US sues in bid to break up Ticketmaster owner

 Fans watch Taylor Swift perform onstage during night two of "Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour" at La Defense on 10 May, 2024 in Paris, France.Image source, Getty Images
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Live Nation has faced criticism from fans, lawmakers, artists and competitors

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US regulators have sued Live Nation, accusing the entertainment giant of using illegal tactics to maintain a monopoly over the live music industry.

The lawsuit from the Department of Justice said the firm's practices had kept out competitors, and led to higher ticket prices and worse service for customers.

Attorney General Merrick Garland called on the courts to break up the company.

Live Nation said in a statement on its website that claims that it wielded monopoly power were "absurd".

It said the lawsuit "ignores everything that is actually responsible for higher ticket prices" citing online ticket scalping, artist popularity and higher production costs.

Along with its subsidiary, Ticketmaster, Live Nation puts on concerts, sells tickets and owns venues, serving multiple roles that the Department of Justice said had turned it into a "gatekeeper" for the industry.

It owns more than 250 venues in the US and manages about 60% of concert promotions at major venues nationwide, according to the lawsuit, which was brought by the federal government's Department of Justice, as well as 30 states.

The company also controls approximately 80% of all major entertainment ticket sales via Ticketmaster, the lawsuit said.

It said the company had maintained its position by using exclusive long-term deals, threatening venues that used rival ticketing firms, acquiring potential competitors, tying use of its venues to its promotion services, and deploying other practices.

Mr Garland said the result was that venues had fewer "real choices" of ticketing services and Ticketmaster could impose "seemingly endless" fees on fans.

He said the firm had also squeezed out smaller promoters and limited artists' opportunities to perform.

Image source, Getty Images
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US Attorney General Merrick Garland called on the courts to break up Live Nation

"Live Nation controls the live entertainment industry in the United States because it is breaking the law," he said at a press conference announcing the lawsuit.

"It is time to break it up," he added.

Live Nation said the lawsuit reflected political pressures and a White House that had turned over competition enforcement "to a populist urge that simply rejects how antitrust law works".

"Some call this “Anti-Monopoly”, but in reality it is just anti-business," it said.

It said its share of the market had been shrinking and its profit margin of 1.4% was the "opposite of monopoly power".

The lawsuit "won't solve the issues fans care about relating to ticket prices, service fees, and access to in-demand shows," the company said.

"We will defend against these baseless allegations, use this opportunity to shed light on the industry, and continue to push for reforms that truly protect consumers and artists."

Live Nation Entertainment was created by the merger in 2010 of US-based events promoter Live Nation and ticket sales and distribution company Ticketmaster.

Under the Obama administration, the US approved the deal despite concerns that it would create a giant capable of dominating the live entertainment industry.

But the company has faced years of criticism from fans, lawmakers, artists and competitors that it wielded too much influence over live entertainment events in the US and around the world.

In 2022, website failures that many Taylor Swift fans encountered when they tried to buy tickets for her US tour, focused attention on the issue.

John Breyault of the National Consumers League, who has been calling for action over Ticketmaster and Live Nation for years, said regulators had made a "bad bet" in 2010 and the lawsuit was long overdue.

He said it was "unknowable" if a break-up of the company would help reduce prices for the public.

But he said he would expect to see more choice of ticketing services, and a less frustrating process for people trying to buy in-demand shows if the government is successful in court.

"Anybody who tried to go buy tickets to go see Taylor Swift can tell you that the experience is pretty terrible," he said.

Now, he said, "consumers have nowhere else to go so there's no downside for the company. I think that will change if this lawsuit is successful," he said.