If Live Nation and Ticketmaster Are Broken Up, Will Things Get Better for Fans?

Music concert crowd
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While it was hardly unexpected, the Justice Department’s lawsuit against Live Nation and Ticketmaster is thorough and damning — all 124 pages of it — and lays out in compelling detail how and why the company, which is the world’s largest live-entertainment business and owns the largest ticket seller and distributor, may well be what this country legally considers a monopoly.

Considering the vast resources at Live Nation’s disposal — their 2023 revenue was nearly $23 billion — this battle is likely to play out over months in court, and in reality, music fans’ concerns boil down to one question: Would breaking up the two companies make the ticket-acquisition process less of a soul-crushing nightmare?

In the short term anyway, the answer is pretty much no — and experts say things could get worse before they get better, considering how deeply entrenched Ticketmaster is in the entire process and the chaos that would follow a breakup.

In fact, the things that most enrage fans — cryptic “service” fees, long wait times, the predatory secondary market and its bots that buy up blocks of tickets before ordinary humans can get near them — are outside the purview of the lawsuit. It also must be noted, as Live Nation often does, that Ticketmaster does not set ticket prices — artists or promoters do — and it does not charge the bulk of the service fees that so enrage fans (venues do).

In his introductory remarks during Thursday’s press conference, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland referenced the “exorbitant fees” and technological failures that have infuriated customers for years, but said quite emphatically that “We are not here today because Live Nation and Ticketmaster’s [customers] are frustrated. We are here because as we allege that conduct is anticompetitive.”

Asked how the proposed split would make things better for fans, Justice Department officials noted that historically, when competition thrives and flourishes, the industry, consumers, artists and fans benefit, and added that the power Live Nation and Ticketmaster exert over trading partners, artists, service providers and even fans subverts that competitive process and thus adds to the well-documented miseries of ticket-buying.

Ticketmaster has been dominant for so long that it’s hard to imagine a world without it as it currently exists. But even if the company were to be split from Live Nation, its owner since 2010, it could continue operating under new ownership somewhat close to the way that it has for decades.

However, unraveling its tight connections with Live Nation adds multiple layers of complexity, and as Dean Budnick, author of the book “Ticket Masters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped” and editor in chief of Relix magazine says, the DOJ’s complaint offers little in the way of substantive solutions, and at times seems to be more of an indictment against the concert business as a whole.

“The filing itself is pretty compelling,” he says, “but even if you were to stipulate that everything in it is true, it’s not clear to me what the proper remedy is — what the government states at the very end is a little ambiguous. But let’s just say Ticketmaster and Live Nation were split: The first question would be how well capitalized Ticketmaster would be [on its own], because the reason that it is able to do everything that’s alleged is because it is so well capitalized — it can offer bonuses, advances against service fees, and all of that. If Ticketmaster becomes an independent entity but can pay for those contracts, then I don’t know much will necessarily change.

“Also, in its filing, the [DOJ] says that other countries like the U.K. and France don’t have exclusive contractual arrangements [with venues or promoters] like we do in the United States. But that’s not only a Ticketmaster thing: Are we going to say that no ticketing company should be allowed to enter into exclusive arrangements with venues and promoters? I’m not sure this is the mechanism that can be used to achieve that goal; I’d think that’s a congressional matter. It certainly suggests that Live Nation and Ticketmaster and their relationship is something that causes problems for consumers, but it’s not clear to me that the remedies they’re suggesting are altogether going to help resolve them.”

An even more complex issue is who besides Ticketmaster might have the capability to take over ticketing for some of the larger venues that it services. A major reason why Ticketmaster is contracted with so many stadiums and large arenas is because they’re presently, arguably the only ticketer that actually can.

“Well, that’s the problem, right?,” Budnick agrees. “No one has the infrastructure, because no one else has had the financial incentive to build that infrastructure. Seatgeek could step up — they have a couple of [large venues] in Arizona and Texas, and they have at least some of the infrastructure because they were reselling tickets to basically every venue in America, although obviously they don’t have it on the level in terms of primary sales. But I’m not sure they have the means to do it. And AXS — the agency owned by AEG Presents, Live Nation’s biggest competitor — because it’s privately owned, might be farther along on that road than people might think. Maybe they can scale relatively quickly, because at a minimum, they’re doing a decent job dealing with AEG Presents’ properties.”

And finally, if Live Nation is forced to offload Ticketmaster, who might the new owner be?

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some private equity group that actually could buy it,” he says. “I’m sure there’s someone out there who’s thinking about it right now.”

From Variety US