The US says it is ‘time to break up Ticketmaster parent Live Nation

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The US Department of Justice has accused Ticketmaster parent company Live Nation Entertainment of operating a monopoly that “stifles competition” in the live entertainment industry, in a landmark antitrust lawsuit demanding the company be broken up.

The civil complaint was filed Thursday by the DOJ, which was joined by a bipartisan group of state and district attorneys general. The lawsuit alleges that Live Nation Entertainment illegally dominates the ticket sales and concert promotion market, using “exclusionary conduct” to exert outsized influence over the majority of live concert venues in the US.

The DoJ described how the company is said to have gained a stranglehold on the live entertainment ecosystem, from how artists are paid and which performances are staged in the US.

As a result, “fans are paying more in fees, artists have fewer options to perform concerts, smaller promoters are being squeezed out and venues have fewer real choices for ticketing,” Merrick Garland, the U.S. attorney general, said Thursday. “It’s time to split up Live Nation-Ticketmaster.”

The company was formed in 2010 from the merger of Live Nation, a concert promoter, and Ticketmaster, a platform for selling tickets for live events. Since then, discontent has grown among fans, rivals, artists and U.S. lawmakers, who have accused the country of abusing its dominant market power by charging exorbitant fees and retaliating against venues that choose to work with rivals.

That frustration was compounded after a fiasco during ticket sales for Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour in 2022, when Ticketmaster’s website was swamped by a surge in demand.

At a press conference filled with musical references, Garland said the lawsuit was filed on behalf of fans, artists, independent promoters, venues and the public. “The American people are ready,” he said, with a nod to a lyric by Swift Reputation album.

The complaint outlines what the company describes as its “flywheel” business model, using sponsorship revenue and concert fees from fans to “lock” artists into exclusive promotional deals. The DoJ added that the group also acquired rivals in an attempt to destroy competition.

Jonathan Kanter, head of the DoJ’s antitrust unit, on Thursday described what he called the “dreaded Ticketmaster tax”: the seemingly endless series of fees that are ironically called “service fees” or “convenience fees” when they are anything but. As a result of the company’s “illegal monopoly,” he said, “the live music industry in America is broken.”

Dan Wall, executive vice president for corporate and regulatory affairs at Live Nation Entertainment, hit back at the DoJ’s allegations, saying it was “absurd to claim that Live Nation and Ticketmaster exercise monopoly power.”

He said the lawsuit “ignores everything that is actually responsible for higher ticket prices, from rising production costs to the popularity of artists, to the 24/7 online ticket scalping that shows audiences are willing to pay far more than the primary ticket cost.” . Wall added that “competition in the industry each year drives Live Nation to achieve lower take rates from both concert promotion and ticket sales.”

According to the DoJ, Live Nation directly manages more than 400 music artists and owns or manages more than 60 of the 100 largest amphitheaters in the US. Through Ticketmaster, the group controls about 80 percent of the primary ticket sales of top concert halls, prosecutors said.

The DoJ had greenlighted the merger of Ticketmaster and Live Nation, subject to a 10-year settlement agreement with provisions including barring retaliation against venues that opt ​​for alternative ticketing or promotional services. That agreement was amended and extended in 2019 as the DoJ accused it of “repeatedly” violating the original deal.

Wall said the group was “yet another victim of this administration’s decision to hand over antitrust enforcement to a populist push that simply rejects how antitrust law works.”

It is the latest high-profile monopoly case brought by the DoJ’s antitrust unit, which has adopted a tougher enforcement stance under Kanter. He is among a new generation of progressive officials appointed by President Joe Biden who argue that anticompetitive behavior has skyrocketed in the U.S. economy due to decades of lax enforcement. His department has filed lawsuits against American corporate giants, including Google and Apple.

Fred Rosen, former CEO of Ticketmaster prior to its sale to Live Nation, said he believed the fight against the company does little to address the problem it is trying to combat: expensive tickets.

“Even if they shut down Live Nation, Ticketmaster’s policies won’t change. The company would be self-sustaining at every level,” he said.

Additional reporting by James Fontanella-Khan

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