Uncle Sam's had enough of Live Nation and Ticketmaster, sues to end monopoly

Music to everyone's ears

The US Department of Justice, in the company of 30 state and district attorneys general, filed a civil antitrust complaint against Live Nation Entertainment and its Ticketmaster subsidiary today, claiming the entertainment giant has suppressed competition by monopolizing the concert market.

"We allege that Live Nation relies on unlawful, anticompetitive conduct to exercise its monopolistic control over the live events industry in the United States at the cost of fans, artists, smaller promoters, and venue operators,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in a statement.

"The result is that fans pay more in fees, artists have fewer opportunities to play concerts, smaller promoters get squeezed out, and venues have fewer real choices for ticketing services. It is time to break up Live Nation-Ticketmaster."

The Justice Department says that Live Nation owns or controls some 265 concert venues in North America and generates more than $22 billion in global revenue annually from concerts, online ticketing, and sponsorships/advertising.

The government's complaint makes various claims about unlawful behavior designed to eliminate competition and monopolize markets. The allegations include: Colluding with rivals to avoid bidding against each other for artists and venues; retaliating against potential competitors and venues that work with rivals; exclusionary contracts; preventing venues from using multiple ticketing services; preventing artists from using venues if they haven't signed on for promotional services; and acquiring competitors.

Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ-09) welcomed the lawsuit, citing his long opposition to the merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster, which was approved in 2010 by the Obama administration.

"Live Nation and Ticketmaster should never have been allowed to merge," said Pascrell in a statement. "I beseeched the Obama administration to block it and have spent the last 15 years trying to right that wrong. If ever a company has been a corporate embodiment of Darth Vader and Lord Voldemort coming together it is Live Nation-Ticketmaster."

That period saw other acquisitions, such as Meta's (Facebook's) purchase of Instagram (2012) and WhatsApp (2014), that have since prompted second thoughts among regulators.

Live Nation, for its part, contends the lawsuit is just anti-business populism, unsupported by antitrust law, and urged on by rivals. The giant insists it is "absurd to claim that Live Nation and Ticketmaster are wielding monopoly power."

Sure, ticket prices are high, the biz says, but Live Nation and Ticketmaster aren't to blame.

The government's complaint "ignores everything that is actually responsible for higher ticket prices, from increasing production costs to artist popularity, to 24/7 online ticket scalping that reveals the public’s willingness to pay far more than primary tickets cost," the company said in a statement on its website. "It blames Live Nation and Ticketmaster for high service charges, but ignores that Ticketmaster retains only a modest portion of those fees."

... increasing production costs to artist popularity, to 24/7 online ticket scalping that reveals the public’s willingness to pay far more ...

The entertainment giant insists it's barely profitable, noting that its "overall net profit margin is at the low end of profitable S&P 500 companies."

The notionally profit-starved biz reports a net profit margin of only 1.4 percent as of February and, in a fit of whataboutism, points to the net profit margins of Alphabet (24 percent), Apple (25.3 percent), and Meta (29.8 percent). We note that each of these tech platforms also faces antitrust litigation.

On March 28, Pascrell released "a previously secret report detailing rampant corrupt and abusive practices by the Live Nation-Ticketmaster monopoly." In a letter seeking to encourage antitrust intervention, he calls out the corp's "suspicious accounting practices," saying these allow Live Nation to record a financial loss for events while reporting profits to shareholders. This may have something to do with Live Nation's low net profit margin.

Whatever the case, Live Nation in Q3 2023 reported its "strongest quarter ever" and its Q4 2023 and Q1 2024 reports weren't too shabby either. ®

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