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Live Nation disputes merits of DOJ antitrust suit joined by Brown, others


Live Nation disputes merits of DOJ antitrust suit joined by Brown, others

May 28, 2024 | 7:50 pm ET
By William J. Ford
Live Nation disputes merits of DOJ antitrust suit joined by Brown, others
Maryland Attorney General Anthony G. Brown (D). Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

Live Nation Entertainment Inc. is pushing back against an antitrust lawsuit brought by the Justice Department and 30 attorneys general, including Maryland’s, a suit it said makes “absurd” claims and will do little to benefit consumers.

“DOJ is not helping consumers with their actual problems,” according to the statement released Thursday by Dan Wall, executive vice president of corporate and regulatory affairs for Live Nation. “This is why the government has never been less popular — because they pretend they are fixing your problems when instead they are pandering to a narrow set of political interests.”

But Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown (D), who joined the lawsuit last week, said Live Nation and Ticketmaster, the targets of the suit, control too much of the market to the detriment of consumers.

“When the world’s largest live entertainment company illegally dominates ticket sales, artist management and promotion, and venue choices, fans are the ones who are hurt the most,” Brown said in a statement. “This unlawful conduct drives up prices, leaves fans with poor customer service, and limits opportunities for people’s access to live entertainment.”

Brown said that Live Nation serves as the exclusive ticketer for all large concert venues in the state, including The Fillmore in Silver Spring, Pier Six Pavilion in Baltimore and Maryland Hall in Annapolis.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, claims Live Nation Entertainment Inc. has illegally monopolized the entertainment industry. The 128-page suit says that Live Nation, which merged with Ticketmaster in 2010, controls at least 80% of primary ticketing at major concert venues.

In addition, the suit alleges Live Nation manages more than 400 musical artists, owns or controls more than 265 concert venues in North America that include at least 60 of the top 100 amphitheaters in the U.S. Its closest rival owns “no more than a handful of top amphitheaters.”

The suit claims with a monopoly on the live venue market, Live Nation has charged higher fees to customers and limited consumer choices.

Live Nation, according to the suit, brings in more than $22 billion in revenue a year globally divided into three segments: concerts, ticketing, and sponsorship and advertising.

Despite a consent decree with the Justice Department that was issued when Live Nation and Ticketmaster merged in 2010 – and updated in 2020 for an additional five years – the suit alleges various antitrust laws have been violated.

“The live music industry, like other heavily concentrated industries, is largely controlled by a well-known group of insiders who lead multiple interconnected companies with numerous conflicts of interest,” the suit said.

“These insiders have spent decades amassing, fortifying, and exercising power, particularly against anyone who seeks to disrupt the now-standard industry business practices and conduct. These business practices can, and often do, work against the interests of those with relatively little power and influence, especially working musicians and fans,” it said.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement when the suit was announced that “it is time to break up Live Nation-Ticketmaster.”

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for Southern District of New York, asks the court to prohibit Live Nation from engaging in unlawful anticompetitive practices; to require it to divest from Ticketmaster, or no longer own it; and to secure redress for all victims harmed by Live Nation’s allegedly anticompetitive scheme.

Other state attorneys general who joined in the suit include those from Arizona, Florida, Illinois, New York and Washington, D.C., among others.

Live Nation response

The company released a detailed response to the suit that includes charts and graphics showing it has a relatively small profit margin compared to other companies; challenging as “disingenuous” a claim that Oak View Group, a company has never promoted concerts, was a potential rival to Live Nation; and saying that “exclusivity is a product of competition for venues, not an anticompetitive practice.”

Wall wrote the DOJ permitted the merger with Ticketmaster in 2010 and appointed someone with the federal agency to keep “close tabs” on Ticketmaster’s negotiations with venues, and to ensure the company is not using concert content to drive ticketing deals.

Wall pointed to one alleged violation of antitrust rules cited in the suit that he said involved the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York – even though the center was not specifically named. Wall said the alleged infraction occurred at a time when the center had temporarily switched from Ticketmaster to SeatGeek.

According to Billboard in January 2023, Barclays Center dumped SeatGeek due to ongoing technical issues regarding ticket sales.

“Even if DOJ’s version of the Barclay’s story were true (which it is not), violating the consent decree with respect to one venue out of thousands would not amount to a violation of the antitrust laws, which famously concern themselves with competition, not competitors,” Wall wrote.

“At the end of the day, nothing about this isolated incident (which DOJ willfully mischaracterizes) or anything else in this complaint affords any basis for DOJ to disregard, undo and upend the deal it made approving the Live Nation-Ticketmaster merger and its own statements to a federal judge that complaints about the vertical combination lacked merit,” he wrote.