Ticketmaster operated ‘illegal monopoly’ to drive up concert and sports prices, Feds say

The US Department of Justice has sued entertainment company Live Nation, parent company of Ticketmaster, after a two-year investigation into its domination of the ticketing industry.

The case against the entertainment giant was filed on Thursday in the Southern District of New York, following allegations that it has an “unlawful” monopoly over live events in the US and has vastly driven up ticket prices.

Justice Department officials and 30 state and district attorneys general are seeking a jury trial and a breakup of Live Nation.

“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. 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 monopolists,” US Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a press briefing on Thursday.

“As detailed in our complaint, Live Nation suffocates its competition using a variety of tactics from acquisitions of smaller regional promoters and venues to threats and retaliation to agreements with rivals designed to neutralise them.

“It is time to break up Live Nation and Ticketmaster. The American people are ready for it.”

Ticketmaster controls more than 80 per cent of the market for primary ticket sales in the US. It maintains that control by striking deals with the nation’s largest venues, ensuring that any events held are ticketed through its company.

The DoJ has sued Live Nation over their business practices and says the business has not allowed the space for competitors and weakened customer choice.

This will potentially include Ticketmaster’s exclusive ticketing contracts with concert venues, the parent company’s dominance over live performance tours and other businesses’ live venue management, sources told The New York Times.

The outlet’s sources added that Live Nation’s position in the industry has meant that prices have been able to rise, including customer fees, as well as hindering competition or growth of other businesses in the ticketing industry.

The entertainment company has previously denied it sets high fees and ticket prices, saying those decisions are down to the artists and other parties, such as the venues.

“Tickets are actually priced by artists and teams.  It’s their show, they get to decide what it costs to get in,” Dan Wall, executive vice president of corporate and regulatory affairs at LiveNation, wrote in March.

The legal action comes after a years-long investigation led by the DoJ’s anti-trust division.

Live Nation and ticket sales and distribution company Ticketmaster were merged together in 2010 to create Live Nation Entertainment.

As a result of the merger, Live Nation entered into a 10-year agreement with the DoJ which was supposed to keep the company from becoming a monopoly. It required Live Nation to provide its ticketing software to AEG Live, its closest competition in the market, and prohibited the company from retaliating against venues who sold tickets through other vendors.

In 2019, the deal was only extended to 2025 after an investigation by antitrust enforcers found that Live Nation violated the agreement by reportedly bullying vendors into solely using Ticketmaster.

However, concert fans and politicians alike called for a reexamination of the merger, especially after outrage when Ticketmaster’s platform faced issues during presale of tickets for Taylor Swift’s groundbreaking “Eras Tour”. The parent company came under fire in 2022 after Ticketmaster became overwhelmed with demand to see Swift, causing long wait times on the site and the cancellation of some planned sales.

In a statement to The Independent, Live Nation says it will defend itself against “these baseless allegations.”

The DOJ's lawsuit won't solve the issues fans care about relating to ticket prices, service fees, and access to in-demand shows,” Live Nation wrote. “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.”

“Our growth comes from helping artists tour globally, creating lasting memories for millions of fans, and supporting local economies across the country by sustaining quality jobs.”

The company also claimed there is more competition than ever in the live events market, stating that Ticketmaster’s market share has declined since 2010.

The lawsuit will be the latest move by the Biden administration, which has made similar cases against big businesses such as Google and Apple regarding monopolisation and antitrust.