Live Nation’s efforts to avoid a U.S. antitrust lawsuit are seen as likely to fail

(Bloomberg) — Live Nation Entertainment Inc. is expected to meet with senior Justice Department officials in the coming weeks to head off a potential antitrust lawsuit aimed at breaking up the company.

This probably won’t work.

Justice Department officials have recommended filing a lawsuit against Ticketmaster, the ticketing arm of Live Nation, according to people familiar with the matter. Antitrust chief Jonathan Kanter, who makes the final decision, is not a supporter of settlements, especially not in this case, say people who asked not to be identified because of the ongoing investigation.

The Justice Department’s antitrust enforcers also worked with state attorneys general – including Tennessee, California, New York and Washington – to persuade them to join the lawsuit, the citizens said. The attorney general’s offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

According to the media, one of the Live Nation meetings at the Justice Department will be held with the participation of Kanter himself. It will likely be a so-called last rites meeting, during which companies will have one last chance to make their case before the agency files a lawsuit.

Live Nation officials have said they are open to negotiating a settlement to end a nearly two-year Justice Department investigation into its activities and believe a breakup would be unjustified.

“We look forward to our upcoming meeting with divisional management and hope that we will be able to amicably resolve any remaining disputes,” Live Nation CEO Joe Berchtold said last week on a call with investors. “But if not, we are ready to defend ourselves in court.”

The lawsuit could be filed as early as this month, although a final decision has not yet been made and public opinion is that the deadline may be delayed. The Justice Department declined to comment. Live Nation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

He prefers lawsuits

The Biden administration has made competition a key pillar of its economic policy. Unlike some of his predecessors, Kanter preferred to file lawsuits challenging mergers and illegal business practices rather than reach settlements. The antitrust division is pursuing dual monopoly cases against Alphabet Inc.’s Google and sued Apple Inc. in March. for allegedly using its power over iPhone app distribution to thwart innovations that would make it easier for consumers to switch phones.

Ticketmaster claims to control 50% to 60% of the primary ticket sales market and 20% to 25% of the resale market. A report by the antitrust group American Economic Liberties Project found that Live Nation controls more than two-thirds of America’s largest amphitheaters and arenas – 109 of 156 – most of which use Ticketmaster.

Ticketmaster’s botched 2022 ticket sales for Taylor Swift’s hit “Eras” tour have sparked a wave of criticism at the entertainment giant, which controls the largest concert promoter and the largest U.S. ticketing company. Ticketmaster said the failure of the Eras tour, during which tens of thousands of fans were unable to fulfill ticket orders, was the result of “industrial-scale ticket scalping” fueled by automated “bots”.

U.S. lawmakers have introduced a series of bills aimed at requiring more transparency in pricing or banning multi-year exclusive ticket sales deals, with a Senate panel subpoenaing Live Nation and its CEO Michael Rapino.

This week, during a public event hosted by Bloomberg, Kanter’s top deputy, Doha Mekki, hinted at additional pending cases, noting that the agency has several “advanced-stage investigations on which we look forward to making executive decisions.”

Once a case has been investigated and a decision has been made to file a lawsuit, filing a complaint and holding a public antitrust trial serves an important function, Hetal Doshi, chief antitrust litigation specialist at the Department of Justice, said at the same event.

“The trial and its outcome are the ultimate goal” of any case, said Doshi, who did not speak about any specific case. “Transparency has enormous value and I believe it is an essential part of our public mission and mandate.”

Live Nation merged with Ticketmaster in 2010. President Barack Obama’s Justice Department reviewed the deal and allowed it to proceed as part of a settlement in which the company promised not to retaliate against concert venues that stopped using Ticketmaster.

The Trump administration found that Live Nation had repeatedly violated that promise and modified the settlement in 2019 to impose a third-party monitor to investigate further allegations. The Biden administration opened a new investigation into the company in 2022 amid ongoing concerns that Live Nation had failed to honor the terms of the settlement.

– With help from Kartikay Mehrotra.

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