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The US sues Ticketmaster for driving up live event fees

The US Justice Department has filed an antitrust lawsuit against Ticketmaster parent company Live Nation, seeking a breakup of its alleged live event ticketing monopoly.



The US sues Ticketmaster for driving up live event fees
The US sues Ticketmaster for driving up live event fees

The US Justice Department and 30 state and district attorneys general have filed an antitrust lawsuit against Ticketmaster and its parent company, Live Nation Entertainment, alleging that it has a monopoly in the live ticketing industry that enables it to illegally suppress competition.

“It is time to break up Live Nation-Ticketmaster,” US Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

The DOJ alleges that Live Nation’s dominance — which spans ticket sales, promotion, artist management, and venue ownership — has given the company unfair commercial advantages over rivals. In particular, its alleged ticketing monopoly has reduced consumer choice, resulting in higher prices, according to the government. Live Nation owns or controls over 265 concert venues in North America, according to the DOJ, which includes more than 60 of the top 100 US amphitheaters.

A ruling in the government’s favor could eventually unwind the Ticketmaster merger

The government alleges that Live Nation and Ticketmaster engaged in anticompetitive practices to protect a cycle that feeds it revenue, which the company calls its “flywheel,” according to the DOJ. In that cycle, Live Nation-Ticketmaster allegedly “captures fees and revenue from concert fans and sponsorship, uses that revenue to lock up artists to exclusive promotion deals, and then uses its powerful cache of live content to sign venues into long term exclusive ticketing deals, thereby starting the cycle all over again,” according to the DOJ press release.

Live Nation, the self-proclaimed “largest live entertainment company in the world,” drew antitrust scrutiny when it merged with ticketing giant Ticketmaster in 2010. At the time, President Barack Obama’s Justice Department was criticized for allowing the merger despite concerns that it would give the unified companies too much control over the live entertainment industry. While the DOJ hasn’t said at this stage what exactly a breakup should look like, a ruling in the government’s favor could eventually result in an effective unwinding of the Ticketmaster merger.

DOJ antitrust chief Jonathan Kanter explained why the government is calling for a breakup during a press conference. “Some monopolies are just so entrenched, and some problems so difficult to address that they require decisive and effective solutions,” he said.

In 2019, the DOJ and Live Nation agreed to update and extend the 2010 consent decree they entered when the government allowed the merger to go through without a challenge. That update clarified prohibitions on certain behaviors the government feared could harm competition, like threatening venues with withholding concerts if they chose a different ticketing platform. But senior DOJ officials told reporters from several publications on a background call Thursday that the conduct it alleges in its lawsuit is broader and more recent in scope and centers on violations of antimonopoly law rather than merger law.

Concerns over Live Nation’s dominance came to a head in November 2022 when Ticketmaster crashed due to “unprecedented demand,” preventing thousands of Taylor Swift fans from purchasing Eras Tour tickets. The DOJ’s antitrust investigation into Live Nation was reportedly opened shortly after this incident, according to The New York Times.

In the complaint, the DOJ details several methods that Live Nation-Ticketmaster allegedly used to lock up the market. For example, it alleges that the company “exploits” its relationship with “potential competitor-turned-partner” Oak View Group, which manages live events venues but has “avoided bidding against Live Nation for artist talent.” Live Nation-Ticketmaster has also “threatened financial retaliation” to keep new entrants out of the market, according to the government, and retaliated against venues that work with its rivals. The company also creates exclusionary contracts to keep venues from switching to rivals or using multiple ticketers, the government alleges.

Live Nation responded to the lawsuit in a blog post, saying that the government “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.” Live Nation called it “absurd to claim that Live Nation and Ticketmaster are wielding monopoly power” since its service charges are often lower than other places and it isn’t even that profitable.

The government is demanding a jury for the trial, stemming from some of the claims under the states parties’ laws. The bipartisan group of states joining the lawsuit includes California, Colorado, Florida, and Texas.

The lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York, represents the third major tech anti-monopoly complaint filed under Kanter within two years. Kanter’s division also filed suit against Google and Apple under Section 2 of the Sherman Act and just wrapped up another Google trial, which kicked off during the previous administration.

Update, May 23rd: This article has been updated to include comment from Live Nation.