The New York Times on Friday reported that the United States Justice Department has opened an antitrust investigation in to Live Nation Entertainment, the corporation that owns Ticketmaster, focused on whether the company has abused its power over the live music industry. The report cites two unnamed sources “with knowledge of the matter.”
While outrage over Ticketmaster’s outsize control over the live event ticketing is nothing new, the problematic nature of the company’s omnipresent role was drawn back into the spotlight this week after the its botched Taylor Swift The Eras Tour pre-sale left a countless fans ticketless and fuming. On Thursday afternoon, Ticketmaster canceled the scheduled public on-sale for the Swift tour outright, citing “extraordinarily high demands on ticketing systems and insufficient remaining ticket inventory to meet that demand.”
Per the new Times report, the Justice Department investigation pre-dates the issues with Taylor Swift’s tour: “Staff members at the agency’s antitrust division have in recent months contacted music venues and players in the ticket market, asking about Live Nation’s practices and the wider dynamics of the industry, said the [sources], who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is sensitive. The inquiry appears to be broad, looking at whether the company maintains a monopoly over the industry, said one of the [sources] … Live Nation did not immediately comment. a spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment.”
Live Nation Entertainment was formed via a 2010 merger between Ticketmaster, already the world’s biggest ticketing provider, and Live Nation, already the world’s leading concert promoter. Despite significant opposition from others in the music industry, the Justice Department approved the merger under the condition that the company sell some parts of its business.
As The New York Times report explains, “It also reached a legal settlement with the company that forbade Live Nation from threatening concert venues with losing access to its tours if those venues decide to use ticketing providers other than Ticketmaster. Those terms were set to last for 10 years, until 2020.”
A 2019 Justice Department investigation into Live Nation Entertainment later found that the corporation had violated that provision of the agreement. It went on to extend the merger agreement to 2025 and adjust its language regarding what the company was and was not allowed to do in ticketing negotiations with venue operators. At the time, the Justice Department described this intervention as “its strongest enforcement of an antitrust agreement in 20 years.”
The Biden administration has made notable efforts to enforce antitrust laws in its first two. Since 2020, the Justice Department has challenged several major mergers, with mixed success. Now, per the sources cited in the Times report, “Officials at the [Justice Department] have grown increasingly wary of such settlements, believing the best way to settle antitrust concerns is through changes to a company’s structure.”
The Taylor Swift debacle represents the latest PR hit for Ticketmaster, which drew widespread criticism earlier this year for its implementation of “dynamic pricing” for Bruce Springsteen tickets. As the company recorded record profits in this latest fiscal quarter—largely fueled by practices that fans and consumer advocacy groups alike deem to be predatory—the calls for the dismantling of Live Nation Entertainment have intensified. One such proponent is Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who earlier this week tweeted, “Daily reminder that Ticketmaster is a monopoly, its merger with LiveNation should never have been approved, and they need to be [reined] in. Break them up.”
On Wednesday, in light of the Swift pre-sale chaos, Tennessee Attorney General Jonathon Skrmetti at a press conference discussed the possibility of a state investigation into Ticketmaster. “Because they have a dominant position,” he said, “they may have thought they didn’t need to worry about that. This could be an indicator that there’s not enough competition in the market.”
“We are thrilled to see the Department of Justice Antitrust Division investigate Live Nation-Ticketmaster’s ongoing monopoly abuse of fans, artists, venues, and live events professionals,” said the Break Up Ticketmaster Coalition, a broad collection of sports fans, independent musicians, and advocates that has petitioned the government to break up Live Nation Entertainment. “This is a day of optimism and hope for over 40,000 people who have called on the DOJ to break up Live Nation-Ticketmaster, a corporation that has bent and broken the industry to its will since its entities merged in 2010.”
This story is developing.