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By Chris Cooke | Posted on Thursday, October 20, 2022
A coalition of US consumers, artists and lobby groups have come together to demand that the US Department of Justice investigate and possibly unwind the 2010 merger between Live Nation and Ticketmaster. Among the artist groups supporting the campaign are the Artist Rights Alliance and the Future Of Music Coalition.
The 2010 merger of Live Nation – a major player in tour promotion and venue management – and Ticketmaster – the dominant ticketing platform – was controversial at the time and has continued to be criticized by some ever since.
The merger was approved by the competition, or antitrust, division of the DoJ in the United States subject to a consent decree, which regulated – to some extent – how Live Nation and Ticketmaster interacted within the framework of the same company. At various times, Live Nation has been accused of not complying with all of the terms of this consent decree, an allegation the living giant denies.
However, when the DoJ investigated these allegations, it identified a small number of incidents where Live Nation arguably violated the rules of the consent decree. As a result, this agreement – which was originally due to expire in 2020 – has been extended, in a slightly revised form, for a further five years.
Despite the revision and extension of the consent decree, critics of the company on-line – including consumer rights groups, some politicians in Washington, some in the artist community and some of its competitors – have continued to be critical, calling for further investigations and actions by the DoJ. .
The latest campaign calling for such action appears to have been orchestrated by the American Economic Liberties Project, an organization launched in 2020 that says it aims to “help translate the intellectual victories of the anti-monopoly movement into momentum toward political concrete and far-reaching”. changes that begin to respond to the current crisis of concentration of economic power”.
Its executive director, Sarah Miller, says, “Ticketmaster’s market power over live events is defrauding sports and music fans and undermining the vibrancy and independence of the music industry. With new DoJ leadership committed to enforcing antitrust laws, our new campaign helps connect the voices of fans, artists, and other music industry players who are tired of being at the mercy of the Ticketmaster monopoly with executors who have the power to roll it out”.
As part of the campaign, music fans and the music community are invited to send a letter to the DoJ. A page set up on the Action Network platform to facilitate the sending of the letter specifies: “Live Nation/Ticketmaster owns more than 70% of the [US] main market for ticketing and live event venues. They have systematically abused this market power to deceive spectators, sports fans, artists, venues and other ticketing companies. It is time for the Department of Justice to investigate their conduct and dismantle them.”
“When the DoJ cleared the merger in 2010, it said it would promote ‘vigorous competition’ to the ‘benefit of consumers’,” he adds. “Instead, consumers and industry professionals are faced with: an increase in ticket prices; unwanted charges of up to 75% of a ticket’s value; anti-competitive behavior that intimidates venues and independent artists; ticket prices which may change once they have been added to a customer’s shopping cart; and limitations on the purchase of a single ticket”.
“With no competition in the industry, music lovers, sports fans and event goers are completely at the mercy of this mega-company,” he concludes. “The Justice Department needs to hear from people who care about Ticketmaster abuse.”
As the campaign was launched, the Future Of Music Coalition posted a long Twitter thread stating his support. He said: “Too few companies have too much power over music, and that can impact musicians’ ability to reach audiences and their ability to earn a sustainable living. It also harms music communities and fans.”
“How did this happen?” he continued. “It’s partly because federal regulators have allowed too many mergers! The best case scenario is to have lots of different ticketing companies, promoters and independent venues that can meet the needs of the community, competing to be the best partners for musicians and fans, offering a range of options and of models”.
“Consolidation changes the nature of competition. Companies end up focusing more on the calculations to reward investors, on what’s best for the bigger partners; they become less accountable to musicians and fans. When a single company controls the biggest companies in multiple sectors of the music industry, there is a risk of anti-competitive harm and bullying behavior; pressure to do business in a way that benefits the merged company”.
Noting that concerns were raised about the Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger in 2010, the FMC notes that the DoJ’s solution to those concerns was the consent decree. “It may sound weird,” he explains afterwards, “but they actually sent the assistant attorney general to South By Southwest in 2010 to explain why they didn’t block the merger!”
“They asked musicians, venues, booking agents and managers, etc. to monitor any violations of the new consent decree, so that they can enforce these rules,” he continues. “At the time, at FMC, we were doing our best to spread the word about how to help report issues to the DoJ.”
But, well, “it turns out there are a few issues to ask musicians, indie venues, ticketing start-ups, etc. to act as unpaid cops on behalf of the DoJ. Number one on the list: they are afraid of reprisals if they speak out! Additionally, smaller music players may not have access to enough information to know if a breach has occurred. Without expensive legal advice and resources, it can be difficult to figure out if Ticketmaster is breaking the law.”
The FMC then refers to the extension of the consent decree, which followed this investigation by the DoJ which concluded that there had been violations of the 2010 agreement. But, he says, for many, the revision and the extension of the consent decree were just a simple “slap on the wrist”.
“It’s one of the reasons FMC joins allies like the American Economic Liberties Project and the Artist Rights Alliance in arguing that it’s time for the DoJ to admit this approach has failed. It is time to untie the merger, to put an end to any further intimidation of places and artists”.
The FMC admits that the outcome of the Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger would not solve all the problems in the live business and ticket marketing, but says it believes the DoJ needs to apply competition law in a way that does not require independent musicians and music companies to constantly monitor and report on key players in their industry.
We are waiting to see how Live Nation and Ticketmaster react.