December 3, 2009 By Alfred Branch Jr.
Several national consumer protection groups this week again voiced their opposition to the proposed Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger.
Last month, the groups – National Consumers League (NCL), the American Antitrust Institute, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Action and Knowledge Ecology International – teamed up with the National Association of Ticket Brokers to call on the U.S. Department of Justice to block the $2.5 billion merger, and they hit on similar themes in their opposition this week.
In a statement, NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg said no concessions by the two companies could make the merger palatable. “Spinning off a small part of Ticketmaster is no answer. Suggestions that Comcast — a company that is a master of unnecessary and exorbitant charges – entering into the merger negotiations will fix a bad deal are laughable and do nothing to ease the sting of a deal that is anti-competitive and anti-consumer on its face.”
Cable television giant Comcast, which is separately buying television network NBC Universal from General Electric, has emerged as a potential suitor for some of Ticketmaster’s and/or Live Nation’s assets in order to help push the merger through.
“We all know the saying ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.’ That is exactly what Ticketmaster and Live Nation are attempting to do,” Greenberg added. “Were this merger to be allowed to proceed, it would kill even the modicum of competition that currently exists between the two companies. Time and time again Ticketmaster has shown it won’t accept any competitive players on its turf. By bringing in Comcast, Ticketmaster is simply pulling one more competitor off the field.”
Among the scenarios possibly involving Comcast include it buying either Live Nation’s ticketing operation or Ticketmaster’s primary ticketing subsidiary Paciolan. Ticketmaster acquired Paciolan in 2007.
“The new Department of Justice team is facing their first highly public antitrust test, one that consumers are watching with unusual intensity,” Albert “Bert” Foer, president of the American Antitrust Institute, said in a statement. “The question is whether any conditional approval can benefit consumers as much as just saying ‘No.’ We are dubious that any divestitures will make this merger acceptable or will convince consumers that their interests are being protected.”
“Consumers deserve a fair deal in the entertainment marketplace, not the fewer choices and higher prices that would result from this merger,” said Susan Grant of the Consumer Federation of America.