New York Times has reported.

Live Nation Entertainment defended its practices in a statement posted to its website last month, saying Ticketmaster complies with the consent decree that accompanied the merger, does not set or control ticket prices and only holds such a significant share of the market "because of the large gap that exists between the quality of the Ticketmaster system and the next best primary ticketing system."

"Live Nation takes its responsibilities under the antitrust laws seriously and does not engage in behaviors that could justify antitrust litigation, let alone orders that would require it to alter fundamental business practices," it said.

But not everyone is convinced. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, sent a letter to Ticketmaster's CEO expressing her longstanding concerns about lack of competition in the ticketing industry and asking about specific business practices.

She and Sen. Mike Lee (R-U.T.) later announced that they will hold a hearing — the date of which has yet to be announced — to examine "how consolidation in the live entertainment and ticketing industry harms customers and artists alike."

Klobuchar told NPR's All Things Considered last week that while the Swift incident may put Ticketmaster in the spotlight, the problem with the "vertically-integrated giant" is much bigger than any one superstar tour.

"A lot of these hidden fees, high fees, are going on because there is no incentive for fair prices and superior offerings and innovation if you're the only company in town," she explained.

What could a Congressional hearing do that a Justice Department investigation could not? Witness testimony could create a helpful record and potentially pave the way for legislation, Klobuchar said — she said there are bipartisan efforts underway specifically related to the ticket industry but did not elaborate.

This isn't the first high-profile attempt to challenge Ticketmaster's dominance — Pearl Jam famously tried and failed to do so in the early 1990s, for example. But Klobuchar thinks things could play out differently this time around, in part because "a whole bunch of Swift fans is something that no one's ever dealt with in Congress."

Klobuchar said throughout the history of monopolies, federal action tends to come only when public anger reaches a certain level — and she sees that happening now.

"There becomes this pitch point where there's so much anger from the public, and now it might be online," she added. "Before, it was on street corners and in farmers' halls. But when it gets to that point, that's when something gets done."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.