Senators Richard Blumenthal of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota are requesting a Department of Justice antitrust investigation into competition in the ticketing industry.
While the letter from Sens. Blumenthal and Klobuchar of Minnesota asks Makan Delrahim, the assistant attorney general with the DOJ’s antitrust division, to look at the overall business, according to Billboard and the New York Times, there is little question that the target of the probe is Live Nation. The request stems from the 2010 Live Nation/ Ticketmaster merger that resulted in an online live-event ticket marketplace that the senators say is not working for consumers.
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Live Nation/ Ticketmaster has operated under a consent decree that bars Live Nation from withholding concerts and tours from venues that do not use Ticketmaster and from retaliating when venues go with a competitor.
“The consent decree has been criticized as ineffective, and there have been disturbing reports that Live Nation has flouted its conditions,” the letter reads, leaving “Live Nation’s dominance virtually unchallenged.”
Blumenthal and Klobuchar ask the DOJ to “investigate the state of competition in the ticketing industry” and potentially extend the consent decree past July 2020.
“The Department of Justice should act to reinvigorate competition in the ticket market to help consumers,” the letter reads, and asks for the DOJ to “enforce the terms of the Ticketmaster-Live Nation consent decree, including the anti-retaliation merger conditions” and “not hesitate to seek appropriate remedies to ensure compliance with the merger conditions.”
In response, Variety obtained the following statement from Live Nation: “Unfortunately, the Senators’ letter is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of our consent decree and general ticketing industry dynamics.
“Ticketmaster has been successfully growing its client base over the past decade as a result of continuous innovation and providing the best ticketing solution in the industry. During that period, Live Nation and Ticketmaster have always complied with their obligations under the consent decree. We do not force anyone into ticketing agreements by leveraging content, and we do not retaliate against venues that choose other ticketing providers.
“Nevertheless, for years now some competitors have found it useful to confuse the issue with misinformation and baseless allegations of consent decree violations. These complaints have been investigated by the Department of Justice pursuant to its broad powers to monitor compliance with the decree. There is no cause for further investigations or studies.”
However, it is unclear how successful such an investigation might be. Ticketmaster, which works with 80 of the top 100 venues in the country, has been under attack for allegedly monopolistic practices for many years. In June, Sen. Blumenthal and Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr. and Frank Pallone, Jr. introduced the BOSS Act in an effort to bring more transparency to the ticketing business; last year Pascrell called on the DOJ to investigate “Ticketmaster corruption” and in April 2018 a New York Times article claimed that DOJ officials were “looking into serious accusations about Live Nation’s behavior in the marketplace.” The article said that AEG Presents, which is Live Nation’s chief competitor, told DOJ officials that venues it manages in the Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Oakland, Minneapolis, Louisville and Las Vegas areas “were told they would lose valuable shows if Ticketmaster was not used as a vendor, a possible violation of antitrust law.”
In a long response posted on the company’s website, Ticketmaster president Jared Smith said in part: “Ticketmaster continues to maintain its position as the clear industry leader. That leadership, however, is not the result of any unfair advantages resulting from being a part of Live Nation Entertainment as some are suggesting. … The New York Times article suggests that any benefits of being a vertically integrated company are, in and of themselves, anticompetitive. They insinuate that we “condition” content. That we “retaliate” when Ticketmaster is not selected as a venue’s ticketing partner. In short, they say we have stifled competition.
“The reality is that none of these things are true,” he continues. “It is absolutely against Live Nation and Ticketmaster policy to threaten venues that they won’t get any Live Nation shows if they don’t use Ticketmaster. We also do not re-route content as retaliation for a lost ticketing deal. Live Nation is the most artist-focused company in the world, and misusing our relationship with artists to ‘settle scores’ with venues would be both bad business and counter to our core beliefs.”