US Justice Department set to sue Live Nation over alleged antitrust violations (reports)

Credit: Live Nation/press
Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino.

The US Department of Justice is reportedly preparing an antitrust lawsuit against Live Nation, a move that could have major repercussions for the company’s ticketing arm, Ticketmaster.

The suit is expected to be filed as soon as next month, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday (April 15), citing people familiar with the matter. The department will likely accuse Live Nation of leveraging its dominant position in the live event ticketing industry to stifle competition.

Shares of Live Nation closed nearly 8% lower to a near-two-month low on the NYSE on Tuesday (April 16) following the report.

A separate report, published in the Washington Post on Tuesday, also alleged that a DoJ antitrust lawsuit against Live Nation is pending. The report said the specific allegations are “unclear,” and the timing of the lawsuit is “uncertain.”

This isn’t the first time such a lawsuit has been hinted at. Back in July 2023, Politico reported that Live Nation could face a Justice Department lawsuit by the end of the year, though no lawsuit materialized at that time.

The potential lawsuit marks the latest chapter in a long-running saga of antitrust concerns surrounding Live Nation. The 2010 merger between Live Nation and Ticketmaster raised red flags from the start, with critics arguing that the combined entity would have excessive power over the live music industry, potentially leading to higher ticket prices and fewer choices for fans.

Live Nation has since faced further criticism over its practices. A botched ticket sale process for Taylor Swift‘s Eras tour and controversial “platinum” ticket prices for Bruce Springsteen’s 2023 US tour, which left many fans frustrated, further fueled public discontent.

Last November, the company was subpoenaed in a US Senate probe over “exorbitant ticket prices.” The Senate sought records related to Live Nation and its ticketing division Ticketmaster’s “failure to combat artificially inflated demand fueled by bots in multiple, high-profile incidents, which resulted in consumers being charged exorbitant ticket prices.”

Live Nation, however, has been defending itself. In a recent 2,800-word blog post, the company argued that it and its subsidiary Ticketmaster “do not set ticket prices” — artists and teams do.

“Tickets are actually priced by artists and [sports] teams. It’s their show, they get to decide what it costs to get in. The NFL tickets on Ticketmaster were priced by the home teams, concert tickets were priced by the performer’s business teams, Monster Jam tickets were priced by its producer (Feld Entertainment), and so forth,” Live Nation’s head of corporate affairs Dan Wall wrote last month.

Nevertheless, regulators are reportedly concerned about Live Nation and Ticketmaster’s control over the industry.

The WSJ noted that Ticketmaster currently holds more than 80% of the market for primary ticket sales in the biggest US venues, and has exclusive ticketing contracts with a number of stadiums and arenas where high-profile acts perform.

A Ticketmaster spokeswoman told the newspaper that “Ticketmaster has more competition today than it has ever had, and the deal terms with venues show it has nothing close to monopoly power.”

The WSJ said the new lawsuit could have significant consequences. It might lead to the unravelling of the 2010 settlement agreement between Live Nation and the DOJ regarding the Ticketmaster merger.

The original settlement conditions were set to expire in 2020, but were extended in 2019 after the DOJ found Live Nation violated the agreement by pressuring venues to use Ticketmaster exclusively.

The revised settlement included an anti-retaliation clause and a $1 million penalty for each violation, the WSJ noted.

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