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Artist groups join call for new investigation into 2010 Live Nation / Ticketmaster merger

By | Published on Thursday 20 October 2022

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A coalition of American consumer, artist and lobbying groups have come together to call for the US Department Of Justice to investigate and potentially unwind the 2010 merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster. Among the artist groups supporting the campaign are the Artist Rights Alliance and the Future Of Music Coalition.

The 2010 merger of Live Nation – a major player in tour promotion and venue management – and Ticketmaster – the dominant ticketing platform – was controversial at the time, and has continued to be criticised by some ever since.

The merger was approved by the competition, or antitrust, division of the DoJ in the US subject to a consent decree, which regulated – to an extent – how Live Nation and Ticketmaster interacted as part of one business. At various points Live Nation has been accused of not complying with all the terms of that consent decree, an allegation the live giant denies.

However, when the DoJ investigated those allegations, it did identify a small number of incidents when Live Nation had arguably broken the rules in the consent decree. As a result, that agreement – which was originally due to expire in 2020 – was extended, in a slightly revised form, for another five years.

Despite the revision and extension of the consent decree, the live firm’s critics – including consumer rights groups, some politicians in Washington, some in the artist community, and some of its competitors – have continued to be critical, calling for further DoJ investigations and action.

The latest campaign calling for such action seems to have been orchestrated by the American Economic Liberties Project, an organisation launched in 2020 which says it aims to “help translate the intellectual victories of the anti-monopoly movement into momentum towards concrete, wide-ranging policy changes that begin to address today’s crisis of concentrated economic power”.

It’s Executive Director, Sarah Miller, states: “Ticketmaster’s market power over live events is ripping off sports and music fans and undermining the vibrancy and independence of the music industry. With new leadership at the DoJ committed to enforcing the antitrust laws, our new campaign helps connect the voices of fans, artists and others in the music business who are sick and tired of being at the mercy of Ticketmaster’s monopoly with enforcers who have the power to unwind it”.

As part of the campaign, music fans and the music community are being urged to send a letter to the DoJ. A page set up on the Action Network platform to facilitate the letter sending states: “Live Nation/Ticketmaster owns more than 70% of the [US] primary ticketing and live event venues market. They’ve routinely abused this market power to screw over concert-goers, sports fans, artists, venues, and other ticket companies. It’s time for the Department Of Justice to investigate their conduct and move to break them up”.

“When the DoJ allowed the merger in 2010 they claimed that it would promote ‘robust competition’ to ‘benefit consumers'”, it adds. “Instead, consumers and industry professionals are facing: increased ticket prices; rip-off junk fees that can equate to 75% of a ticket’s value; anticompetitive behaviour that bullies independent venues and artists; ticket prices that can change once they’ve been added to a customer’s cart; and limitations on buying only one ticket”.

“Without competition in the industry, music lovers, sports fans, and event goers are completely at the mercy of this mega-corporation”, it concludes. “The Department Of Justice needs to hear from people that care about Ticketmaster’s abuse”.

As the campaign went live, the Future Of Music Coalition posted a lengthy Twitter thread outlining its support. It stated: “Too few companies have too much power over music, and it can impact musicians ability to reach audiences and their ability to make a sustainable living. It also harms music communities and fans”.

“How did this happen?”, it went on. “In part it’s because federal regulators allowed too many mergers! The best scenario is to have lots of different ticketing companies, promoters, and independent venues that can be responsive to community needs, competing to be the best partners for musicians and fans, offering a range of options and models”.

“Consolidation changes the nature of competition. Companies end up more focused on crunching numbers to reward investors, on what’s best for the biggest partners; they become less accountable to musicians and fans. When a single firm controls the biggest companies in multiple parts of the music business, there’s potential for anticompetitive harm and bullying behaviour; pressure to do business in ways that benefits the merged business”.

Stressing that concerns were raised about the Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger back in 2010, the FMC notes how the DoJ’s solution to those concerns was the consent decree. “It might sound weird”, it then explains, “but they actually sent the Assistant Attorney General to South By Southwest in 2010 to explain why they didn’t block the merger!”

“They asked for musicians and venues and booking agents and managers etc to monitor for any violations of the new consent decree, so they could enforce these rules”, it goes on. “At the time, we at FMC did our best to get the word out about how to help report problems to the DoJ”.

But, well, “it turns out there’s a few problems with asking musicians, independent venues, startup ticketing companies etc to act as unpaid cops on DoJ’s behalf. Number one on the list: they’re afraid of retaliation if they speak out! Also, smaller music stakeholders may not have access to enough information to know whether a violation has happened. Without expensive counsel and legal resources, it can be challenging to understand whether Ticketmaster is breaking the law”.

The FMC then references the extension of the consent decree, which followed that DoJ investigation which concluded there had been some violations of the 2010 agreement. But, it says, for many, the revision and extension of the consent decree was a mere “slap on the wrist”.

“That’s one reason that FMC is joining allies like the American Economic Liberties Project and the Artist Rights Alliance to argue that it’s time for DoJ to admit this approach has failed. It’s time to unwind the merger, putting an end to any more bullying of venues and artists”.

The FMC admits that unwinding the Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger wouldn’t solve every problem in the live sector and ticketing marketing place, but says that it feels that the DoJ needs to enforce competition law in a way that doesn’t require independent musicians and music companies to constantly monitor and report on major players in their sector.

We await to see how Live Nation and Ticketmaster respond.