Live Nation Entertainment and Ticketmaster weren’t the only entertainment giants to see sharply negative attention this week as the Department of Justice and 30 states and districts filed a landmark antitrust case aimed at restoring competition to the live music and ticketing space.

Oak View Group (OVG) was prominently featured in the complaints of anti-competitive conduct alleged in the lawsuit, with the government saying that the company chose to deliberately avoid competing with Live Nation (LN), using Ticketmaster (TM) as its own ticketing property, and colluding on what business it pursued (sometimes at the direct behest of LN CEO Michael Rapino).

FURTHER READING | Live Nation and Ticketmaster Targeted in Landmark Antitrust Lawsuit

“Live Nation and Oak View Group have colluded and established a partnership to allocate business lines, avoid competing with each other, and chart a mutually beneficial plan to cement Live Nation’s dominance,” reads one section of the 100-plus page complaint filed in District Court for the Southern District of New York Thursday morning. “Oak View Group’s experience and relationships with venues and artists make it particularly well-suited to be a real competitor to Live Nation in the United States concert promotion business,” the complaint continued.

Instead, LN and OVG – which was co-founded by former TM CEO and LN chair Irving Azoff and former AEG CEO Tim Leiweke in 2015 – chose to co-exist at the top of the live entertainment food chain, colluding to avoid allowing competition between the two to drive down prices for consumers or drive up payments to artists and others within the business.

Since the lawsuit was filed, OVG has not made any public statement regarding its involvement in the alleged collusion with its potential rival. Requests for comment sent by Live Nation on both Thursday and Friday in advance of this story’s being published went unanswered.

From Attorney General Merrick Garland’s comments at Thursday’s press conference announcing the lawsuit:

When faced with another potential competitor to its promotions business, Live Nation took action to ensure that that competitor would not threaten its dominance in the live music industry.

Live Nation initially categorized that competitor, the venue operator Oak View Group, as one of its “Biggest Competitor Threats.” Over time, however, Oak View and Live Nation morphed from competitors into partners.

As detailed in our complaint, Live Nation executives repeatedly scolded Oak View for trying to compete. In one instance in 2016, Live Nation’s CEO warned Oak View that competition would only lead to artists demanding more compensation. The Live Nation CEO emailed Oak View, writing: “Let’s make sure we don’t let [them] now start playing us off,” referring to a prominent artist agency. Oak View backed down.

In a similar instance in 2022, Live Nation’s CEO scolded Oak View’s CEO: “who would be so stupid to do this and play into [the artist agent’s] arms”?

Oak View again backed down: “We have never promoted without you. Won’t,” said its CEO. And later added “I never want to be competitors.”

OVG and Ticketmaster

A critical aspect of the allegations involves OVG’s role in reinforcing Ticketmaster’s dominance. In 2022, Live Nation and OVG entered into a long-term agreement that incentivized OVG to convert its managed venues to Ticketmaster. This agreement subverted the competitive ticketer selection process, with OVG often not inviting other ticketing services to bid.

OVG projected it would convert at least 22 venues to Ticketmaster over four years, a goal it appears to be on track to meet. By advocating for Ticketmaster and excluding rival ticketers, OVG has effectively reduced competition, limiting opportunities for other companies to challenge Ticketmaster’s market position.

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Threats and Retaliation

The complaint also alleges that Live Nation used its relationship with OVG to exert pressure on other potential competitors. In 2021, when private equity firm Silver Lake’s portfolio company TEG attempted to expand in the U.S. concert promotions market, Live Nation threatened commercial retaliation. This included threats to pull support from OVG unless TEG ceased its competitive activities. As a result, TEG stopped competing for concert promotions in the U.S., and Silver Lake considered selling TEG.

Another notable instance involves the use of one OVG venue (the newly renovated UBS Arena in New York) as a way to harm a third party: SeatGeek. After being a longtime Ticketmaster client, Brooklyn’s Barclays Arena had switched to SeatGeek for its ticketing operations. But less than a year later, Barclays switched back to Ticketmaster – with many believing it had to do with concern that LN was avoiding the Brooklyn venue in favor of UBS further east.

From TicketNews reporting at the time:

Data does show that Barclays Center got fewer Live Nation-promoted tours since switching to SeatGeek. The Times cites data from Pollstar that indicates that pre-pandemic, Barclays Center averaged between 20-25 LNE shows per year. Since making the switch, the venue got a total of 13.

Instead, some very high-profile shows were routed through UBS Arena, which does use Ticketmaster. That building, despite being located much further from the city center of New York (though still in the very populous Nassau County further out on Long Island) was chosen for shows including Daddy Yankee, The Who, Post Malone, Twenty One Pilots, Journey, Tool, Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish and a “one-night-only” performance by Harry Styles in May of 2022 that preceded his major “Harry’s House” run in another Ticketmaster client NYC venue, Madison Square Garden.

SeatGeek was among the many industry figures to testify before a Senate subcommittee in January 2023 regarding LN’s dominant position in the business, and the harm that it causes. There is significant additional information regarding this SeatGeek/Ticketmaster snafu in the complaint, but we’ll explore that in further detail in another story to come…

OVG’s Media Holdings

One problematic aspect of the alleged collusion between OVG and Live Nation is the fact that OVG also owns two of the significant trade publications covering the live entertainment and events business. It purchased Pollstar in 2017, having purchased Venues Today (now published as Venues Now) a year earlier. This means that OVG has a unique ability to steer the narrative regarding ticketing and venue news, going even further than the influence that companies such as it and LN/TM already have with journalists who typically need to stay in the good graces of such giant conglomerates if they wish to have access to needed artists and management figures for their reporting.

Irving Azoff’s Advocacy for Live Nation Legislative Priorities

The former Ticketmaster CEO and Live Nation chairman hasn’t made much effort to conceal his desire to throw as much support as his considerably influence allows behind industry-side plans for legislative reform. He publicly said “the show is over” at the Pollstar live conference shortly after that 2023 Senate Judiciary hearing, appearing on stage alongside a former DOJ official who had been at the head of the 2020 settlement of the last DOJ investigation of LN’s abuse of market power.

Azoff has significant influence within the nominally “independent” Fix The Tix campaign, which threw its support behind Live Nation’s “FAIR” ticketing priorities when they came out in opposition of Rep. Bill Pascrell’s proposed BOSS and SWIFT Act. Fix The Tix has received significant editorial support from OVG-owned media entities, and Azoff and his son Jeff both serve on the board of one of its supporting entities (The Black Music Action Coalition) with Jeff Azoff also serving on the board of another – the Music Artists Coalition.

“No one cares more about fans than the artists,” said Azoff, prior to taking the stage at Pollstar’s LIVE conference in February and declaring that the potential for meaningful reform in the wake of January’s Senate Judiciary Committee antitrust hearing on allegations of Live Nation/Ticketmaster operating as a monopoly was already over. “FAIR Ticketing reforms give more control over ticketing to the artists so they can get tickets to real fans and prevent unauthorized resellers from charging exponentially more than face value. I hope Congress will pass legislation for the good of artists and their fans.”

Is OVG Part of the Antitrust Lawsuit?

While OVG’s CEO told Michael Rapino that they never want to be competitors, that may not be an option if the Department of Justice and the AGs representing more than 80% of the U.S. population have their say. While serving as a self-described “hammer” for Live Nation to date, OVG would see its ticketing agreement with Ticketmaster terminated as one of the specific requests from the DOJ in the complaint.

As of now, however, it doesn’t appear that OVG is itself targeted in any other way by the current effort to break up LN and TM. But it clearly isn’t a good look for the burgeoning industry giant, which now has the appearance of a business happy to go along with whatever Live Nation wished in order to avoid the harsh fate that befell many other companies who tried to compete fairly with the Beverly Hills behemoth.