Activist Group Asks Justice Dept. to Unwind Live Nation and Ticketmaster Merger

Calls to break up Live Nation Entertainment are getting louder.

The American Economic Liberties Project, a nonprofit advocating for more aggressive antitrust enforcement, urged the Department of Justice on Wednesday to unwind the merger between Ticketmaster and Live Nation for allegedly price gouging customers in addition to strong-arming artists and venues into accepting unfavorable conditions. In a letter to the DOJ obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, the group claims that the live-events behemoth continues to violate the conditions of a 2010 settlement greenlighting the deal.

“Ticketmaster’s market power over live events is ripping off sports and music fans and undermining the vibrancy and independence of the music industry,” said Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project. “With new leadership at the DOJ committed to enforcing the antitrust laws, our new campaign helps connect the voices of fans, artists and others in the music business who are sick and tired of being at the mercy of Ticketmaster’s monopoly with enforcers who have the power to unwind it.”

Related

Ticketmaster and Live Nation merged in 2009, two years after the live-events organizer announced plans to build its own ticketing service. Prior to the deal, Live Nation was Ticketmaster’s largest customer.

The merger was met with pushback. Bruce Springsteen, upset at Ticketmaster for steering concertgoers toward its own secondary ticketing platform, wrote in a 2009 letter to his fans that  “the one thing that would make the current ticket situation even worse for the fan than it is now would be Ticketmaster and Live Nation coming up with a single system, thereby returning us to a near monopoly situation in music ticketing.” (Springsteen’s current tour lists dates with Ticketmaster listings.) 

At the time, David Balto, an antitrust attorney at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, testified to the Senate that the combined company “will cut off the air supply for any future rival to challenge its monopoly in the ticket distribution market,” and use its newfound reach to “diminish competition in independent concert promotion.”

Antitrust regulators approved the deal with certain conditions. They required Ticketmaster to sell its ticketing service subsidiary, Paciolan, to Comcast and to license its ticketing software to Live Nation’s rival, AEG. The new company was also not allowed to bundle or retaliate against venues for working with other ticketing services.

The American Economic Liberties Project argues that Live Nation is violating the consent decree. It points to conditioning the availability of the company’s performers to independent venues using Ticketmaster’s services.

“Live Nation essentially uses its concert promotion services to bully venues away from using the few competitors that Ticketmaster still has,” states an analysis from the group. “If a venue opts not to use those services, Live Nation retaliates by effectively boycotting the venue. Because Live Nation controls so much of the market for concert promotion, being able to book performers who contract with Live Nation can make or break a venue’s ability to survive.”

In 2019, the DOJ found that Live Nation had been violating the terms of the settlement by forcing venues to accept Ticketmaster’s ticketing services as a condition for hosting Live Nation performers and retaliating against those that refused. The agency, in turn, threatened to assess monetary penalties for additional violations and installed a monitor tasked with investigating further breaches of the consent decree, which was extended until 2025.

The organization also claims that Ticketmaster wouldn’t be able to charge hidden and excessive fees if it weren’t an illegal monopoly and that it facilitates price gouging by encouraging scalping. The company runs a secondary ticket market called Ticketmaster Resale, where they charge a second, more lucrative fee in addition to the fee assessed on its primary ticket market. By allowing scalpers to buy up the majority of tickets, Ticketmaster can essentially assess a second fee on consumers who missed out on the initial sale of concert tickets.

“Ticketmaster has an incentive to minimize the genuine sales by concertgoers on the primary market, by either restricting sales or allowing scalpers to buy, and then profiting from the price gouging in the secondary market, where consumers pay far more,” the analysis states. (The American Economic Liberties Project’s petition is here.)

This article was originally published on THR.com.