US gov sues Live Nation-Ticketmaster to break up market monopoly

The US Department of Justice announced Thursday that it's suing Live Nation Entertainment and its Ticketmaster subsidiary in an attempt to break up the behemoth’s stronghold on live concert ticket sales and shady marketing practices.

The Justice Department (DoJ) lawsuit accuses the multinational entertainment company of unlawfully exercising its “monopoly power” in violation of Section 2 of the Sherman Anti-trust Act, a law passed in the late 1800s to protect American consumers from anti-competitive industry monopolization.

“As a result of its conduct, music fans in the United States are deprived of ticketing innovation and forced to use outdated technology while paying more for tickets than fans in other countries,” the agency said in Thursday’s announcement.

Live Nation Entertainment owns or controls more than 265 concert venues in North America, including more than 60 of the top 100 amphitheaters in the US, generating over $22 billion in annual revenue, according to the DoJ.

Furthermore, the DoJ claims Live Nation’s anticompetitive conduct in the live concert industry has caused irreparable harm to fans, performers, venue operators, and independent promoters.

“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. It is time to break up Live Nation-Ticketmaster,” said US Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.

Joining the DoJ action is 30 state and district attorneys general, including the for the District of Columbia.

As an international concert producer, branding music marketer, and ticket sales management company, Live Nation is considered the “largest live entertainment company in the world.”

Furthermore, the DoJ states that Ticketmaster, now a wholly owned subsidiary that merged with Live Nation in 2010, is the largest concert ticketing company in the US, towering over even its closest competitors.

Ticketmaster also has a major foothold in the resale market for previously purchased tickets, operating an online resale platform that allows users to resell those tickets at a later time. The resale practice has been a bone of contention for artists and their fans (more on the 2022 Ticketmaster-Taylor Swift debacle below) who lose out to swarms of automated bots buying up millions of tickets, oftentimes within minutes of going on pre-sale.

‘Gatekeeper for entire industry’

The LiveNation conglomerate is said to have consistently engaged in exclusionary behavior, purposefully bullying its competitors “to cement their dominance of the live concert market and act as the gatekeeper for an entire industry,” said US Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco.

Officials laid out at litany of wrongdoings carried out by the Beverly Hills, California headquartered company in Thursday’s briefing.

The DoJ accused the ticket sales giant of maintaining illegal monopolies in multiple concert promotions and primary ticketing markets, affecting live concert venues across the nation, including arenas and amphitheaters.

The DoJ referred to Live Nation’s “self-reinforcing business model” as a “flywheel” model that carries out the same practices, creating a never-ending cycle of lose-lose for artists, venues, promotors, and fans.

The cycle starts with Live Nation collecting exorbitant fees and revenue from concert fans and sponsorship, then using that revenue to lock up artists to exclusive promotion deals.

The suit charges that Live Nation would buy up or partner with key venues, blocking artists from booking with the concert halls unless the performers agreed to use Live Nation’s promotion services.

With so many artists beholden to Live Nation’s control, concert venues often felt they had no choice but to sign long-term exclusive ticketing deals with the conglomerate, and the cycle would repeat.

Long time coming, fans say

Live Nation was also accused of multiple instances of threatening and retaliating against potential competitors attempting to grab a share of the concert industry, including other music promoters and ticketing agents, as well as the venues who tried to do business with them.

In once instance, the DoJ reveals it has emails depicting its obnoxious behavior against ‘once-competitor-turned-partner,’ the Oak View Group, questioning "who would be so stupid to...," referencing an attempt Oak View made to compete with the Live Nation machine.

Officials say by preventing venues from using several ticketers, music fans were denied “the best mix of prices, fees, quality, and innovation.”

Ticketmaster last made major headlines in November 2022 after it chose to cancel all Taylor Swift concert ticket sales to the general public over a "staggering" bot problem.

The company admitted to furious Swift fans that automated bots had bought up over 2.5 million tickets during pre-sale, leading to an “insufficient remaining ticket inventory” for the over 3.5 million “Swifties” who tried to purchase general sale tickets on the overwhelmed online platform.

The entire fiasco is said to have triggered the beginnings of the antitrust inquisition by US lawmakers, leading to today’s lawsuit.

And, in 2021, Ticketmaster was forced to fork over a $10 million fine to the US government to avoid criminal prosecution for hacking into the computer system of a known rival, eventually bought out by Live Nation Entertainment.

Live Nation has not released a comment on the lawsuit at the time of this report. Taylor Swift also has not addressed the suit.