US sues Live Nation over alleged gig monopoly

AFP

The US Justice Department and more than two dozen states have sued to break up Live Nation saying the concert promoter and its Ticketmaster unit illegally inflated concert ticket prices and hurt artists.

"It is time to break up Live Nation,” said US Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Concert fans and politicians for years have been calling for a re-examination of Live Nation's purchase of Ticketmaster in 2010, especially after the ticket seller in 2022 botched sales to Taylor Swift's first concert tour in years, sending fans into hours-long online queues, charging prices that customers said were too high and drawing charges of poor service.

Thursday's legal action underscores the aggressive approach President Joe Biden's antitrust enforcers have adopted as they seek to create more competition in a wide range of industries, from Big Tech to healthcare to groceries.

Live Nation "suffocates its competition," said Garland, who quoted a Swift song during the lawsuit press conference. It 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,” Garland said, adding that as a result fans pay more in fees, artists have fewer opportunities to perform and smaller promoters get squeezed out.

Shares of Live Nation were down 8.3 per cent on Thursday afternoon.

In the lawsuit, the Justice Department and states asked the court to “order the divestiture of, at minimum, Ticketmaster, along with any additional relief as needed to cure any anticompetitive harm.”

Live Nation called the lawsuit a possible "PR win for the DOJ in the short term," but said the entertainment company would prevail in court. The lawsuit "won't solve the issues fans care about relating to ticket prices, service fees, and access to in-demand shows."

"There is more competition than ever in the live events market," it added.

Wall Street firm Guggenheim Partners, which has a "buy" rating on the stock, called the DOJ case "weak" and "purely politics in an election year to win over voters."

The lawsuit says Live Nation directly manages more than 400 musical artists and controls around 60 per cent of concert promotions at major venues. It owns or controls more than 265 concert venues in North America, and through Ticketmaster controls roughly 80 per cent or more of big venues’ primary ticketing for concerts.

In a filing in the Southern District of New York, the DOJ argued the "vast scope" of Live Nation and Ticketmaster allowed them to "insert themselves at the center and the edges of virtually every aspect of the live music ecosystem."

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar welcomed the lawsuit, noting the "live event entertainment experience has become increasingly out of reach for many Americans." She added that Congress should take action and pass her legislation to create "guard rails to promote healthy competition in the ticketing market."

A bipartisan group of attorneys general including from New York, California, Florida and Texas joined the DOJ's lawsuit.

In 2010, the Justice Department approved Ticketmaster's controversial merger with Live Nation, with conditions intended to stop the combined company from harming competition.

In 2020, a court extended most of the DOJ's oversight of the merger to 2025 because, the department said, Ticketmaster retaliated against stadiums and arenas that opted to use other ticketing companies.

The Justice Department said its prior case against Live Nation “tried to protect what should be a dynamic, thriving industry." The government alleged Live Nation has shown since then “additional, different, and more expansive forms of anticompetitive conduct and exclusionary practices.”

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