DOJ Sues Ticketmaster for Alleged Monopoly Practices

Jimmy Williams

The Justice Department, alongside 30 state and district attorneys general, filed a sweeping antitrust lawsuit on Thursday against Ticketmaster and its parent company, Live Nation Entertainment. The suit, lodged in federal court in Manhattan, accuses the company of operating an illegal monopoly over live events in the U.S., resulting in inflated prices and limited competition.

Attorney General Merrick Garland emphasized the urgency of the issue, stating, “It’s time for fans and artists to stop paying the price for Live Nation’s monopoly. It is time to restore competition and innovation in the entertainment industry. It is time to break up Live Nation-Ticketmaster.”

The lawsuit alleges that Live Nation’s monopolistic practices include using long-term contracts to lock out competitors, blocking venues from using multiple ticket sellers, and threatening venues with financial retaliation if they do not comply with Live Nation’s demands. Garland pointed out that these tactics have led to “an endless list of fees on fans.”

Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division highlighted the broader implications, noting, “Live music should not be available only to those who can afford to pay the Ticketmaster tax.”

Live Nation has denied the allegations, arguing that the lawsuit will not address the real issues fans care about, such as ticket prices and access to popular shows. The company stated, “Calling Ticketmaster a monopoly may be a PR win for the DOJ in the short term, but it will lose in court because it ignores the basic economics of live entertainment.” They added that service fees are largely distributed to venues and claimed that competition has reduced Ticketmaster’s market share.

Michael Carrier, a professor at Rutgers Law School specializing in antitrust litigation, believes the Justice Department has a strong case. He commented, “The DOJ showed how Live Nation really has its tentacles in each element of the supply chain, which means that it has a lot more control than it is letting on. And, in terms of justifications, there is really very little that [Live Nation] can offer in terms of how they’re helping the consumer.”

The Justice Department’s complaint suggests that a breakup of Live Nation and Ticketmaster could lead to lower ticket prices, increased artist autonomy, and greater success for smaller promoters. The government’s suit aims to dismantle the monopoly, thus fostering a more competitive and fair market.

Ticketmaster, which merged with Live Nation in 2010, currently dominates the ticket sales market, controlling over 70% of ticket sales for major concert venues in the U.S. According to the Justice Department, Live Nation owns or controls more than 265 North American concert venues.

The company’s history of conflict with artists and fans is well-documented. The 2022 presale event for Taylor Swift’s stadium tour, which resulted in a site crash, congressional hearings, and proposed consumer protection bills, exemplifies the longstanding issues. In the 1990s, Pearl Jam famously challenged Ticketmaster, though the Justice Department did not bring a case at that time.

Dan Wall, Live Nation’s executive vice president of corporate and regulatory affairs, deflected blame for high ticket prices, citing factors such as increased production costs and artist popularity. He argued that these are “actually responsible for higher ticket prices.”

This lawsuit is part of the Biden administration’s broader effort to tackle monopolistic practices across various industries, including tech giants like Apple, Google, and Amazon. The administration’s aggressive antitrust enforcement aims to protect consumers and ensure a competitive market landscape.

The outcome of this lawsuit could significantly impact the live entertainment industry, potentially reshaping how tickets are sold and distributed in the future.

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