As it battles across the United States with legislators looking to crack down on alleged anti-competitive behaviors and major consumer issues in ticketing, Live Nation’s newly hired Executive Vice President for Corporate and Regulatory Affairs is once again attempting to spin the narrative. A story published on Tuesday night lays out the familiar groundwork, telling consumers that it’s not his company’s price-inflating tactics or massive market power that is ruining the live entertainment business, but the usual straw men of “scalpers” and “bots”.

Dan Wall, who worked for Live Nation Entertainment as outside counsel before coming on board in early 2023, published the opinion piece that lays out the familiar arguments that more or less say that Live Nation is not “too big to care” as the FTC chair Lina Khan famously said in the wake of its failed Taylor Swift ticket sales process. “It’s the Tickets, Stupid” attempts to point out that ticket resale companies have a lot to gain from the many pro-consumer reforms that have been proposed both at the state and federal level in recent months, which therefore negates the fact that they are good for consumers.

“One of antitrust’s most revered principles is that the antitrust laws ‘were enacted for ‘the protection of competition, not competitors.’ The principle has been invoked on countless occasions when some competitor’s antitrust claim, filed ostensibly to promote consumer interests, actually served only its selfish interests,” says wall in the opening to the lengthy post. “The antitrust arguments levied against Ticketmaster today by secondary ticketing companies like SeatGeek are a case in point. Resale marketplaces want antitrust law to protect their narrow commercial interests, not anything about competition or consumer welfare. Worse, those commercial interests are about high-volume ticket scalping, which is about as far from consumer welfare as one can get.”

TFL and ATBS for ticketing professionals

The argument is one that Live Nation Entertainment, Ticketmaster, and other event operator and ticketing companies have been making for years. It has been used to justify the increased usage of mobile-only ticketing, price-surging “dynamic” and “platinum” ticketing systems, and fan registration systems such as “verified fan.” They have used the same argument to push back against efforts for greater transparency on ticket holdbacks, which consumer advocates say will help consumers avoid overpaying for tickets during moments of surged prices and high demand by making clear that there are usually tens of thousands of tickets that aren’t even on sale yet, waiting to be listed.

The same themes were at the core of a lengthy reply that Wall also wrote on behalf of Live Nation, responding to numerous questions raised by legislators at and after the January Senate Judiciary Committee meeting where major questions were raised about Live Nation’s market dominance and the issues it creates for consumers. That letter was met with an angry response from the two senators leading that hearing – Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mike Lee (R-UT), who urged the Department of Justice to probe Live Nation as it tried to deflect all blame.

“For too long, Live Nation and Ticketmaster have wielded monopoly power anticompetitively, harming fans and artists alike,” the letter to Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division Jonathan Kanter reads, in part. ““We recently held a bipartisan hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee at which the President of Live Nation testified under oath, as did other industry participants, including an artist, a secondary market ticketing company, a promoter, and industry experts…As an initial matter, other than Live Nation’s executive, every witness at our hearing testified that Live Nation is harming America’s music industry.”

“We asked Live Nation a number of questions about competition both at the hearing and afterwards, but it has largely failed to answer them,” the senators continued. “Live Nation’s responses amount to “trust us.” We believe that is wholly insufficient. We thank you for your prompt attention to these matters and encourage the Antitrust Division to take action if it finds that Ticketmaster has walled itself off from competitive pressure at the expense of the industry and fans.”

Naturally, Wall’s entire existence as a senior member of Live Nation Entertainment’s operation is due to his expertise in antitrust legislation and enforcement. He, after all, was a member of the legal team that prosecuted the landmark 1982 U.S. vs. AT&T antitrust case that forced the breakup of the Bell System of telephone companies. He now fights on the side of a company hoping to avoid a similar fate. This is not dissimilar from one of the recently hired guns among Live Nation’s army of lobbyists, which Wall manages. Former U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor – who authored a 2021 New York Times Op-Ed that argued in favor of precisely the kind of robust antitrust enforcement that lawmakers are pushing as necessary for Wall’s company.

“Whereas the antitrust laws used to focus on limiting corporate power and concentration, antitrust law since the ’80s has been redefined by government agencies and academics to bolster corporate growth rather than preserve competition,” Pryor wrote less than two years ago in a call for the Biden Administration to increase its efforts in reigning in companies like Live Nation. “Over the past four decades, American antitrust enforcement institutions like the Justice Department have eroded, a devastating trend that has been unfortunately facilitated across partisan lines. Some of the greatest failings of the past 40 years occurred during the eight years of the Obama administration, during which monopolization enforcement cases came to a grinding halt.”

In terms of the actual arguments made in the latest effort from Wall to point the finger at anyone but Live Nation, he makes a particular point of the fact that some organizations that have pushed for the pro-consumer ticketing legislation his company hates are supported by ticket resale operations. Such efforts, he argues, constitute “astroturfing” – a practice where some individuals motivated by self-interest or funded by corporate dollars attempt to speak as if they represent consumer interests rather than their own. Such finger-pointing ignores support for a ticket buyer’s bill of rights by groups with no stake in ticketing or ticket resale, such as the National Consumers League and the Consumer Federation of America. It is also remarkably easy to find numerous examples of the same happening on behalf of his company.

The entirety of support for Live Nation’s so-called “fair ticketing” reform package that would effectively eliminate consumer ticket rights and make event promoters (such as Live Nation) the regulators of the entertainment business comes universally from event promoters and venue operators. The only notable exception is AEG, Live Nation’s main promotional and ticketing rival in North America, which is instead putting its lobbying weight behind an effort to see venue-exclusive contracts outlawed. Even the recent “grassroots” effort from the “National Independent Talent Organization” comprised of 45 promotional companies that aren’t themselves Live Nation is just another industry-backed effort from smaller companies that stand to gain from consumers having no ownership rights over tickets they’ve purchased. That they didn’t directly reference the fact that their nine-point plan to reform ticketing is just a rehash of Live Nation’s proposed reform package is almost certainly to provide some measure of perceived distance between the promotional giant and the plucky indies, even if their goals are exactly the same in the effort being pushed.

Perhaps most glaringly, a passionate argument on behalf of the artist’s right to tell consumers what they can and cannot do with tickets they’ve paid for was recently made in testimony before the Georgia legislature by David C Lowery, who also pointed out that some groups backing ticket reform that Live Nation doesn’t want are funded by companies like StubHub or Vivid Seats. A founding member of the band Cracker and a lecturer at the University of Georgia, Lowery is also married to Velena Vego, who just happens to be a VP at Live Nation.

Ultimately, it seems obvious that Wall and Live Nation have their messaging game plan in place and are sticking to it. “bots” are stealing consumers tickets (though there is no proof of this and almost zero cases have been made showing this to be an actual current issue in ticketing), and “scalpers” are the reason for every consumer woe. Thus far, that messaging hasn’t moved the needle very far, but it certainly makes for a decent headline, bolstered by the multi-million dollar lobbying apparatus that Wall manages on behalf of the Beverly Hills entertainment giant.

Beyond the patchwork of legislation that is being passed or pursued across North America in 2023, there has already been one piece of federal legislation introduced – a “junk fee” prevention act that would also mandate holdback disclosures – and more is reportedly on the way. The question remains just how much will Wall and his companies army of well-heeled backers be able to push back against pro-consumer reforms by muddying the water with content like this most recent effort. advertisement