Live Nation, Ticketmaster lawsuit: What to know

The Biden administration, 29 states and the District of Columbia are taking on the powerful company responsible for booking and selling tickets to major concerts.

In a sweeping lawsuit filed Wednesday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and 30 state and district attorneys general accused Live Nation and its subsidiary Ticketmaster of monopolizing the live entertainment industry while harming artists and their fans along the way.

Here’s what to know about the lawsuit and what landed Live Nation in hot water.

What is Live Nation accused of?

The lawsuit alleges Live Nation “engaged in numerous forms of anticompetitive conduct,” including acquiring competitors, retaliating against venues that work with competitors, blocking venues from using multiple ticketers and restricting artists’ venue access.

According to the complaint, Ticketmaster’s long-term, exclusive agreements with venues have been central to Live Nation’s “stranglehold on the live concert industry,” making the company the sole provider of primary ticketing services at venues for years on end.

Live Nation has also repeatedly acquired amphitheaters, festivals, other venues, fellow promoters and small ticketers to neutralize its rivals, the lawsuit alleges.

The company’s increasing control over venues also gives it leverage over artists, requiring them to employ it as the tour’s concert promoter if they want access to its venues, according to the lawsuit.

As of 2023, Live Nation controlled more than 60 of the top 100 amphitheaters in the U.S. and roughly 80 percent of primary ticketing at major concert venues through Ticketmaster.

Live Nation’s closest competitor in the concert promotion space, AEG, is less than half its size, DOJ said in the lawsuit, noting “that overstates its competitive significance.”

In a statement, Live Nation said the “lawsuit won’t solve the issues fans care about relating to ticket prices, service fees, and access to in-demand shows” and pledged to “defend against these baseless allegations, use this opportunity to shed light on the industry, and continue to push for reforms that truly protect consumers and artists.”

Added fees amount to ‘Ticketmaster Tax

Fans pay more fees on live music tickets in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world, according to the lawsuit.

DOJ described the “constant drumbeat” of “public frustration” with additional costs including service, facility and payment processing fees that inflate ticket prices, which it dubbed the “Ticketmaster Tax.”

While Ticketmaster last year adopted all-in pricing, showing the full price of the ticket plus fees up front, those extra costs can ultimately up the base price of a ticket.

“Live music should not be available only to those who can afford to pay the Ticketmaster Tax,” Jonathan Kanter, assistant attorney general for the antitrust division, said at a press conference Thursday.

“We are here today to fight for competition so that we can reopen the doors to the live music industry for all,” he added.

Live Nation said the DOJ lawsuit “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.”

Artists’ options limited unless they use Live Nation

When artists plan a tour, Live Nation’s dominance of the live entertainment and ticketing industry makes it difficult to do so without tapping into the entertainment giant’s network, DOJ said, which gives artists fewer options and means Live Nation can lock out artists who would prefer to work with other vendors.

Dating back more than a decade, Live Nation has prevented artists who opt for third-party promoters from using its venues, DOJ found.

“In other words, if an artist wants to use a Live Nation venue as part of a tour, he or she must always contract with Live Nation as the tour’s concert promotion,” the lawsuit says.

Because Live Nation controls 40 of the country’s top 50 amphitheaters and controls more than 70 percent of large amphitheater concert promotion, DOJ says “it is nearly impossible for an artist … to create a tour that includes stops at amphitheaters without Live Nation.”

Live Nation’s control of music venues means they not only work with the world’s biggest artists, but also up-and-coming talent.

That makes it easier to funnel them into the network of Live Nation venues as their fan base grows, but can also decrease artists’ ability to negotiate, according to the lawsuit.

Part of broader Biden crackdown on corporate power, junk fees

The antitrust lawsuit against the industry giant comes amid a larger effort by the Biden administration to crack down on corporate power and so-called junk fees.

“Today’s announcement reflects the latest efforts by the Department of Justice to combat corporate misconduct,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco.

“Since day one of this administration, we have prioritized holding the most serious corporate wrongdoers accountable, from bribe payers to money launderers to price fixers,” she continued. “Our fight against corporate wrongdoing includes an intense focus on anti-competitive conduct, which disadvantages consumers, workers and businesses of all kinds.

Earlier this year, the Justice Department and 16 states sued Apple, accusing the tech giant of maintaining a monopoly over smartphones. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and 17 states also sued Amazon last fall, alleging anticompetitive behavior in its treatment of shoppers and third-party sellers.

The Biden administration has also sought to crack down on “junk fees” across numerous industries, including by capping credit card late fees, requiring broadband providers to clearly display their “all-in” prices and mandating that airlines provide baggage and change fees upfront.

Live Nation’s lobbying blitz

Before the lawsuit, Live Nation sought to dampen blowback from D.C. with an expensive lobbying campaign.

Live Nation more than doubled its federal lobbying spending to $2.4 million in 2023 from $1.1 million in 2022, The Hill’s analysis of federal disclosures found, and the entertainment giant spent another $520,000 during the first quarter of 2024.

Live Nation and its hired guns reported lobbying Congress on several bills introduced after the Eras Tour debacle. Those bills include the Transparency in Charges for Key Events Ticketing Act, also known as the TICKET Act. The House passed the TICKET Act last week in a bid to promote pricing transparency.

Live Nation’s lobbyists have argued there is robust competition in the concert promotion industry and the ticket resale market, while pointing to a “large gap” in quality between Ticketmaster’s ticketing services and its closest competitors. Antimonopoly advocates have argued Live Nation’s grip on the industry helped create that gap.

“The Justice Department is doing the right thing. It is way past time to break up Live Nation/Ticketmaster. 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,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust and Consumer Rights, which held a hearing on competition in the live entertainment and ticketing industry in January 2023.

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