On Monday, a group of Democrats in the House of Representatives penned a letter urging President Joe Biden’s administration to revisit the 2010 merger of Ticketmaster and Live Nation, claiming that this deal created a monopoly on the ticketing industry, “strangled competition, … and harmed consumers.”
The letter, which was directed towards Attorney General Marrick Garland and Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, was written in the context of the Biden administration’s strong antitrust policies, which are viewed as even more aggressive than those in the Obama administration (which originally approved the contentious Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger). Five House Representatives came together on this initiative, with Representative Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) leading the charge, supported by Representative Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ, Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee), Representative David Cicilline (D-RI, Chair of the House Antitrust Subcommittee), Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL, Chair of the House Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee), and Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee).
These authors began the correspondence by arguing that “Live Nation Entertainment … holds more than 80 percent of the venue ticket sales market” due to its “potentially unfair, deceptive, and anticompetitive practices.” The Representatives went on to criticize LNE’s grasp on not just the primary ticket sale industry, but also on the resale marketplace, specifically sharing concerns pertaining to the new “SafeTix” app, which was introduced to “ensure that tickets can only be resold or gifted within the Ticketmaster system.”
The letter also condemned LNE for “mask[ing] its anticompetitive instincts under the guise of public health.” The House Representatives wrote that LiveNation took advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to introduce new measures that were advertised as promoting safety in concert venues, but which actually served to prevent resale and competition. For example, the authors claimed that LNE’s new ticket transfer technology, which was branded as making “entry safer,” is actually a power grab, requiring almost all event attendees to be registered with Ticketmaster and disabling the resale of tickets.
Live Nation already came under fire in 2019 for violating its merger restrictions by combining “ticket, promotion, concert and management business” and threatening to withhold concerts from venues using other ticketing agents, prompting the DOJ to bind LNE to its consent decree for 5 years beyond its expiration in 2020. However, in this week’s letter, the House Representatives argued that this extension was not enough to protect the ticketing industry from Live Nation’s “anticompetitive behavior,” and insisted that the Biden administration further investigates LNE’s practices in order to effectively protect consumers.
This letter follows an unquestionably devastating year for LNE. With almost all concerts canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Live Nation’s revenue dropped 98% and 95% in the second and third quarters last year, respectively. However, LNE is beginning to recover, thanks to both its January purchase of the live streaming platform Veeps and the high US vaccination rate, which suggests the second half of 2021 will witness a return to in-person live events.