Live Nation and Other Ticket Giants Promise Transparency on Fees

Under pressure from the Biden administration, some of the biggest companies that handle ticketing for concerts and other live events announced on Thursday that they will make it easier for consumers to see the full price of tickets they want to buy, including the fees that can often add more than 30 percent to the total cost of an order.

Live Nation, the world’s largest concert company, said it would begin introducing “all-in pricing” — showing consumers the full price up front — at the venues it controls, which include more than 200 amphitheaters, clubs and other spaces in the United States. Ticketmaster, which is owned by Live Nation, said it would make this tool available to other venues and promoters as well. Those changes are expected beginning in September.

SeatGeek, a major vendor for reselling tickets that also works for major venues and sports teams like the Dallas Cowboys, said it too would begin introducing a feature that would reveal to consumers the full price of a ticket.

Those changes come as the Biden administration has stepped up its pressure on the entertainment and travel industries to rein in what it calls “junk fees.” Before beginning a round table at the White House with executives from Live Nation, SeatGeek, Airbnb and other companies on Thursday, President Biden framed the crackdown on surcharges as a way to appeal to the working class — a major theme of his re-election campaign.

“These hidden charges that companies sneak into your bill make you pay more without you really knowing it initially,” Mr. Biden said. “Junk fees are not a matter for the wealthy very much but they’re a matter for working folks like the homes I grew up in.”

As Mr. Biden spoke, a screen showed an example of a “service charge” of $12.99. But for the most in-demand concerts, those fees can be many times higher. For one Drake concert, for example, a screenshot ricocheted around social media in March showing that for two tickets costing $544, three surcharges — service fee, facility charge and order fee — added another $541, nearly doubling the total cost.

Ticketing, and questions of competition and consumer fairness in the entertainment industry, became hot-button issues in Washington after a botched presale in November for Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour. Ticketmaster’s system was overrun with bots, and many fans reported that tickets they had selected disappeared from their online shopping charts.

At a Senate Judiciary hearing in January, Live Nation came under harsh, bipartisan attack, with senators openly calling the company a monopoly. The Justice Department has separately been investigating Live Nation for potential violations of the consent decree that was a condition of the company’s merger with Ticketmaster in 2010; among the terms in that agreement were that Live Nation cannot threaten venues with retaliation for not using Ticketmaster as their official ticket vendor.

But the extent to which the most recent promises by Live Nation and SeatGeek would substantially change the ticket market are unclear. The concert industry is complex, with pricing and fees controlled by various parties that have little incentive to reduce their take — especially with live music rebounding after its near-disappearance during the Covid-19 pandemic, and ticket sales now reaching record highs.

The changes by Live Nation and SeatGeek do not lower prices or include any commitment to reduce surcharges, which are often set by venues; those companies are simply promising to disclose fees as part of a ticket’s total cost.

After Mr. Biden’s State of the Union address in February — at which he said, “We can stop service fees on tickets to concerts and sporting events and make companies disclose all the fees upfront” — Live Nation proposed federal legislation that, among other things, would mandate all-in pricing.

Without all competitors held to the same standard, many executives in the ticketing world say, those that comply voluntarily would be put at a competitive disadvantage, since other venues and ticketing services could lure customers by advertising lower prices, only to reveal surcharges once a customer completes a transaction.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat of Connecticut who is a sponsor of a bill called the Junk Fee Prevention Act, offered a mixed review of Live Nation’s pledge of transparency.

“Live Nation-Ticketmaster’s announcement is a step in the right direction,” Mr. Blumenthal said in a statement, “but no substitute for legislation to provide consumers with transparency and prevent companies from imposing ridiculous junk fees.”

Still, Mr. Biden said that all the companies he had gathered for the round table were “voluntarily committed to ‘all-in’ upfront pricing,” and he called it a victory.

“This is a win for consumers in my view,” Mr. Biden said, “and proof that our crackdown on junk fees has real momentum.”

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