Connive Nation

When Live Nation, the giant of the concert promotion business, and Ticketmaster, which dominated the performance booking business, proposed to merge in 2008, antitrust regulators thought it would be sufficient to require some concessions from the firms.

The Justice Department and state attorneys general gave their blessing to the deal in exchange for an agreement by Ticketmaster to license its ticket software to a competitor, to sell a subsidiary, and to promise not to engage in various anti-competitive practices.

Christine Varney, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, declared: “The Department of Justice’s proposed remedy promotes robust competition for primary ticketing services and preserves incentives for competitors to innovate and discount, which will benefit consumers. The proposed settlement allows for strong competitors to Ticketmaster, allowing concert venues to have more and better choices for their ticketing needs, and provides for anti-retaliation provisions, which will keep the merged company in check.”

That’s not exactly what happened. The merged company, Live Nation Entertainment, was accused by DOJ of repeatedly violating the agreement. In 2019 DOJ extended the court order under which it was overseeing Live Nation for another five years—which hardly seemed like an adequate way to rein in a company that was apparently flouting the commitments it had made.

Now DOJ is finally moving to undo its original mistake of allowing the merger. It and a group of state AGs have filed a lawsuit accusing Live Nation of operating as an illegal monopoly and calling for its dismantlement. Attorney General Merrick Garland charged that the company’s anti-competitive practices harm fans, artists, smaller promoters, and venue operators: “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.”

Along with these economic impacts, Live Nation has been frequently embroiled in regulatory actions and class action lawsuits alleging a variety of misconduct. Violation Tracker documents a slew of such cases in which the company has paid tens of millions of dollars in fines and settlements. They include:

A $71 million settlement with the Arizona Attorney General to resolve allegations it failed to provide refunds for live events that were cancelled, postponed, or rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A $42 million settlement of a class action alleging it overcharged customers for delivery and processing fees.

A $23 million settlement of a class action alleging it misled customers into joining a costly online coupon service.

A $19 million settlement of a class action alleging it misled customers into purchasing tickets from a companion website that charged more than the face value.

There is even a criminal case in the mix. The Ticketmaster portion of Live Nation was accused by federal prosecutors in New York of improperly accessing the computer system of a competitor. The company was able to resolve the matter in 2020 by entering into a deferred prosecution agreement and paying a $10 million fine.  

If the DOJ is successful in its current lawsuit, the result could be greater competition as well as fairer practices in the live event industry.