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Live Nation responds to critics in US Congress, calls for more regulation of ticket touts

By | Published on Friday 24 February 2023

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Live Nation yesterday called on US lawmakers to introduce new regulations covering the American ticketing sector in which it is the dominant player via its Ticketmaster business. Although most of those proposed new regulations are really aimed at the secondary ticketing market and those always pesky ticket touts.

The live giant’s statement setting out five key proposals for further regulating the ticketing business follows increased interest in Live Nation and Ticketmaster’s operations within the US political community in recent months.

It was the meltdown that occurred on Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan system last year when tickets went on pre-sale for the upcoming Taylor Swift tour that pushed ticketing generally and Ticketmaster in particular up the political agenda in Washington. Existing critics of Live Nation and Ticketmaster within the political and music communities used that moment to put their various grievances back on the table.

Some of those grievances relate generally to how the ticketing business works, and especially the always unpopular fees that are added to the face value of a ticket by the ticket agent. Fees that are all the more annoying when they are added at the final stage of the ticket purchase process. Addressing those particular grievances has also become a priority of US President Joe Biden via his proposed Junk Fee Prevention Act.

However, other grievances relate more specifically to Live Nation and Ticketmaster – and the 2010 merger of the two companies which, critics argue, gave the wider Live Nation group too much market dominance. Live Nation has been accused of abusing that market position and even breaching the commitments it made to the US Department Of Justice in order to get approval for that 2010 merger, allegations Live Nation itself strongly denies.

Then, of course, there is the secondary ticketing market, which provides another set of gripes – no one likes it when tickets for an in-demand show are sold out on the primary ticketing platforms but still selling at massively inflated prices on the resale sites. In the US – unlike in Europe – Ticketmaster is still directly involved in secondary ticketing, though it likes to distance itself from many of the issues raised around ticket touting.

Most of these grievances were expressed in one form or another during a recent hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee prompted by the Swift ticketing meltdown, which heard from Live Nation CFO Joe Berchtold, and a bunch of the live giant’s competitors and critics.

The two Senators who instigated that hearing, Democrat Amy Klobuchar and Republican Mike Lee, yesterday confirmed that they had sent evidence from the session to the DoJ, urging the government department to continue investigating the allegations of anti-competitive conduct made against Live Nation and Ticketmaster.

The Congress members wrote in a letter to Assistant Attorney General of the DoJ’s Antitrust Division, Jonathan Kanter: “We have long been concerned about the state of competition in America’s ticketing industry, especially with the power and reach of Live Nation and its wholly-owned subsidiary Ticketmaster. For too long, Live Nation and Ticketmaster have wielded monopoly power anti-competitively, harming fans and artists alike”.

“We recently held a bipartisan hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee at which the [CFO] of Live Nation testified under oath, as did other industry participants, including an artist, a secondary market ticketing company, a promoter, and industry experts”, they went on. “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”, they then claimed.

“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”.

Responding to those claims, Live Nation said in a statement yesterday: “If there’s any chance of improving ticketing for fans and artists, we all need to focus on the facts”.

“In the last few weeks alone”, it went on, “we’ve submitted more than 35 pages of information to provide greater context and transparency to policymakers on the realities of the industry”.

“These include the fact that this industry is more competitive than ever, Ticketmaster has actually lost market share since the 2010 merger, not gained it; and that venues set and keep most of the fees associated with tickets and are increasingly taking an ever-larger share”.

Regarding all the various grievances raised about ticketing, Live Nation then stressed that it supports an industry-wide move to “all-in pricing”, whereby ticketing platforms declare up front the total price of a ticket including all and any fees.

That would likely be best achieved through regulation, so that companies that voluntarily adopt all-in pricing aren’t disadvantaged by seeming more expensive in advertising and search engine listings.

And if lawmakers reckon there is more regulating to be done beyond mandating all-in pricing, Live Nation insisted that they should focus on the touts, or ‘scalpers’ to use the American term.

“We believe that policymakers would benefit from asking more questions about the chaos caused by scalpers and the resale-first side of the industry”, the live giant’s statement concluded. “We remain committed to working with lawmakers on developing reforms that will benefit fans and artists including those outlined in a Fair Ticketing Act”.

The Fair Ticketing Act brings together the aforementioned five key proposals Live Nation is supporting for better regulation of the ticketing sector.

Three of those proposals are tout focused. They include expanding existing rules banning touts from using bots to buy up tickets from primary sites; a ban on speculative selling, where touts advertise tickets they don’t have yet; and a crackdown on resale sites that don’t enforce those rules or respect an artist’s preferences regarding how they sell their tickets.

That latter point relates to another of Live Nation’s proposals: that artists should be allowed to decide resale rules for their shows. So lawmakers should “protect artists’ ability to use face-value exchanges and limited transfer to keep pricing lower for fans, and prevent scalpers from exploiting fans”. The fifth proposal is the forced all-in pricing.

“We already follow many of these common sense policies and are ready to make additional changes, but we can’t do it alone”, Live Nation said yesterday. “We need the entire industry and policymakers to stand up for fans and artists”.

As Live Nation formally began its push back against its critics in Washington yesterday, its CEO Michael Rapino was updating the firm’s investors on the company’s financial results for both the last quarter of 2022 and the full year as well.

Similarly to Rapino’s other investor updates over the last year, he was keen to confirm that his company has fully bounced back following the COVID-caused shutdowns of 2020 and 2021.

Despite those shutdowns still being in place in some countries in early 2022, across the year Live Nation’s concerts business “grew attendance by 24% vs 2019 to 121 million fans at 44 thousand events, which drove revenue up 43% vs 2019 to $13.5 billion”, he stressed.

“This growth came from all markets and venue types”, he then bragged on, “every venue type from clubs and theatres to stadiums to festivals had double-digit attendance growth vs 2019”.

Live Nation’s ticketing and sponsorship divisions also saw good growth in 2022 compared to 2019, which is all good news for Live Nation and its investors.

Though – obviously aware that this financial update was going out at the same time as Live Nation’s lobbyists ramping up their efforts in Washington – Rapino was also keen to stress that this was all good news for the wider music community too.

“We invested $9.6 billion in putting on artists’ shows in 2022, working with the largest superstars to artists just getting started, and all those in-between”, he declared. “This is up 45% from 2019 and further reinforces our role as the largest contributor to artist income”.

“As part of this, we helped shift $700 million to artists with more market value ticket pricing – even as the entry price to a show stayed below $35 in the US. Typically 90% of ticket sales for Live Nation shows go to artists – this is particularly important as artists are increasingly reliant on touring as they get much smaller revenue shares from other music revenue streams”.

Which is an interesting final point, possibly implying that – when US lawmakers have finished better regulating secondary ticketing – they could shift their attention to the economics of streaming before thinking about circling back to the wider issues in the live sector.

It remains to be seen if any of this successfully pushes the recently renewed interest in that 2010 merger and Live Nation’s continued dominant position in the live entertainment business back down the American political agenda a little.