The Case For Breaking Up Ticketmaster, 'The Monopoly Of Our Time That Everybody Hates'

The Justice Department filed a long-awaited antitrust lawsuit against Ticketmaster and parent company Live Nation on Thursday, seeking to break up what officials call an unlawful monopoly that’s squeezing artists, promoters and venues while jacking up prices for fans.

Two days before the suit was filed, one of the “architects” of President Joe Biden’s antitrust agenda made a concise and plainspoken case for why the administration should pursue it.

Tim Wu, former special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy, was speaking to a gathering of antitrust hawks at the American Economic Liberties Project’s Anti-Monopoly Summit in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. When the discussion turned to Ticketmaster and Live Nation, Wu called it “the monopoly of our time that everybody hates.”

He argued that if any modern company should be targeted for antitrust enforcement, it should be Ticketmaster-Live Nation, and that pursuing such a case was a matter of following “popular will”:

If or when the Justice Department of the United States files suit against Ticketmaster-Live Nation, that will be a happy day for the republic. I just want to point out if you ask a person in the street, they may have whatever feelings about Google or Apple, but nobody, nobody likes the Ticketmaster monopoly. And I think there’s something to that. I think that we have to be showing we’re taking people’s concerns seriously. It’s just like sitting in front of everybody’s faces that Ticketmaster Live Nation is this untouched monopoly…

Going back in history again, Theodore Roosevelt started antitrust, and he was like, ‘We have to break up Standard Oil. Like, what is this? If this law was written for something, it was written for the Standard Oil monopoly.’ And in our times, if this movement means something, it’s going to be taking on Ticketmaster, which is the monopoly of our time that everybody hates. Now, I don’t want to prejudge the case, but I guess I just did. But I do think it’s important that popular will says something.

Watch Wu’s remarks in full above, courtesy of the American Economic Liberties Project.

The Justice Department’s lawsuit accuses Ticketmaster-Live Nation of muscling out rivals in the live events market, retaliating against venues that don’t play along, locking out competition with exclusive contracts and bullying artists into using their promotional services. The agency was joined by 30 state and district attorneys general in filing the complaint.

Live Nation said in a statement that the lawsuit “won’t solve the issues fans care about” related to ticket prices and service fees, and called the Justice Department’s allegations “baseless.”

“Calling Ticketmaster a monopoly may be a PR win for the DOJ in the short term, but it will lose in court because it ignores the basic economics of live entertainment, such as the fact that the bulk of service fees go to venues, and that competition has steadily eroded Ticketmaster’s market share and profit margin,” the company said.

If the suit succeeds, a judge could force the company to divest certain parts of its business. Jonathan Kanter, head of DOJ’s antitrust division, said in a statement Thursday that the goal was to “restore competition for the benefit of fans and artists.”