Justice Department sues Live Nation, parent of Ticketmaster

Business

Justice Department sues to break up Live Nation

The U.S. Department of Justice is suing to break up Live Nation, the parent company of Ticketmaster, over alleged antitrust violations.

The lawsuit, joined by 30 states and filed Thursday, follows a DOJ investigation into whether Live Nation maintains a monopoly in the ticketing industry, a probe launched in 2022 and bolstered by fan complaints after a botched rollout for tickets to Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour.

“We allege that Live Nation relies on unlawful, anticompetitive conduct to exercise its monopolistic control over the live events industry in the United States at the cost of fans, artists, smaller promoters, and venue operators,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland in a statement. “The result is that fans pay more in fees, artists have fewer opportunities to play concerts, smaller promoters get squeezed out, and venues have fewer real choices for ticketing services. It is time to break up Live Nation-Ticketmaster.”

Shares of Live Nation fell more than 7% on Thursday.

In a statement, Live Nation said the DOJ’s allegations of a monopoly are “absurd.”

“The DOJ’s complaint attempts to portray Live Nation and Ticketmaster as the cause of fan frustration with the live entertainment industry. It blames concert promoters and ticketing companies—neither of which control ticket prices—for high ticket prices. It ignores everything that is actually responsible for higher ticket prices, from increasing production costs to artist popularity, to 24/7 online ticket scalping that reveals the public’s willingness to pay far more than primary tickets cost,” said Dan Wall, Live Nation executive vice president for corporate and regulatory affairs.

Venue dominance

Live Nation and Ticketmaster merged in 2010, creating a dominant entity in the live event industry. The company directly manages more than 400 artists, controls around 60% of concert promotions at major concert venues, operates and manages ticket sales for live entertainment globally, and also owns and operates more than 265 entertainment venues in North America, including over 60 of the top 100 amphitheaters, according to the DOJ lawsuit.

Through Ticketmaster, Live Nation controls roughly 80% or more of major concert venues’ primary ticketing for concerts, the complaint said.

“Taken individually and considered together, Live Nation’s and Ticketmaster’s conduct allows them to exploit their conflicts of interest — as a promoter, ticketer, venue owner and artist manager — across the live music industry and further entrench their dominant position,” the complaint reads.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland takes questions from reporters during a news conference at the Department of Justice Building on May 23, 2024 in Washington, DC. 

Kent Nishimura | Getty Images

The Justice Department lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, accuses Live Nation of violating the Sherman Act and maintaining a self-reinforcing business model by capturing fees and revenue from concert fans and sponsorships, which it then uses to lock artists into exclusive promotion deals that give the artists access to key entertainment venues across the country. Live Nation then uses that dominance to lock new concert venues into long-term exclusionary contracts, thereby restarting the cycle, the lawsuit claims.

Live Nation is also accused of threatening financial retaliation against potential competitors and venues that work with rivals; strategically acquiring smaller and regional competitive threats for the purpose of growing their competitive moat; and exploiting a relationship with venue partner Oak View Group, flipping the latter’s contracts over to Ticketmaster and discouraging competition in concert promotions.

The lawsuit claims that Live Nation has discouraged bidding wars for artists and has unlawfully pressured artists into signing on for promotional services if they want to use the company’s venues, at times sacrificing profits it can earn as a venue owner by preferring to let its venues sit empty rather than have artists with other promotional contracts.

“In its own words, Live Nation uses its exclusionary conduct as a ‘hedge against significant improvements by the competition or even a new competitor.’ But the cost of that hedge is one that we all pay, for example a broken ticketing website with substandard customer service that still captures your valuable data,” Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter said during a press conference.

“It is through these exclusive ticketing arrangements that Americans face the dreaded Ticketmaster tax, the seemingly endless set of fees ironically named service fee or convenience fee when they are anything but,” Kanter said.

Ticket prices

Live Nation made headlines last year when a surge of demand from 14 million users, including bots, for Taylor Swift concert tickets led to site disruptions and slow queues. A Senate subcommittee issued a subpoena to Live Nation and Ticketmaster in November 2023, following a monthslong probe prompted by the exorbitant inflated ticket prices in Swift’s Eras Tour.

Steep prices for the U.S. shows led scores of fans to seek out tickets to Swift’s tour in other countries, which could often be cheaper even after international air travel.

“In other countries where venues are not bound by Ticketmaster’s exclusive ticketing contracts, venues often use multiple ticketing companies for the same event and fans see lower fees and more innovative ticketing products as a result,” Garland said in a news conference.

Live Nation said Thursday it doesn’t benefit from monopoly pricing, saying that Ticketmaster service charges “are no higher than elsewhere, and frequently lower.” The company noted its overall net profit margin is at the low end of S&P 500 companies.

Live Nation further argued the lawsuit won’t reduce ticket prices or service fees. It said artist teams set prices for their tickets and the venues set and keep the majority of ticket fees.

“Some call this ‘anti-monopoly’, but in reality it is just anti-business,” Live Nation’s Wall said. “There is no legal basis for objecting to vertical integration on these grounds.”

Live Nation earlier this month reported its “biggest Q1 ever,” citing first-quarter revenue that was up 21% from the prior-year period.

The company has also been in the public eye in the past year over transparency issues regarding hidden fees in ticket pricing.

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