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Ticketmaster responds to allegations of anti-competitive behaviour

By | Published on Tuesday 3 April 2018

Ticketmaster

The President of Ticketmaster in the US has penned a blog post responding to a lengthy report in the New York Times this weekend. The newspaper looked at allegations of anti-competitive behaviour against the ticketing giant and its owner Live Nation. In particular, it asked whether the company is compliant with commitments it made to the US Department Of Justice when venue operator and tour promoter Live Nation merged with ticketing company (and artist management group) Ticketmaster back in 2010.

Responding to the Times article, Ticketmaster President Jared Smith argues in his blog post that eight years on from the big Live Nation deal the ticketing business Stateside is “more competitive right now than it has ever been”.

Yes, he writes, Ticketmaster may be “the clear industry leader” in the US ticketing market, but, he reckons, “that leadership is not the result of any unfair advantages resulting from being a part of Live Nation Entertainment as some are suggesting”.

“Pure and simple,” he says, “it is the result of Live Nation’s ongoing commitment to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into Ticketmaster to ensure that our people, technology and services are the very best at what they do. And let’s be honest, these investments are significantly larger than any other provider in the space by a wide margin”.

Allegations of anti-competitive behaviour were at heart of the original lawsuit filed against Live Nation by ticketing start-up Songkick. Had it got to court, a long line of complaints about the conduct of Live Nation – from competitors large and small – would likely have been aired. However, in January Live Nation settled with Songkick while buying up a bunch of the start-up’s ticketing platform assets (the better known gig recommendations side of that business having already been sold to Warner Music).

That hasn’t stopped Live Nation’s critics from chattering about the company allegedly abusing its market dominance. Especially in the US, where Ticketmaster is particularly dominant and exclusivity deals are common in the ticketing business. Among those critics is Live Nation’s biggest rival AEG, which has invested in its own ticketing platform called AXS since Ticketmaster merged with its main competitor.

In the New York Times piece, following claims that Live Nation’s touring business penalised a venue in Atlanta after it switched its ticketing from Ticketmaster to AXS, AEG’s Chief Legal Officer Ted Fikre is quoted as saying: “What happened in Atlanta is just one example of what has been occurring much more broadly”.

The article then runs through the deal made with the US Department Of Justice back in 2010 when Live Nation and Ticketmaster merged, one of those ‘consent decrees’ that the DoJ’s anti-trust division likes so much. That consent decree was designed to stop Live Nation from using its dominance in tour promotion to give its newly acquired ticketing division an unfair advantage.

The Times quotes the boss of the New York Attorney General’s Antitrust Bureau, Beau Buffier, who is very critical of that 2010 deal. “The consent decree was supposed to prevent Live Nation from using its strength in live entertainment to foreclose competition in ticketing”, he told the newspaper. “But it is now widely seen as the poster child for the problems that arise when enforcers adopt these temporary fixes to limit the anticompetitive effects of deeply problematic vertical mergers”.

Hitting out at those competitors – AEG in particular – who have accused Live Nation of anti-competitive conduct, and maybe even being in violation of its DoJ consent decree, Ticketmaster boss Smith writes: “We take our obligations under the DoJ consent decree very seriously and we do not ever knowingly violate it. The fact is, the consent decree simply doesn’t mean what AEG and some of our competitors want it to mean”.

Stating that the 2010 deal with the DoJ actually helped rival AEG move into ticketing, while confirming the resulting consent decree bans Live Nation from threatening to pull shows from venues that don’t use Ticketmaster, Smith goes on: “What the consent decree emphatically does not say is that Live Nation and Ticketmaster have to pretend that they’re not a vertically integrated company”.

Ah yes, good old ‘vertical integration’. That just means having tours and ticketing in one company. “The New York Times article suggests that any benefits of being a vertically integrated company are, in and of themselves, anticompetitive”, Smith muses on. “They insinuate that we … ‘retaliate’ when Ticketmaster is not selected as a venue’s ticketing partner. In short, they say we have stifled competition”.

That is not true, Smith insists. “It is absolutely against Live Nation and Ticketmaster policy to threaten venues that they won’t get any Live Nation shows if they don’t use Ticketmaster”, he states. And not just because of the consent decree. “Live Nation is the most artist-focused company in the world, and misusing our relationship with artists to ‘settle scores’ with venues would be both bad business and counter to our core beliefs”.

He then muses on about just how competitive ticketing now is Stateside, and how his colleagues in the Live Nation promotions division go about picking venues for their acts to play. And he then name checks various Ticketmaster projects and innovations that he’d much rather talk about than all this anti-competitive nonsense. “But I guess none of that sells newspapers”, he adds. Too right. And boy, is it hard selling newspapers these days.

“So, we will continue to uphold the principles of the consent decree as we always have”, he concludes, “without shying away from talking about the things that we believe make us the best overall partner in the market. That’s the way competition should work”.

Read the New York Times piece in full here and Smith’s full rebuttal here.



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