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What the Ticketmaster-Live Nation lawsuit could mean for fans of live music

Many live music fans likely met the news that the U.S. Justice Department is seeking to break up Ticketmaster and its parent company Live Nation with glee.

Long the subject of consumer complaints, angst toward the two companies reached a crescendo in 2022 when Bruce Springsteen fans were confronted with so-called “dynamic pricing” that saw face-value ticket costs rise to hundreds of dollars. Later that same year, demand for tickets to Taylor Swift’s “Eras Tour” caused Ticketmaster’s website to crash when seats first went on sale.

While experts say it will take some time before fans see relief stemming from the DOJ’s actions, assuming they are successful, the results should ultimately benefit consumers and artists alike.

The Biden administration is accusing Live Nation of exercising monopoly power over the live entertainment space, alleging the company controls some 60% of concert promotions at major venues and about 80% of ticketing operations through Ticketmaster — figures Live Nation has disputed.

For fans, according to the Justice Department, that has meant higher face-value ticket prices — plus higher fees — as well as diminished competition that inherently reduces innovation and makes the ticket-buying experience worse.

Live Nation has said other factors are to blame for these issues.

If past antitrust enforcement is any guide, it could take years for those lower prices to arrive, even if the DOJ ultimately succeeds in breaking up Live Nation.

The benchmark case for large antimonopoly suits is the one the U.S. brought against Microsoft. The Justice Department first charged the tech giant with violating the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1998. Between a trial, an appeal by Microsoft and ultimately a settlement, the case was not resolved until 2004.

A similar set of events is likely to play out as Live Nation has vowed to fight the DOJ’s lawsuit.

“It’s going to be a battle in the courts for some time,” said Morgan Harper, director of policy and advocacy at the American Economic Liberties Project, a consumer advocacy group that has called for the breakup of Live Nation and Ticketmaster.

Even after the suit, Microsoft maintained a dominant position in personal computing. But Harper said the suit helped pave the way for many of today’s tech power players, like Google and Apple, to take on greater market share and ultimately usher in more consumer choices.

Harper said breakup of Live Nation and Ticketmaster would ideally foster more competition by allowing new firms into the market, giving consumers, artists and venues more choice in who they work with — and in turn driving down costs across the board.

“You could see venues testing out and shopping around for different ticketing platforms and not having to stick with just one like Ticketmaster,” Harper said. “And that could lead to lower prices for fans, because of the fees Ticketmaster adds on their site.”

Roger Alford, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, said a post breakup world in live events could look more like the European model, where so-called open ticketing allows multiple ticketing companies to have access to a promoter’s tickets for a given tour. Alford pointed out that many Taylor Swift fans have found it cheaper to fly abroad to see the pop star on tour than pay the prices found in the U.S.

“Breakups for antitrust reasons are unusual; courts are reluctant to do that,” Alford said. “But this is one of those situations where it might be necessary.”

Others are less optimistic. Bob Lefsetz, an influential music industry analyst and publisher of the Lefsetz Letter newsletter, wrote in a blog post that the DOJ’s suit, assuming it succeeds, will not be able to overcome the structural and market forces, including demands for greater returns from artists, that have driven the overall price of live events higher.

“Ticket prices have nothing to do with Ticketmaster,” Lefsetz wrote, adding: “If you think any change is going to trickle down to the consumer, you’re delusional.”

He argued venues will be reluctant to give up the guaranteed money that has come with signing long-term contracts with Live Nation.

“The money’s just going to be shifted around, but it will all be behind the scenes, and you’ll end up paying the same,” Lefsetz wrote, arguing: “They’re going to have to get [that money] somewhere else, after all it’s a business.”

Mark Meador, president of the Fan Fairness Coalition, a group that has sought to raise awareness of Live Nation’s alleged monopoly, is nevertheless confident that a breakup will occur.

If that happens, he said in an interview with NBC News, fans of live entertainment should ultimately enjoy lower costs and a better experience when they go to buy tickets.

“I think this will be a boon for consumers,” Meador said. “If we can separate [Live Nation and Ticketmaster] and create space for competition, we can expect to see lower fees and more innovation, and avoid problems associated with tickets not being sold in easy ways.” he said.

He continued: “The sticker shock we get when we see those fees — those are things we expect to go away as competition is allowed and opportunities are created for other entrants.”

This post appeared first on NBC NEWS

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