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Live Nation sued by US for monopolising gig ticket industry

Ticketmaster tickets and gift cards are shown at a box office in San Jose, Calif., May 11, 2009.
Ticketmaster tickets and gift cards are shown at a box office in San Jose, Calif., May 11, 2009. Copyright Paul Sakuma/AP2009
Copyright Paul Sakuma/AP2009
By Jonny Walfisz
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US regulators have taken the fight to Live Nation, the company behind Ticketmaster, accusing them of operating a monopoly over the live entertainment industry that “suffocates its competition”.

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The Department of Justice (DoJ) has filed a civil complaint against entertainment giant Live Nation for illegally dominating the market in a way which has driven away competitors and led to consumers paying higher prices for worse services.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said: “In recent years, Live Nation-Ticketmaster’s exorbitant fees and technological failures have been criticised by fans and artists alike. But we are not here today because Live Nation-Ticketmaster’s conduct is inconvenient or frustrating. We are here because, as we allege, that conduct is anticompetitive and illegal.”

In the complaint, the DoJ details that Live Nation controls at least 80% of primary ticketing at major concert venues, over 60% of concert promotions and large amphitheatres in the US.

They allege that the company Live Nation monopolises competition by forcing venues to agree to exclusivity agreements that cover 70% of concert ticket sales in the US. Thanks to these exclusive agreements, the company is then free to hike up prices through extraneous fees to the detriment of consumers.

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a news conference at the Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, Thursday, May 23, 2024
Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a news conference at the Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, Thursday, May 23, 2024Jose Luis Magana/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.

Live Nation merged with Ticketmaster in 2010 and quickly became a bogeyman in the music and events scene in the US for its infamously steep extra fees and dominance over the market.

The situation spilled into mainstream news when the Ticketmaster website buckled under huge demand for Taylor Swift tickets in 2022. As the website wasn’t able to handle the surge in users, Ticketmaster cancelled one of the public sales for the billionaire singer’s upcoming tour.

At the time, Swift criticised the platform: “I'm not going to make excuses for anyone because we asked them, multiple times if they could handle this kind of demand and we were assured they could.”

The uproar around the Swift ticket sale reignited interest from US lawmakers around the legality of the Live Nation-Ticketmaster merger.

“The high fees, site disruptions and cancellations that customers experienced shows how Ticketmaster’s dominant market position means the company does not face any pressure to continually innovate and improve,” Senator Amy Klobuchar said.

Over two dozen US fans filed a class action lawsuit against Live Nation following the breakdown in Swift ticket sales.

Taylor Swift performs at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden, Friday May 17, 2024.
Taylor Swift performs at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden, Friday May 17, 2024.Christine Olsson/Christine Olsson

Ticketmaster also ran into difficulties during the Swift tour sale when it came to Europe. The French branch of the site stuttered to a halt as ticket sales were meant to begin in July last year.

Fans were first asked to pre-register their interest to receive a unique code that granted access to tickets in the city of their preference. But even with this system in place, the French Ticketmaster site crashed.

Live Nation have responded to the US DoJ’s legal action claiming that: “It ignores everything that is actually responsible for higher ticket prices, from rising production costs, to artist popularity, to 24/7 online ticket scalping that reveals the public’s willingness to pay far more than primary ticket prices.”

On fees, the company claims it “retains only a modest portion of those fees” and that “primary ticketing is one of the least expensive digital distributions in the economy” when compared with Twitch, the App Store, and Uber.

They claim they aren’t running a monopoly and that the accusations are a result of the current administration's “populist urge that simply rejects how antitrust law works”. “Some call this “Anti-Monopoly”, but in reality it is just anti-business,” it adds.

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