A week removed from Ticketmaster’s disastrous presale for Taylor Swift’s upcoming Eras Tour, criticism of parent company Live Nation isn’t getting any quieter – and the threat of legal repercussions is growing.
Live Nation has apologized to fans and pinned the blame on a “staggering number of bot attacks” and “unprecedented traffic.” And whether or not the star really was forced to use Ticketmaster is a complicated question, as Billboard’s Dave Brooks writes.
But the debacle, which saw widespread service delays and website crashes as millions of fans tried (and many failed) to buy tickets for Swift’s 2023 Eras Tour, has nonetheless resurfaced some uncomfortable legal questions for the all-powerful concert giant.
Since they merged in 2010, Ticketmaster and Live Nation have been dogged by accusations that they form a near-monopoly in the market for live concerts, potentially violating federal antitrust laws. Federal regulators at the U.S. Department of Justice approved that deal, but only after Live Nation signed a so-called consent decree that aimed to allay fears that they might abuse their dominant position. Among other things, the agreement prohibits the company from retaliating against venues or acts that refuse to use Ticketmaster. Those rules were set to expire in 2020, but were extended by five years in 2019 after the DOJ accused Live Nation of repeatedly violating the decree.
In the wake of the Swift fiasco, those same monopoly questions are back in the spotlight – and some lawmakers want more than just another extension of the consent decree.
On Tuesday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) blasted Live Nation as a “monopoly” and called for regulators to “break them up.” Two days later, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the chair of the Senate subcommittee for antitrust issues, warned that the company’s market share “insulates it from the competitive pressures that typically push companies to innovate and improve their services.”
Then on Friday, the New York Times reported that DOJ had already been investigating Live Nation for months over potential antitrust violations, reaching out to venues across the country to ask about the company’s conduct. Reacting to that news, Klobuchar and two other Democratic senators on Monday urged the Justice Department to take hard action if they discover more violations, including “unwinding the Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger and breaking up the company.”
“This may be the only way to truly protect consumers, artists, and venue operators and to restore competition in the ticketing market,” the senators wrote.
Such action might have been unthinkable just a few years ago, amid a decades-long period of relatively lax antitrust enforcement that saw airlines and mobile providers (and yes, music companies) merging into ever-larger conglomerations. But the Biden-era Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission have embarked on an aggressive new effort to crack down on such mega-mergers, including successfully blocking book publisher Penguin Random House from buying up rival Simon & Schuster.
Beyond the Justice Department probe, other legal threats also potentially loom for Live Nation. The attorneys general of Tennessee, North Carolina, Nevada and Pennsylvania have all launched investigations into whether state consumer protection and antitrust laws were violated, including a Tennessee state law that aims to fight the use of automated “bots” on ticketing websites.
And don’t forget about class actions. Live Nation is already facing an existing case that accuses the company of “blatant, anti-consumer behavior,” and the rest of the plaintiffs bar could be eager to try similar cases in the wake of such a high-profile snafu. At least one group of Swift-loving lawyers is already brainstorming how to bring cases.
Faced with all that, can Live Nation shake it off? Stay tuned…
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