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WASHINGTON — Taylor Swift fans were anything but joyful after spending hours on Ticketmaster trying to buy tickets for her first concert tour in five years last fall.
Many experienced long waits, a glitchy website and getting seats in their cart only to get kicked out before the purchase finalized and coming back to find the tickets were much more expensive or not there at all.
But as the Senate Judiciary Committee convened a hearing Tuesday on how to prevent another Ticketmaster fiasco, Sen. Mike Lee noticed something about Swift's fans on Capitol Hill.
"As I was driving up this morning, I've never seen more smiling and happy demonstrators than I saw today. I think Swifties have figured something out. They're very good at getting their message across," the Utah Republican said in his opening statement.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Lee, the chairwoman and ranking member, respectively, of the committee's subcommittee that oversees antitrust issues, convened the hearing before the full Judiciary Committee. Both are strong antitrust advocates.
Klobuchar said the issue is about fans, as Americans have emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic to attend live concerts again.
"We are very interested in actually doing something, and not just throwing popcorn," she said.
Neither Klobuchar nor Lee were shy about referencing Swift's songs during the three-hour hearing. Klobuchar threw out "All Too Well," in her opening remarks. Lee followed with "You Belong With Me" in his opening, telling Klobuchar "I had hoped as of a few months ago to get the gavel back but, once again, she's cheer captain and I'm on the bleachers."
"You're a little more than that," Klobuchar replied.
Lee also dropped "nightmare dressed like a daydream" when referring to the idea of limits on the resale or transfer of concert tickets. And he closed his comments with one more Swift reference.
"I have to throw out, in deference to my daughter Eliza, one more Taylor Swift quote," Lee said. "Karma is a relaxing thought, aren't you envious that for you it's not?"
Quoting Swift lyrics aside, the hearing explored whether the merger of concert giant Live Nation and Ticketmaster, which dominates the ticket-selling market, has harmed consumers by stifling competition.
"It's very important that we maintain fair, free, open and even fierce competition in this and as in every space," Lee said. Competition, he said, increases quality and reduces price. "We want those things to happen."
On Tuesday, Lee was among senators who questioned the Justice Department's past handling of the 2010 merger between the two companies that included a binding consent agreement that outlined conditions by which both agreed to abide.
A 2019 Department of Justice review found that Live Nation was not meeting its commitments under the agreement, but instead of suing, the department modified the agreement and extended it for five years.
Lee said the way things have gone since the merger raises "very serious doubts" about the effectiveness of consent agreements imposed by the federal government. He said there's a "flotilla" of allegations and complaints that what the merged company vowed would never happen has happened.
"While DOJ undoubtedly wants to know whether Ticketmaster is violating the consent decree, Congress should be asking whether the consent decree was the right decision in the first place," he said.
The Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger is another demonstration that the biggest problem in antitrust is not outdated laws or a need for new laws, but a failure to enforce existing laws, Lee said.
"Today is the perfect opportunity to do what this committee is supposed to do: exercise oversight over the executive branch's law enforcement efforts," he said. "And consider whether to what extent and what ways new legislation or perhaps just better enforcement of existing laws might be needed to protect the American people."
Though the Department of Justice has reportedly opened a new investigation into Ticketmaster, Lee said Congress still has an important role to play.