US sues Ticketmaster, Live Nation over ‘illegal monopoly’

Justice Department accuses Live Nation and Ticketmaster of operating unlawful monopoly that drives up prices for fans.

An ad for Ticketmaster at a US professional soccer game
Ticketmaster is the world’s largest ticket seller, processing 500 million tickets each year in more than 30 countries [File: Matt Stamey/USA TODAY Sports]

The Department of Justice in the United States has filed a sweeping antitrust lawsuit against Ticketmaster and parent company Live Nation Entertainment, accusing them of running an illegal monopoly and inflating ticket prices for concerts, shows and other events.

The lawsuit, filed in US federal court in Manhattan on Thursday, was brought with 30 state and district attorneys general and seeks to break up the monopoly they say is squeezing out smaller promoters and hurting artists.

“The live music industry in America is broken because Live Nation-Ticketmaster has an illegal monopoly,” Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter said in a statement.

“Our antitrust lawsuit seeks to break up Live Nation-Ticketmaster’s monopoly and restore competition for the benefit of fans and artists.”

For years, concert fans and politicians in the US have been calling for a re-examination of Live Nation’s purchase of Ticketmaster in 2010.

The situation drew widespread attention in 2022 after the ticket seller botched sales to Taylor Swift’s first concert tour in years, sending fans into hours-long online queues, charging prices that customers said were too high and drawing charges of poor service.

A Dallas Mavericks fan scans a ticket using a Ticketmaster kiosk
Dallas Mavericks fans using a Ticketmaster kiosk to scan their tickets on their phones for entry to a game [File: Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports]

The debacle prompted congressional hearings and bills in US state legislatures aimed at better protecting consumers.

On Thursday, the Justice Department accused Live Nation of a slew of practices that allow it to maintain a stronghold over the live music scene.

These include using long-term contracts to keep venues from choosing rivals, blocking venues from using multiple ticket sellers and threatening venues that they could lose money and fans if they did not choose Ticketmaster, according to the department.

The Justice Department also accused Live Nation of threatening to retaliate against one firm if it did not stop a subsidiary from competing for artist promotion contracts.

“The Justice Department filed this lawsuit on behalf of fans who should be able to go to concerts without a monopoly standing in their way,” US Attorney General Merrick Garland said during a news conference on Thursday morning.

“We have filed this lawsuit on behalf of artists who should be able to plan their tours around their fans and not be dictated by an unlawful monopolist,” Garland said.

“We have filed this lawsuit on behalf of the independent promoters and venues, which should be able to compete on a level playing field.”

Live Nation denies allegations

Live Nation has denied that it engages in practices that violate antitrust laws.

When it was reported that the company was under federal investigation in 2022, the concert promoter said in a statement that Ticketmaster enjoys such a large share of the market because of “the large gap that exists between the quality of the Ticketmaster system and the next best primary ticketing system”.

Live Nation called the lawsuit a possible “PR win for the [Justice Department] in the short term”, but said the entertainment company would prevail in court.

“[The lawsuit] won’t solve the issues fans care about relating to ticket prices, service fees, and access to in-demand shows,” it said, adding that “there is more competition than ever in the live events market”.

Thursday’s lawsuit comes as US President Joe Biden’s antitrust enforcers have adopted an aggressive approach as they seek to create more competition in a wide range of industries, from Big Tech to healthcare to groceries.

In March, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Apple alleging that the tech giant has monopoly power in the smartphone market.

US lawmakers welcomed the Justice Department’s announcement on Thursday, with Senator Amy Klobuchar saying the government was “doing the right thing” by suing Live Nation.

“It is way past time to break up Live Nation/Ticketmaster,” Klobuchar, who chairs the Senate judiciary subcommittee on competition policy, antitrust, and consumer rights, said in a social media post.

“Hidden fees, poor service, a stranglehold on competition are all bad for fans. Our Senate judiciary hearing set the stage. Now we need to get this done.”

Ticketmaster is the world’s largest ticketseller, processing 500 million tickets each year in more than 30 countries. About 70 percent of tickets for major concert venues in the US are sold through Ticketmaster, according to data in a federal lawsuit filed by consumers in 2022.

The company owns or controls more than 265 of North America’s concert venues and dozens of top amphitheaters, according to the Justice Department.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies