Live Nation and Ticketmaster rule with an iron fist in music monopoly

Few people in music saw happy times coming when Live Nation and Ticketmaster announced their intention to merge years ago, but the Justice Department approved it despite the near certainty that the monopoly would eliminate competition in the ticket-selling business.

Live Nation is the country’s largest music promoter. Ticketmaster has long been the champion of selling tickets (and imposing fees).

What could be bad?

The Justice Department claimed reduced ticket service fees, even lower ticket prices, might result. Fat chance, and eight years later, it’s been exactly what music fans and many venues expected, the New York Times reports today.

Ticket prices are at record highs (if you can find them at all once they’ve been swept up by the brokers). Customers are getting clobbered with service and convenience fees, and Ticketmaster controls ticket sales in 80 of the top 100 arenas in the country. Live Nation, meanwhile, manages most of the nation’s top music acts and pressures venues to make its ticketing subsidiary the exclusive agent.

AEG, which manages Target Center, claims Live Nation threatened it would lose the biggest shows if if Ticketmaster was not used as a vendor, the Times reports.

In the Atlanta case, the complaint stems from a 2013 tour by the band Matchbox Twenty. Live Nation bypassed the Gwinnett Center, a popular arena outside the city, for another venue in town.

Gwinnett’s booking director, Dan Markham, worried his venue was being punished, according to emails he wrote at the time. The center had just replaced Ticketmaster with a service controlled by AEG.

“Don’t abandon Gwinnett,” he wrote to a Live Nation talent coordinator. “If there’s an issue or issues let’s address.”

“Issue?” the Live Nation coordinator wrote back. “Three letters. Can you guess what they are?”

Live Nation says that, no matter what its employee wrote, the decision to bypass the center was not punitive. The other venue was managed by Live Nation and simply fit more people. But the following year, Live Nation cut the number of tours it brought to Gwinnett in half, from four to two.

Part of the problem, the Times says, is the consent decree the Justice Department ordered in the merger is ambiguous, prohibiting punishing venues for not accepting Ticketmaster as its exclusive ticket seller when Live Nation Acts are booked at an arena, but allowing Live Nation to pull acts from a venue if can defend the action as sound business.