Monday, June 24, 2024

‘Have an Industry to Save’

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Live music experts are anticipating the antitrust lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice against Live Nation to take years to resolve, given the wide scope of the claims against the concert giant and the various stakeholders in the live music ecosystem.  

“It is going to take a couple of years, at least,” Lee Hepner, senior counsel of anti-monopoly group the American Economic Liberties Project, said at the NIVA 2024 conference in New Orleans on Tuesday (June 4). The conference is put on by the National Independent Venue Association, which formed in 2020 to secure federal funding from the government during the pandemic. The upside, for Hepner and other speakers on the panel called Ticket Tyranny: The Unseen Grip of Market Dominance, is the “massive potential in restructuring the industry.”

Ant Taylor, founder and CEO of ticketing competitor Lyte, agreed on Tuesday saying, “Given how big the scope [of the DOJ lawsuit] is, it is going to be challenging to see it through… What excites me about this moment is the opportunity we have as an ecosystem to look — not just at Live Nation — but to look at the way we do business together and the conditions in which Live Nation has thrived.” 

Specifically, Taylor added, “What’s the business model of ticketing and why, for 40 years, has there been so little innovation around it?” 

Ticketmaster has been a dominate force in the ticketing business for decades — its 2010 merger with Live Nation only strengthened its position in the U.S. market. The DOJ lawsuit claims that Live Nation-Ticketmaster has “unlawfully maintained monopolies in several concert promotions and primary ticketing markets and engaged in other exclusionary conduct affecting live concert venues, including arenas and amphitheaters.” A major concern for the DOJ and the group of 30 states that jointly filed the suit on May 23 is Live Nation’s “flywheel model,” which the DOJ describes as a “self-reinforcing business model that captures fees and revenue from concert fans and sponsorship, uses that revenue to lock up artists to exclusive promotion deals, and then uses its powerful cache of live content to sign venues into long term exclusive ticketing deals, thereby starting the cycle all over again.” 

Unlike the consent decree that Live Nation has been under since the merger, which was designed to prevent the company from abusing its position, Kevin Erickson, director of Washington D.C.-based nonprofit organization Future of Music Coalition, told the audience that he believes the DOJ lawsuit is focusing on the correct parties impacted by the alleged monopoly: the artists, venues and fans.

“Even with the best intentions, a consent decree is inadequate to address the potential for harm,” Erickson said. “It shifts the enforcement burden onto the people who have the least amount of power. It forces artists and artist representatives and venue folks to monitor for violations of antitrust law.” 

Hepner explained that Future of Music Coalition has been collecting such complaints against Live Nation for years and encouraged those in the room to reach out on how to connect with the DOJ with additional complaints as the lawsuit works its way through the justice system.

If the DOJ’s lawsuit is successful and Live Nation is forced to divest Ticketmaster, the panelists expressed hope that without the promoter’s financial backing, competition in ticketing will flourish, allow for innovation and end exclusive ticketing contracts often used by Ticketmaster and other major ticketers.  

Panelist Gary Witt, president and CEO of Pabst Theater Group, stressed the importance of eliminating Ticketmaster’s dominance due to growing customer dissatisfaction. “It is not about your experience when the customer comes through the door. It is not about the artist’s experience when they come backstage. It’s about the initial experience of buying a ticket,” Witt said to the audience.

The primary ticketing market has become “a closed market and allows for zero innovation,” Witt said, adding, “We have an industry to save here.” 

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