Stressing that it now does not believe the deal would limit competition in the UK ticketing market, the country’s Competition Commission (CC) today approved...

Stressing that it now does not believe the deal would limit competition in the UK ticketing market, the country’s Competition Commission (CC) today approved the merger between Ticketmaster and Live Nation, reversing the commission’s preliminary findings from this fall.

The UK decision could prove helpful for the two companies as they hope for a similar decision by U.S. regulators, which could be handed down in January.

In the CC’s preliminary findings, commissioners were concerned that the merger could have an adverse impact on competition in the ticketing space, particularly for German company CTS Eventim, which helped build Live Nation’s ticketing platform in 2008 and 2009.

Christopher Clarke, deputy chairman of the CC, explained in a statement that after a thorough review, the commission did not think the deal would limit CTS Eventim from competing in the UK ticketing market. The commission has reversed itself in past decisions but such occurrences are rare.

“Our analysis has focused on the effects of the merger between Ticketmaster and Live Nation on the ability of their competitors and potential competitors to compete as live music ticket retailers, promoters and venue operators in the UK,” Clarke said. “We have found that Live Nation would not have provided Eventim with any additional support to establish its position in the UK beyond the obligations specified in the agreement between them. The agreement itself was entered into well before the announcement of the merger and is binding on Live Nation and Eventim whether or not the merger goes ahead. Rather, we found that Live Nation always saw its agreement with Eventim as a way for Live Nation to become the principal retailer of its own tickets, through the use of Eventim’s managed ticketing services. Given that the agreement will remain in place, we have concluded that the merger is unlikely to make any significant difference to the fees Eventim receives from Live Nation or to the number of tickets Eventim is likely to be allocated by Live Nation.”

He continued, “We concluded that the extent of Eventim’s success in the UK will be determined principally by its own efforts and abilities, and will not be affected significantly by the merger.”

Critics of the merger quickly voiced their disappointment in the decision. A group of consumer protection organizations, including the National Association of Ticket Brokers (NATB) and the National Consumers League, recently launched an anti-merger Web site, TicketDisaster.org, to drum up more opposition.

“Obviously, I am disappointed with the UK Competition Commission’s ruling today, and hope this only renews the resolve of our regulators at the U.S. Department of Justice,” Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) said in a statement. Pascrell has long opposed the merger, and testified against it during in a House Judiciary Committee hearing in February.

“The Commission clearly states that the deal it sanctioned today allows Ticketmaster to remove a major competitor in the ticketing services market in the United States, but that finding is not within the scope of their authority. While in the United Kingdom they only control about 50 percent of the market, the two companies combined control between 70 to 80 percent of the market here in the United States,” Pascrell added.

“We continue to believe this merger will lead to higher ticket prices for fans although the Competition Commission disagrees with our position – and their own initial ruling,” said Joe Cohen, CEO and founder of UK secondary ticketing company Seatwave. “The onus is now on Ticketmaster and Live Nation to demonstrate tangible, financial, consumer benefit, and we certainly hope they do. The Competition Commission have given them an early Christmas present and now we’ll wait to see if the U.S. Department of Justice choose to stand up for fans or give them a lump of coal.”

Besides CTS Eventim, the CC also did not believe the merger would harm other ticketing companies, in fact stressing that Ticketmaster and Live Nation might find itself at a disadvantage at times.

“We also looked at how the combination of Ticketmaster and Live Nation might affect other ticketing agents, and the promoters and venues which put on and host live music events,” Clarke said. “We examined how the merged entity might attempt to shut out competitors, for example by Live Nation restricting the availability of tickets for its events to other ticket agents or by Ticketmaster refusing to sell tickets for other promoters and venue operators. However, we found that, in most of these cases, the merged entity would suffer significant and immediate losses, with very uncertain prospects for long-term gain. Therefore, we concluded that it was unlikely that the merged entity would harm other ticketing agencies, promoters and venues in these ways.”

He concluded, “Our decision today differs from our provisional findings in October, which is unusual but not unique. The very purpose of publishing our provisional conclusions is to provide all parties with the opportunity to review them and to put forward new evidence or arguments. In this case, when we considered the totality of the evidence, arguments and analysis, we reached the conclusion that the merger will not result in a substantial lessening of competition in the market for live music ticket retailing or in any other market in the UK, including live music promotion and live music venues.”

Both Ticketmaster and Live Nation praised the decision, acknowledging the move gives them a big boost toward finalizing the merger.

“We are very pleased with the Competition Commission’s decision to clear the merger,” Chris Edmonds, Managing Director of Ticketmaster UK, said in a statement. “Today’s clearance is an important milestone in the regulatory review process, and brings the companies a step closer to creating a new kind of live entertainment business.”

“During the course of this merger process, we have listened to our fans, artists and other parties,” Paul Latham, Chief Operating Officer who leads Live Nation’s UK operations, said in a statement. “And we have reassured them that by combining the resources of these two companies, we will deliver a better live music experience for the entire sector.”