The U.S. Department of Justice Anti-Trust division is more concerned with preserving competition within consumer markets than bailing out specific competitors, one of the division’s 350 lawyers said Thursday, a fact that could help to explain one of the reasons why the recent acquisition of TicketsNow by Ticketmaster was allowed to move forward.
Avery Gardiner, counsel to the Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department’s Anti-Trust division and keynote speaker at Ticket Summit 2008, told an audience of ticket brokers and industry executives that among the overriding factors that play into investigations by her division is whether something stifles overall competition within a market. For privacy reasons, she said she could not speak specifically about the Ticketmaster/TicketsNow deal.
“What alternatives do customers have if prices suddenly went up as a result of an acquisition? Among the things we try to do is predict how consumers will act in the future,” she said.
The Anti-Trust Division takes its mission very seriously. In 2007, anti-trust investigations led to more than $630 million worth of fines, and offenders receiving a total of more than 31,000 incarceration days, according to Gardiner, and so far in 2008, the division has levied more than $500 million in fines in the aviation sector alone.
Many ticket brokers have complained in recent months that the Ticketmaster/TicketsNow deal violated anti-trust laws, and while not speaking specifically about the deal, Gardiner said that in the past the division has taken fresh looks at companies if it sees potential violations. “We’re not in the business of setting prices [for good or services]. Our job is to promote and protect competition.”
As to whether the division considers tickets revocable licenses or bearer instruments, an age old argument in the industry, does not fall directly into the division’s rationale in investigating markets, but whether a market is staid and set in its ways or is dynamic and changing are more important factors.
Among the concerns of many brokers, as voiced by Harris Rosner, owner of VIP Tickets, is that 75 percent of the industry could potentially be wiped out because of ticket transferability issues, he estimates, which is why he was curious about Gardiner’s take on tickets being revocable licenses or bearer instruments.
“We don’t want to wait for a disease to kill off competition, but we want to make sure that we make the proper diagnosis,” she said.
The most successful companies in consumer markets are those “that focus on customers and anticipate their needs,” she said, and she advised ticket brokers to experiment to help their businesses grow.
“The people in this room will find ways to deal with changes in the market,” Gardiner said.