Wednesday, June 19, 2024

US Sues to Break Up Ticketmaster and Live Nation, Alleging Monopoly Abuse

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In the second case, a class action brought in 2022 on behalf of Ticketmaster customers in the US, Live Nation and Ticketmaster were accused of abusing the complementary relationship between their services to overcharge consumers and sustain their monopoly. “Live Nation controls the vast majority of the big national touring acts and, either explicitly or implicitly, coerces concert venues into selecting Ticketmaster as their ticketing service provider on pain of losing high-value acts,” claims Adam Wolfson, a partner at Quinn Emanuel, the law firm representing the plaintiffs.

This type of conduct, known as tying, was explicitly forbidden under the consent decree imposed upon Live Nation and Ticketmaster by the DOJ as a condition of their 2010 merger. “Our allegation is that they did it anyway,” says Wolfson. “Ticketmaster’s behavior is an open secret—everyone talks about it.”

In a corporate blog post published in March, Dan Wall, executive vice president of corporate and regulatory affairs at Live Nation, rejected allegations that Ticketmaster is driving up the price of tickets. The face value of a ticket is decided by the artist, he wrote, while the service charge—from which Ticketmaster draws its cut—is set by the venue.

In a call with reporters, a senior DOJ official described this line of defense as a “red herring” in the context of the alleged antitrust violations. “Our position is that removing the chokehold that Live Nation has at all levels of the ecosystem will be beneficial with respect to the way prices are set.”

A problem common to antitrust disputes, says Bradley Justus, an antitrust attorney at law firm Axinn, is the difficulty in distinguishing easily between practices that amount to anticompetitive behavior and those that might be considered sensible business strategy. The DOJ will argue that the exclusive deals entered into by Ticketmaster are categorically anticompetitive. “The antitrust question is: How extensive is the scope of those agreements? Are they truly so broad that another competitor couldn’t enter and scale?” says Justus.

The DOJ claims that the terms of the contracts mean that “venues cannot consider or choose rival ticketers or switch to better or more cost-effective ticketing technology.” The effect, it claims, is both to stifle competitors and minimize the pressure for Ticketmaster to improve its own product, to the detriment of concertgoers.

Although the DOJ has petitioned for Live Nation to be broken up, it has not outlined the specific structural changes it will go after, nor any injunctions it may try to impose with respect to the company’s exclusive contracts. “A breakup is absolutely on the table, but it’s important not to put the cart before the horse. In antitrust cases, any remedy has to be specifically tailored to the violation found,” a senior DOJ official told the press. “Based on the allegation that Live Nation and Ticketmaster have exerted control at every level of the ecosystem, aspects of the company need to be broken apart in order for competition to flourish in the live music industry.”

Updated 12:05 pm ET, May 23, 2024: Added statement from Live Nation.

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