The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is preparing to take legal action against Live Nation Entertainment (NYSE: LYV). The action, attributed to anonymous sources familiar with the matter, is based off “allegations the company has sought to strong-arm concert venues into using its dominant Ticketmaster subsidiary.”
The department believes the concert-promotion giant’s conduct has violated the merger settlement Live Nation and Ticketmaster reached with the government in 2010, the people said. Under that agreement, the department’s antitrust division allowed the companies to combine, but required them to abide by conditions designed to keep consumer prices in check by preserving competition in the music and ticketing industries.
Live Nation executives have denied that their business practices run afoul of the consent decree.
“There is no cause for further investigations or studies,” the company wrote in a September response to a call by Senators Richard Blumenthol (D-Conn) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn) urging the DOJ to take a hard look at its compliance with the 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.”
That response, however, didn’t convince legislators to let the matter go. In November, the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee announced it would be investigating the live event ticketing business for “potential unfair and deceptive practices,” with Live Nation Entertainment among the companies asked to provide responses for the committee. Just last week, four representatives on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law sent a letter to Makan Delrahim – the same assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Antitrust Division on the recipient list for the letter from Sens Blumenthol and Klobuchar – asking for an in-person briefing on the “anti-competitive nature of the online ticketing marketplace,” according to Billboard.
“Our constituents are facing significantly increased live event prices and a lack of meaningful alternatives to purchase tickets to live events,” reads the letter signed by reps Ken Buck, R-Colo.; Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.; Lucy McBath, D-Ga.; and ranking member Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. “We request that you take all necessary action to protect consumers and enhance competition.”
WSJ’s reporting indicates that details about the specific concerns the DOJ plans to pursue in this alleged action are unknown at this time, but that Mr. Delrahim has publicly voiced his concern with the adherence to consent decrees by companies that have entered into them.
“He has called for changes in decree language that would make it easier for the department to establish violations in court,” the report reads. “And to force merged companies to pay the government’s costs in enforcing merger settlements.”
Live Nation Entertainment was not quoted in the WSJ story, and no reaction to the report can be found on the company’s social media or corporate website as of Friday afternoon. Company stock took a sharp hit as the story hit the news wires, plummeting nearly 10% from approximately $70.66 per share to $64.17 in less than an hour, and more than 7% from its open at $69.09 Friday morning.
We will update this breaking story as more information becomes available.