May 30

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Live Nation Lawsuit Brought By Department of Justice Would Break Up Monopoly

Finance, Performing

A new Live Nation lawsuit brought against the company by the United States Department of Justice would breakup one of the biggest monopolies in entertainment and fundamentally change the way many people buy tickets and attend events. In a statement by Attorney General Merrick Garland, the United States alleges that monopolistic practices by Live Nation have harmed all sectors of the entertainment industry.

The lawsuit is at least a decade in the making, but no doubt received a major momentum boost during the Taylor Swift Ticketmaster debacle. Multiple states announced independent investigations into Live Nation and Ticketmaster, and as a result the U.S. Department of Justice is joined by 29 states and the District of Columbia in its lawsuit.

Why The Government Is Brining Its Live Nation Lawsuit Now

In his statement, Garland acknowledged that recent headlines have shined a light on frustrations between fans and artists alike. But, he says, the Live Nation lawsuit isn't about inconvenience, it's about the fact that the company's practices are "anticompetitive and illegal."

Live Nation Entertainment is the resulting company from a 2010 merger of Live Nation and ticketing platform Ticketmaster. As a result, Live Nation now dominates the entertainment landscape, controlling 80 percent of the ticketing across major venues, directly managing more than 400 artists, controls over 60 percent of concerns promotions, and owns or controls 60 percent of the amphitheaters across the United States. 

"We allege that, to sustain this dominance, Live Nation relies on unlawful, anticompetitive conduct to exercise its monopolistic control over the live events industry in the United States — and over the fans, artists, independent promoters, and venues that power the industry," Garland says. "The result is that fans pay more in fees. Artists have fewer opportunities to play concerts. Smaller promoters get squeezed out. And venues have fewer real choices for ticketing services."

As a result of multiple investigations, the Department of Justice feels it has sufficient evidence to prove Live Nation operates an illegal monopoly that must be broken up. 

How Live Nation's Alleged Behavior Hurts Everybody (Except Live Nation)

It's not a huge surprise that most people are unhappy with the ticket buying experience. Things like long wait times, disappearing carts, hidden fees, scalpers, and astronomical resale prices have put "buying tickets" close to "go to the DMV' on the list of most enjoyable things. 

And while most artists don't actually benefit from any of these fees or resale increases, it goes simply beyond opaque terms and inconvenience. In many cases, the fees that Ticketmaster charges are split between the company and the venue. And in many cases, the company also owns the venue. 

In other words, Live Nation has squeezed out the potential for options by vertically integrating all of the services. What used to be several independent variables in a transaction ultimately became one, leaving both entertainers and consumers with no choice. It's kind of like if Ford not only made your car, but they also owned all of the gas stations, EV stations, traffic signs, and roads you drive on. 

Live Nation allegedly suffocates any potential competition with a variety of tactics. These include acquisitions of smaller, regional promoters and venues, threats and retaliation, and agreements with rivals designed to neutralize them. 

Garland puts it plainly: "Ticketmaster can impose a seemingly endless list of fees on fans. Those include ticketing fees, service fees, convenience fees, Platinum fees, Pricemaster fees, per order fees, handling fees, and payment processing fees, among others. For fans in the United States, this illegal conduct means higher prices. In other countries, where venues are not bound by Ticketmaster’s exclusive ticketing contracts, venues often use multiple ticketing companies for the same event. And fans see lower fees and more innovative ticketing products as a result."

What Happens Next In The Live Nation Lawsuit

While the case is compelling and certainly on the public radar given its relevance to hundreds of millions of event-goers, it's not a done deal. The government will have to prove that Live Nation has not just a coercive market power, but an overall monopoly power

While there are plenty of examples of the U.S. government successfully breaking up monopolies, many of them come from the 1900s. In recent history, it's more likely to see potential mergers and acquisitions fall through than for an existing monopoly to be broken up. Still, we've seen a few key cases in the past few decades, including the government successfully winning a case against Microsoft that involved Internet browser Netscape and a case in 2010 where the government stopped a "cartel" of big companies, including Google, Adobe, Apple, and Intel, from preventing each other from cold call recruiting their employees. 

The government has also brought antitrust litigation recently against e-commerce giant Amazon and other major names in everyday American life. Google and the government recently made closing arguments in an antitrust lawsuit alleging the company has a monopoly in online search. An appeals court also ruled in favor of Meta in 2023, effectively ending attempts to break up the company's ownership of major social media platforms. 

Realistically, the Live Nation lawsuit could take years, especially if the government wins and Live Nation appeals the decision.


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