Justice Department Investigating Live Nation Entertainment Over Monopoly Concerns: Report

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a statement issued from Live Nation.

The U.S. Department of Justice has reportedly opened an antitrust investigation into Live Nation, news that comes nearly two years after the DOJ agreed to extend the 2010 consent decree that allowed the 2009 Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger – despite finding that the world’s biggest promoter and ticketing company has “repeatedly violated” the decree’s stipulations.

The New York Times reports that the investigation is “focused on whether Live Nation Entertainment has abused its power over the multibillion-dollar live music industry,” citing two people with knowledge of the matter. The Times added that the “inquiry appears to be broad, looking at whether the company maintains a monopoly over the industry,” according to one of the publication’s sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Live Nation Entertainment stock prices plunged following publication of The New York Times’ story with LYV trading down 7.85% to $66.21 at close of trading.

Although the Times broke the story Friday as headlines continue to swirl about Ticketmaster’s mishandling of the onsale for Taylor Swift’s 52-date stadium tour – with Swift herself releasing a statement via her Instagram Stories on Friday that seemingly pointed a finger at the ticketing behemoth – the NYT points out that its sources say the investigation has been ongoing prior to the onsale.

Earlier this week several members of the United States House of Representatives responded to the Swift onsale woes by taking to Twitter to criticize the 2009 Live Nation / Ticketmaster merger.

It should be noted that Swift’s “The Eras Tour” is not promoted by Live Nation. Rather, the trek is produced in-house by Taylor Swift Touring and promoted by The Messina Touring Group, which is a partner with AEG Presents, Live Nation’s top competitor.

In Swift’s statement on Instagram Stories she noted that she’s brought so many elements of her career in house “SPECIFICALLY to improve the quality of my fans’ experience by doing it myself with my team who care as much about my fans as I do. It’s really difficult for me to trust an outside entity with these relationships and loyalties, and excruciating for me to just watch mistakes happen with no recourse.”

She added, “There are a multitude of reasons why people had such a hard time trying to get tickets and I”m trying to figure out how this situation can be improved moving forward. I’m not going to make excuses for anyone because we asked them multiple times, if they could handle this kind of demand and we were assured they could. It’s truly amazing that 2.4 million people got tickets, but it really pisses me off that a lot of them feel like they went through several bear attacks to get them.”

Congressman David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, was one of the representatives who spoke out about Swift’s onsale debacle, tweeting Nov. 15: “[email protected]’s excessive wait times and fees are completely unacceptable, as seen with today’s @taylorswift13 tickets, and are a symptom of a larger problem. It’s no secret that Live Nation-Ticketmaster is an unchecked monopoly.”

He added, “The merger of these companies should never have been allowed in the first place, which is why I have joined @FrankPallone, @RepJerryNadler, and @BillPascrell to call on the DOJ to investigate Live Nation’s efforts to jack up prices and strangle competition.”

The tweet included an image of a letter dated April 19, 2021, that was addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Acting Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Kelly Slaughter in support of “strong antitrust enforcement by the Biden Administration, including the live event ticket sales marketplace.”

On Friday Cicilline posted a link to the Times’ Justice Department story on Twitter and added, “As I said earlier this week, Live Nation-Ticketmaster is an unchecked monopoly— this investigation is warranted and long overdue.”

The New York Times reports that the Justice Department’s investigation has involved members of the antitrust division’s staff contacting “music venues and players in the ticket market” in recent months to ask about “Live Nation’s practices and the wider dynamics of the industry,” according to its sources.

Live Nation released a statement Nov. 19 seemingly in response to reports of the Department of Justice investigation, saying, “As we have stated many times in the past, Live Nation takes its responsibilities under the antitrust laws seriously and does not engage in behaviors that could justify antitrust litigation, let alone orders that would require it to alter fundamental business practices. …”

The statement added, in part: “For the past 12 years Live Nation has operated under a Consent Decree that among other things seeks to prevent anticompetitive leveraging of Live Nation promoted content to advantage Ticketmaster. Pursuant to the Amended Decree voluntarily entered in 2020, Live Nation’s compliance is monitored by a former federal judge. There never has been and is not now any evidence of systemic violations of the Consent Decree. It remains against Live Nation policy to threaten venues that they won’t get Live Nation shows if they do not use Ticketmaster, and Live Nation does not re-route content as retaliation for a lost ticketing deal.”

In January 2020, just months before COVID shut down live events, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a “Memorandum In Support Of Motion To Modify Final Judgment And Enter Amended Final Judgment” against Live Nation. As previously reported, the U.S. Department of Justice found that Live Nation and Ticketmaster had “repeatedly violated” the consent decree, with the memorandum written by DOJ Antitrust Division lawyer Meagan K. Bellshaw stating that “the Defendant [Live Nation] failed to live up to their end of the bargain.”

That said, Live Nation and the DOJ agreed to modify the terms of the 2010 consent decree and extended it for five and a half years through the end of 2025.

The DOJ’s memorandum stated that Live Nation was “retaliating against concert venues for using another ticketing company, or conditioning or threatening to condition Live Nation’s provision of concerts and other live events on a venue’s purchase of Ticketmaster’s ticketing service … Specifically, Defendants have repeatedly conditioned and threatened to condition Live Nation’s provision of live concerts on a venue’s purchase of Ticketmaster ticketing services, and they have retaliated against venues that opted to use competing ticketing services – all in violation of the plain language of the decree. Indeed, Defendants’ well-earned reputation for threatening behavior and retaliation in violation of the Final Judgment has so permeated the industry that venues are afraid to leave Ticketmaster lest they risk losing Live Nation concerts, hindering effective competition for primary ticketing services.”

The violations were said to have occurred “shortly after the decree was entered in 2010 and have recurred throughout its term, with the most recent known violation occurring as late as March 2019.” As previously reported, the memorandum stated that violations occured at six venues identified as Venues A through Venue F, which lost or were threatened with losing Live Nation shows for using or considering a non-Ticketmaster ticketing service.

Live Nation denied any wrongdoing, stating that it “settled this matter to make clear that it has no interest in threatening or retaliating against venues that consider or choose other ticketing companies. We strongly disagree with the DOJ’s allegations in the filing and the conclusions they seek to draw from six isolated episodes among some 5,000 ticketing deals negotiated during the life of the consent decree.”

As previously reported, at least four of the venues where violations occured were arenas and one was a stadium. Banc Of California Stadium was identified by Billboard as one of the complainants in a case where AEG owner Phil Anschutz held the ability to veto LAFC ticketing contracts, though the venue eventually signed a contract with Ticketmaster. But the DOJ claimed Ticketmaster’s president – at the time, Jared Smith – said “Live Nation would never do a show” in the building and would “find other places for their content” if the venue chose a competing ticketing service. Live Nation denied the allegations.

In an April 2018 New York Times article, Louisville, Ky.’s KFC Yum! Center was identified as another complaining venue, though Live Nation told the Times the number of concerts it has booked at Yum! Center has actually increased since 2012, despite the venue reportedly considering a competing ticketing service.

Pollstar has reached out to Live Nation for comment.