Live Nation spars with senator over its vow to ditch hidden ticket fees

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Live Nation Entertainment, the parent company of Ticketmaster, pushed back against a senator’s call to expand its rollout of more transparent ticket costs.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a letter Wednesday to Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino calling on the entertainment giant to make its new “all-in” pricing view a default setting across both Live Nation and Ticketmaster sales platforms.

Live Nation pledged in mid-June to show customers “the total cost from the start” of their online ticket searches beginning in September for events at Live Nation-operated venues — joining a broader Biden administration effort to reduce so-called junk fees that raise the advertised prices of many consumer products and services.

Live Nation criticized Klobuchar’s request as impractical and inaccurate, saying it has already fulfilled its promise to start disclosing “all-in” prices at the hundreds of venues it operates, adding that the initial pledge never included all of the thousands of other venues for which Ticketmaster sell tickets.

“If we had the power to do that it would have been part of our commitment to the White House and our June 15 announcement,” a Live Nation spokesperson said. “This just underscores the importance of all-in pricing legislation,” which the company has supported at the federal level despite failed attempts in Congress to advance it.

Speaking to NBC News on Wednesday, Klobuchar called on Live Nation to “keep your promises and be transparent about how much each ticket costs.”

But Live Nation disputed Klobuchar’s characterization of its pledge. A spokesperson said the change applied only to venues it owns and operates. The spokesperson also pointed to a new tool launched this year. Using the feature, Ticketmaster consumers can navigate to the “filters” menu on the search screen and toggle on an option to “show prices including fees.”

Key to the dispute is the extent of Live Nation’s ability — or, as Klobuchar sees it, willingness — to set rules about how prices are displayed for tickets at venues it doesn’t own.

“The existence of this [all-in] filter shows that Live Nation-Ticketmaster has the technical ability to display all-in prices, but chooses not to display that price to consumers as the default setting,” she wrote in her letter, asking Rapino to provide an update on price transparency efforts by Nov. 15.

Live Nation responded with its own letter Wednesday, viewed by NBC News, writing, “Ticketmaster does not have the unilateral right to do that, as it is an agent for the venues that issue tickets and along with the content owners (artists, sports teams, etc.) determine ticket pricing and how fees are displayed.”

But Klobuchar insisted the company could do more for transparency: “They can show how much the ticket costs, and that’s what they need to do.”

Live Nation already displays all-in prices at all venues — including those it doesn’t operate — in New York, Connecticut and Tennessee, which have laws requiring such transparency.

“If they are claiming that somehow no one will let them say how much the ticket costs,” Klobuchar said, “no, I don’t buy that.”

The Live Nation spokesperson said all-in pricing had already been instituted for all new events listed for sale at venues Live Nation owns and operates as of Sept. 25. But the company confirmed that coming events at those venues that were put on sale before that date don’t display all-in pricing upfront.

The Biden administration has pointed to research suggesting that so-called drip pricing, in which extra charges pile up the further a shopper moves through the purchasing process, generates tens of billions of dollars in revenue to sellers in industries from transportation and hospitality to banking and internet services. Administration officials argue the practice makes it harder to comparison-shop and artificially drives up the prices consumers pay, contributing to inflation.

Discrepancies between the base price of a ticket and the total after taxes and fees can be considerable on Ticketmaster or Live Nation.

For instance, shoppers who don’t find and click the “including fees” button would see a box seat ticket on for Thursday’s Jessie Murph concert at Boston’s House of Blues, a Live Nation venue, listed at $103 apiece. The event went on sale in June.

Only by adding the ticket to their cart, signing in to a Live Nation account and then proceeding with the purchase would they see the total climb to $124.50, because of a “service fee” and a “processing fee” — a price jump of nearly 21%.

CLARIFICATION (Oct. 25, 6:30 p.m.): This article has been updated to clarify that Live Nation, not its Ticketmaster subsidiary, pledged in June to adopt all-in prices and that it was limited to Live Nation operated venues.

The article has also been updated to remove references to NBC News’ review of the prevalence of all-in pricing in listings on Live Nation’s website, which did not distinguish between venues operated by Live Nation and those operated by others. It also adds additional statements by Sen. Klobuchar and excerpts from Live Nation’s letter in response.

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