A broad coalition of consumers, artists and lobby groups have joined forces to demand that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) investigate and reverse the 2010 merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster.
Live Nation is a dominant player in tour promotion and venue management, and Ticketmaster is the dominant ticketing platform. Their 2010 merger was widely criticized as anti-competitive, but was ultimately approved by the DOJ’s antitrust divisions, subject to a consent decree controlling how the two companies would interact as a single business.
In particular, the approval decree prohibits the merged company from retaliating against venues for working with other ticketing services. The coalition says the merged companies continued to violate the terms of the consent decree, price-gouging customers, and powerful performers and venues agreeing to their unfair terms.
The coalition says Live Nation is using its concert promotion services to force the venue to use Ticketmaster instead of its few remaining competitors. If a venue decides not to use Ticketmaster, Live Nation will effectively boycott that venue. Venues are ultimately forced to acquiesce to Live Nation’s demands because it’s so difficult to book artists who aren’t booked through Live Nation.
In fact, in 2019, a DOJ investigation found that Live Nation did just that. The DOJ has set up a monitor to investigate further violations of the consent decree, though it has been extended through 2025.
The coalition further claims that since Ticketmaster is taxed on almost every venue that books a Live Nation show, it may charge excessive fees because there is effectively no other alternative. This leads to a familiar situation for many spectators – hidden fees and service charges that can be close to the original ticket price.
The coalition further points out that Ticketmaster operates its own resale site, where it charges higher additional fees on top of the fees imposed on the initial sale. They claim that by allowing and encouraging scalpers to rush in and buy all the tickets up front, Ticketmaster can then collect a second royalty from viewers who were unlucky enough to be excluded during the initial ticket sale and are now trying to buy on the secondary market, at a very inflated price.
This, of course, only works when demand for tickets exceeds supply. As ticket prices continue to rise and it becomes increasingly difficult for spectators to purchase them directly, supply may begin to outstrip demand.
The consent decree remains in place until 2025. While it seems unlikely the DOJ will take action until it’s time to consider renewing, that hasn’t stopped a wide variety of organizations to lobby for the dissolution of companies.