Bruce Springsteen doesn’t understand how live shows work anymore. Earlier this year, The Boss told Rolling Stone that “ticket buying has become very confusing,” echoing the sentiment of thousands of fans who can’t seem to get past the digital interface standing between themselves and the concert pit. 

If the Boss is confused, Taylor Swift is outright irate. Just last month, after millions of her fans were shut out of general ticket sales that never happened, Swift said it was “excruciating” for her to “just watch mistakes happen with no recourse, following the presale of her highly anticipated “Eras” tour. Musical artists, lawmakers, and fans alike are blaming LiveNation Entertainment for botching the sale and claiming the company and its ticket selling subsidiary, Ticketmaster, hold a monopoly over the live events industry. 

Record-high demand for concerts and exorbitant fees has increased the cost of attending live events. But the issue goes beyond live shows: the entertainment industry is one of several, including airline and hospitality industries, that have come under fire in recent months for so-called “junk fees” — additional costs ticketing agencies tack onto normal prices. In the wake of higher inflation, these three industries are pushing the envelope on just how much they can charge cash-strapped individuals, before they get priced out altogether. 

Now, the federal government is taking note. In October, the Federal Trade Commission announced that it was cracking down on “junk fees,” which, according to the FTC Chair, Lina M. Khan, “squeeze the most added expenses out of consumers…at a time when families are struggling with the effects of inflation.” 

The Department of Justice is currently investigating LiveNation on antitrust violations and claims that the entertainment giant has abused its power over the music and concert industries. It is unclear whether government regulations that advocate for price transparency and place limits on industry monopolies will slice big business revenue. 

“Fees in the live music industry is not a LiveNation and Ticketmaster problem—it is a complex and evolving problem” for industries writ large, said Kevin Erickson, the communications director of the Future of Music Coalition, a non-profit and advocacy organization for musicians.

Largely pioneered by the airline industry in the 1980s, junk fees are additional charges added onto the cost of a product or service, often without the customer’s knowledge or consent. By the 1990s, such fees began to penetrate other sectors, namely the hospitality industry, and have since made their way to live entertainment. 

With the pandemic receding, airlines, hotels, and the live entertainment industries are capitalizing on consumers’ soaring demand for in-person experiences by using fees to further optimize their revenue. U.S. travel is back to 95% of 2019 levels, according to data from the Transportation Security Administration, and concert attendance is up 20%, compared to 2019.

 “Airline actions around fees are becoming more acceptable to consumers,” said Sean Hennessey, a professor of hospitality at New York University. He said such acceptance has contributed to the widespread application of fees across industries.

Airline fees contributed to a 39% increase in revenue for major airline companies between 2019 and 2022, according to a study conducted by IdeaWorksCompany, an airline consulting company. For some low cost airlines, ancillary fees account for more than half of their total revenue. These fees are often packaged as fees for checked baggage, seat selection, as meals, snacks, and in-flight entertainment.

In the hospitality sector, resort fees such as Internet access, parking, and use of hotel gym or pool facilities contribute much less revenue – only around 3% in 2018, according to CBRE, a global commercial real estate company. Nonetheless, costs add up for the consumer. 

No one appears to be benefiting more than LiveNation. The entertainment giant reported quarterly revenue of $6.2 billion in its most recent earnings report, up nearly 70% from the same period in 2019, pre-pandemic. Ticketmaster, which merged with LiveNation in 2010, generated $6.7 billion in fee-bearing transactions on 71 million tickets, up 69% relative to the same quarter in 2019. Fees account for more than half of the price of a single ticket and are usually tied to covering costs such as venues. 

“Despite varying economic headwinds including inflation, we have not seen any pullback in demand,” LiveNation’s chief executive Michael Rappino said during the company’s latest earnings call.

However, consumers are becoming increasingly upset over fees they once tolerated. After many customers took to social media to denounce exorbitant cleaning fees, earlier this year, Brian Chesky, the chief executive of Airbnb,’s CEO announced on Twitter that the company would begin disclosing full booking prices prior to checkout. Last month, American Airlines agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle a lawsuit over alleged illegitimate baggage fees. 

Fans that were locked out of Taylor Swift’s verified fan presale and cannot participate in the more prohibitive secondary market were also outraged. 

Malia Dickson, a 26 year old account executive based in Washington D.C., waited six hours in Ticketmaster’s virtual queue. Both her partner and her friend’s parents waited longer – missing hours of work in order to secure tickets. For hundreds of dollars plus fees, Dickson was able to lock in two spots at the show – in Pittsburgh.

“While it’s pretty unsurprising these days to be hit with a list of fees at the checkout, it still feels a bit ridiculous at times to pay an order processing fee in addition to a service fee, especially if your order delivery is simply an automated digital ticket generated to your mobile device, ” Dickson said.

Others weren’t nearly as lucky. Amber Steigelfest, a 23 year-old production assistant in Los Angeles who wanted to spend her 24th birthday with Swift,  was not even able to access the presale. A day later, she saw sites like SeatGeek and StubHub flooded with tickets, priced at several thousand dollars a piece.

The Biden administration has taken a number of steps to curtail junk fees in a variety of industries. For example, the administration supported the passage of the No Surprises Act, which requires hospitals and other healthcare providers to disclose the cost of services upfront, and limits the amount that patients can be charged for out-of-network care.

Earlier this year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) also took new actions to eradicate billions in banking fees, including surprise overdraft fees and depository fees. In September, the CFPB ordered Regions Bank, a consumer bank headquartered in Alabama, to pay nearly $200 million for wrongfully charging consumers overdraft fees between 2018 and 2021. 

Separately, the Department of Transportation is looking to change how air carriers and ticket agents disclose information about ancillary fees for flights through the “Enhancing Transparency of Airline Ancillary Service Fees” proposal. Upfront pricing disclosure for services across industries, from travel and hospitality to ticketed events, have gained traction among lawmakers. 

“Today’s actions are going to save consumers more than $1 billion each year,” said President Joe Biden during a speech in October that touched on the comprehensive actions taken by the federal government to address the proliferation of “illegitimate” and “hurtful” fees across industries.

Even if legal efforts to crack down on hidden fees may find a degree of success, experts say increased price transparency for services will have varied impacts on those looking to spend big on the things in life money can buy.

“I think there won’t be that much of a benefit for consumers,” Hennessey said. “It’s not like there is an excess profit component that can be wrung out of the industry for the benefit of consumers.”