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‘It is time to break up Live Nation’: DOJ sues Ticketmaster parent over alleged monopoly

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking to break up Live Nation, the parent company of Ticketmaster, alleging it has hurt consumers and violated antitrust laws by exercising outsize control over the live events industry.

The suit, filed in the Southern District of New York and backed by attorneys general for 29 states plus Washington, D.C., alleges that Live Nation has engaged in practices that harm the entire live entertainment industry — from artists and fans to venues and startups seeking to break into the business.

It says Live Nation directly manages more than 400 musical artists, controls 60% of concert promotions at major venues and, through Ticketmaster, controls roughly 80% or more of major concert venues’ ticketing — plus a growing share of the resale market.

“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,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a news release. “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.”

Among the accusations against Live Nation:

In a statement, Live Nation said that the Justice Department’s allegations were ‘baseless’ and that its actions would prove counterproductive.

‘The DOJ’s lawsuit won’t solve the issues fans care about relating to ticket prices, service fees, and access to in-demand shows,’ it said. ‘Calling Ticketmaster a monopoly may be a PR win for the DOJ in the short term, but it will lose in court because it ignores the basic economics of live entertainment, such as the fact that the bulk of service fees go to venues, and that competition has steadily eroded Ticketmaster’s market share and profit margin.’

The company also disputed that it plays a dominant role, saying Ticketmaster’s market share has been declining for more than a decade.

And it said the suit ignores key factors that have made the live entertainment and ticket-buying experience for fans worse, like increasing production costs, surging artist popularity and 24/7 online ticket scalping. 

‘Live Nation can offer and has offered fans, artists, venues and the rest of the performance ecosystem better prices and better services than they would receive if these complementary businesses were separated,’ it said. ‘Ticketmaster in particular is a far better, more artist- and fan-focused business under Live Nation’s ownership than it ever was as a standalone company. But that’s not how this DOJ sees it.’

Ticketmaster has faced gripes from fans and artist for years. The ire reached a fever pitch in 2022 following a botched ticket rollout for Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour. The Senate Judiciary Committee subsequently held a hearing on the company’s role in the ticketing industry.

Thursday’s lawsuit joins a handful of other major antitrust efforts initiated under President Joe Biden, who has made rooting out alleged monopolies a cornerstone of his presidency. In July 2021, he signed an executive order to promote competition. Among the biggest such actions the Biden administration has taken, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit in March accusing Apple of exercising monopoly power over the smartphone market, which it has denied.

Biden has said that while he is “proud capitalist,” “capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism; it’s exploitation.”

Several bills have been introduced over the past year to address issues affecting ticket buyers. The House last week passed the Transparency in Charges for Key Events Ticketing (TICKET) Act, which would require sellers to disclose all costs and fees upfront when they list tickets for sale.

Live Nation supported the move and said it backs ticketing reforms such as anti-bot legislation and banning speculative tickets, or the sale of tickets that are not currently in the seller’s possession.

“Bipartisan support for these reforms show that protecting fans and artists is in everyone’s interest,” the company said in a statement. “We look forward to working with policymakers to make these changes law.”

Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., who introduced the BOSS and SWIFT acts last year to combat deceptive ticketing practices, called the suit ‘one of the most fan-friendly moves by our federal government in many years.’ He added that Live Nation and Ticketmaster should not have been allowed to merge.

“This news is a victory for the millions of American fans who have been taken advantage of, screwed, ripped off, and outright robbed by this corrupt and greedy entity,” Pascrell said in a statement.

Recently, over 250 artists signed a letter in support of the Fans First Act, which was introduced in the Senate in December. The bill seeks to improve price transparency and consumer protections, as well as prevent bad actors from charging exorbitant prices. It would also bolster the Better Online Ticket Sales Act, passed in 2016 to prohibit scalpers from using software to buy tickets in bulk, by further prohibiting the use of bots in ticket sales.

Dan Wall, Live Nation’s executive vice president for corporate and regulatory affairs, wrote on the Live Nation website in March that Ticketmaster is misperceived as an “enormous ticket retailer that acquires vast quantities of tickets and puts them up for sale at prices Ticketmaster determines. In reality, he said, ticket prices are set by artists and sports teams.

Consumer advocacy groups cheered reports this year that the Justice Department was planning to sue Live Nation.

A case against the company would show “the severity of this situation and the need for action to protect fans,” the president of the Fan Fairness Coalition, Mark Meador, a Republican antitrust expert, said in a statement in April.

“This will be a critical step in holding Ticketmaster and Live Nation accountable for monopolistic, anticompetitive business practices that have eroded free market competition in the live event ticketing industry and hurt millions of fans,” he said.

In a statement, a group representing independent venues hailed the Justice Department’s actions.

‘We hope that the suit filed today will ultimately produce a meaningful result that will benefit fans, artists, independent venues and festivals, along with the businesses that surround us across the country,’ said Stephen Parker, executive director of the National Independent Venue Association.

Ticketmaster has argued that artists and their teams set the terms for how tickets are rolled out. In a webpage titled Ticketing Truths, it says acts are responsible for setting face-value ticket prices. And in collaboration with managers, agents and promoters, artists also decide which venues to play, when to put tickets on sale and how to sell them, it says.

As for service fees — a frequent target of criticism among fans — the company says they are set by venues, which also keep most of the fee proceeds. “Some portion” of fee revenue goes to the ticketing company and to pay credit card fees.

This post appeared first on NBC NEWS

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