Live Nation Entertainment and Ticketmaster could be facing an anti-trust lawsuit before the end of the year, according to a report this week by Politico. The entertainment giant, which controls a huge percentage of venues, promotions, and ticketing for North America as well as worldwide, has been regularly accused of anti-competitive practices fueled by its overwhelming market share, but consistently defends itself against any wrongdoing.
Citing sources with knowledge of the ongoing Department of Justice investigation into the company and its practices, the DOJ is “aiming to file a lawsuit as soon as this fall that claims the entertainment giant is abusing its power over the live music industry,” according to the reporr. “A case would add to the embattled company’s myriad policy and legal battles, and if successful, could potentially lead to a breakup of the company.”
Nothing is certain, the report clarifies. The enforcement of anti-trust statutes is notoriously difficult, and the federal agency already has high profile cases in progress against Google and investigations of companies including Apple and Visa in the works.
Ticketmaster’s business practices are at the core of the investigation, according to POLITICO’s sources. Topics including the use of mobile-only ticketing systems and terms of service to eliminate competition from resale platforms as well as long-term exclusive ticketing contracts between Ticketmaster and venues have been subject to scrutiny.
What might happen in the event of a case that led to a decision to bring action against Live Nation and Ticketmaster? The American Antitrust Institute broke down some potential avenues that such action might take in a recent analysis.
Live Nation’s antitrust defense czar Dan Wall told the publication that any potential case is still a long way off. “We’re in regular contact with the DOJ and they haven’t told us they think we’re doing anything illegal or asked us to address any concerns,” says Wall, Live Nation’s executive vice president for corporate and regulatory affairs. “It would be highly irregular for the DOJ to file without that notice and a lot of dialogue afterwards. However, if they do file we are prepared to defend ourselves.”
Wall was brought in-house six months ago after more than a decade of serving as its lead outside counsel, perhaps anticipating the inevitability of needing to mount an anti-trust defense in court. The messy Taylor Swift tour sales process last fall seems to have brought to a head years of simmering consumer anger against Live Nation, which is regularly blamed for skyrocketing ticket prices and failures during high profile ticket sales. It was Wall who provided responses to many questions posed by Senators during a hearing on the industry in January, triggering an angry response from Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mike Lee (R-UT).
Live Nation is already facing off with legislators who are looking to improve the consumer ticket-buying experience – hoping that it can spin consumer anger by blaming everything on ticket resale rather than its own market dominance and allegedly anti-competitive behavior. The TICKET Act, which would bring required price transparency, passed out of committee in the Senate last week, while other more comprehensive legislation including the BOSS and SWIFT Act and Unlock Ticketing Markets Act await action in Congress.
It saw a second round of scrutiny in the Senate just last week, as a subcommittee hearing focused on “Trends in Veritical Merger Enforcement” – with Live Nation/Ticketmaster’s business model being discussed as having “decimated competition in the ticketing industry and resulted in higher fees for consumers,” according to Sen. Klobuchar.
The addition of a lawsuit brought by the Department of Justice would just add to the workload of Wall’s army of lobbyists and litigators fighting on behalf of Live Nation, but its enormous financial resources – the company recently announced yet another record-shattering quarterly earnings report – leave it uniquely situated to fight off efforts to reform or split its operations up for anti-trust reasons.
News of the potential looming lawsuit hit Live Nation’s stock price (NYSE: LYV) when the story broke Friday afternoon. After climbing steadily from below $70/share in May to almost $100 during the last week, it fell by nearly 15% late Friday before closing at just under $90/share for the weekend.
Last Updated on July 30, 2023