Live Nation — the world’s biggest concert promoter and owner of Ticketmaster, the world’s biggest concert ticketing company — has settled with the U.S. Department of Justice after a week of swirling rumors about government action against the company’s practices.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the DOJ was preparing a lawsuit against Live Nation on allegations that the company has been pushing concert venues into using its own Ticketmaster platform over other ticketing systems; such competition-stifling actions are prohibited under the consent decree that Live Nation signed in 2010 when it merged with Ticketmaster to form a live events behemoth. On Thursday afternoon, Live Nation confirmed the start of a settlement with the government agency that reaffirms and expands its original antitrust agreement, in a sign that the company does not want further public discussion about its internal affairs.
“We have reached an agreement in principle with the Department of Justice to extend and clarify the consent decree,” a rep for Live Nation said in a statement. “We believe this is the best outcome for our business, clients and shareholders as we turn our focus to 2020 initiatives.” The DOJ said in its own (much lengthier) statement that it’s working to add a number of new provisions to the original consent decree — including the appointment of an independent monitor to report on the company’s compliance, the clarification that no employee of either organization is allowed to threaten venues with retaliation for choosing another ticketing provider, and an automatic penalty of $1 million for each violation — and that Live Nation should pay the costs and fees to taxpayers for enforcement. No specific financial figures have been announced. Under the deal, Live Nation will extend the expiration of its consent decree from July 2020 to December 2025.
“Today’s enforcement action including the addition of language on retaliation and conditioning will ensure that American consumers get the benefit of the bargain that the United States and Live Nation agreed to in 2010,” the DOJ’s Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, who presides over antitrust cases, said in the statement. “Merging parties will be held to their promises and the Department will not tolerate transgressions that hurt the American consumer.”
The DOJ was following five different threads in its misconduct investigation, sources told Rolling Stone, including several that were first outlined in a 2018 New York Times article. Ticketmaster was also the subject of an undercover investigation by CBC News and the Toronto Star that same year, which detailed a ticket-scalping scheme run by its own employees in the resale market and prompted calls from U.S. senators for a closer examination of the state of competition in the ticketing market.
But while reports of monopoly behavior have followed the company around for some time, Live Nation has always publicly claimed that it plays by the rules. Live Nation’s CEO Michael Rapino said in a conference in September that the company is “very compliant” with the laws that are meant to govern it. Booking a Live Nation tour date at a venue with a non-Ticketmaster ticketing provider sometimes does not make economic sense for the company, he said, and the consent decree does allow Live Nation to make strategic decisions “right for our business.”
Others in the live events space don’t share that view. “Everyone knows that all roads lead to Live Nation,” an executive of a competing ticketing platform, who requested anonymity because of fear of retribution, told Rolling Stone this week before the settlement was announced. “Since the [Ticketmaster] merger, ticket prices have gone through the roof. Live Nation is too good at what it does.” An executive at another ticketing platform said that Live Nation is “quite careful” about what it puts in writing when it makes deals with venues, meaning that prosecutors face a “difficult threshold” when trying to find obvious violations of the 2010 merger’s consent decree.
Delrahim had also been investigating Ticketmaster’s attempt to purchase its competitor Rival, a startup helmed by former Ticketmaster CEO Nathan Hubbard, after other companies in the ticketing space protested the transaction. Thursday’s agreement between the company and the government agency did not include details on that pending matter.
On Thursday afternoon, Live Nation’s stock bounced up nearly 10% to around $69 a share, the price it had been trading last week before news of a DOJ probe hit.