U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) are once again urging the Department of Justice to investigate “potential anticompetitive and anticonsumer” dealings by Live Nation, the world’s largest concert promoter. Through a letter sent to the DOJ on Tuesday (March 15), the Democratic senators said they’re renewing efforts to look into whether or not Live Nation is in compliance with the 2010 consent decree that was established when the promoter merged with Ticketmaster.
The news of the senators’ intensified scrutiny of Live Nation resulted in a 1.3% dip in the publicly-traded company’s stock Wednesday (March 16), when the markets were generally up. By the close of the day’s market, however, Live Nation stock rebounded to $112.01, up .3% from Tuesday when the letter to the DOJ was released.
“There is little evidence that live event ticketing or related markets are any more competitive today than they were in 2010,” the senators’ letter states. “There have been few new entrants in these markets and troubling indicators of durable market power, such as excessive processing fees imposed on consumers that exceed one-quarter of a ticket price,” it continues, citing a 2018 U.S. Government Accountability Office report that found primary ticketing companies charged fees averaging 27% of a ticket’s face value. According to Ticketmaster, ticketing fees are not determined by the company but mainly by venues — though Live Nation does own or provides content for hundreds of venues.
“The live entertainment industry has never been more vibrant and competitive, which is evident from the many companies that continue entering the market and growing,” Live Nation Entertainment said in a statement sent to Billboard. “We are proud of the many progressive policies we have innovated and advocated for – from refunds, to all-in pricing, transparent resale disclosures and more. We will continue using our influence to improve the industry.”
Live Nation has advocated for federal policies to make event ticketing more transparent. In a 2020 testimony submitted to the U.S House of Representatives by Ticketmaster North America president and COO Amy Howe, the company supported legislation to mandate all-in pricing that would compel all marketplaces to show the full price of the ticket plus fees upfront, disclosures on who is selling the primary or secondary ticket and their relationship to the event owner, and straightening enforcement of the Better Online Ticket Sales (“BOTS”) Act of 2016 that makes it illegal to use bots to purchase tickets.
The consent decree established at the time of the merger was put in place to assure that the world’s largest promoter and its ticketing arm would not strongarm artists, venues or promoters into using their services due to their extensive share of the live entertainment market.
In 2019, Billboard reported that the DOJ identified five Live Nation consent decree violations (out of about 5,000 contracts signed) over the course of 10 years. The five incidents took place when Ticketmaster was attempting to renew a promoter or venue’s contract and allegedly involved direct and indirect threats that the ticketer’s parent company Live Nation would withhold tours if the clients didn’t renew. Days later, Live Nation reached a settlement with the DOJ’s antitrust division, agreeing to extend the 2010 consent decree governing the merger of Ticketmaster and Live Nation to 2025 and clarifying rules regarding threats and retaliation against venues that don’t sign with the ticketing giant.
The 2019 settlement included minor tweaks to the decree, including tightening the ban on Live Nation threatening to retaliate against venues. Ticketmaster sales representatives are also not allowed to discuss content bundle deals with venues or detail how Ticketmaster facilities get preference for shows. Live Nation is, however, still allowed to give Ticketmaster venues priority over other venues, but can’t punish clients who don’t renew their deals.
Sens. Blumenthal and Klobuchar first raised concerns about the Live Nation consent decree in 2019 – making similar claims about the promoter’s market dominance – but their new efforts follow a segment on HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver spotlighting the issue that aired Sunday night. In the segment, the show looked into how Ticketmaster and Live Nation, as well as competitors, are gearing up for the full return of live entertainment, even as their practices and ticketing fees remain opaque. Oliver described how the ticketer and venues hold tickets from going on sale while referencing a 2019 Billboard article about Live Nation helping Metallica and other artists place tickets directly on the resale market.
The segment also explored how events listed on Ticketmaster have had ticketing fees that add more than 75% of the face value of the ticket in processing fees, which the senators cite. The examples shown on the segment, however, do not include Live Nation-owned venues where the industry giant would have determined the fees.
“Industry participants have long complained about Live Nation leveraging its powerful market positions in ticketing, event promotion, sponsorship and advertising, artist management, and performance venue bookings to advantage its affiliate businesses up and down the entertainment value chain,” the letter states, adding that Live Nation has aggressively acquired 58 vertical competitors in the past 15 years, including ticketing platform Rival in 2020.
“Multiple reports indicate the industry is rife with practices that prevent consumers from accessing tickets at affordable prices or prevent access entirely, including holdbacks and staggered sales, bots, lack of all-in pricing, and the reselling of free tickets,” the letter continues. “We are deeply concerned that the Department’s past enforcement and negotiated remedies in this industry have failed to adequately foster and protect competition in live entertainment and ticketing markets.”