The battle between Live Nation and AEG has escalated with a New York Times report that the Department of Justice is probing whether Live Nation strong-arms its clients into using Ticketmaster.
AEG has reportedly told the DOJ that venues it manages in Atlanta, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Louisville and Oakland were told they would lose valuable shows if Ticketmaster was not used as a vendor, a possible violation of antitrust laws.
The complaint stems from a Matchbox Twenty tour in 2013. AEG provided the paper with email correspondence between Live Nation and Dan Markham, booking director for Atlanta’s Gwinnett Center. The arena had just switched from Ticketmaster to AEG’s new ticketing service, AXS. Live Nation bypassed the Gwinnett, sending Matchbox Twenty to another building.
Live Nation characterized the situation as “a routine fluctuation,” according to the Times, no matter what the employee wrote. Markham, on the other hand, said he anticipated when Live Nation dropped their annual shows at Gwinnett from four to two, saying Live Nation “warned us that they would put us in a literal boycott.”
“What happened in Atlanta is just one example of what has been occurring much more broadly,” Ted Fikre, the chief legal officer for AEG, told the paper.
Live Nation officials said they never threaten or retaliate.
“You have a disgruntled competitor that is trying to explain their loss around the boogeyman that there were threats made that nobody can document,” Daniel M. Wall, Live Nation’s antitrust lawyer, told the Times.
The report comes on the heels of a he-said/she-said argument between AEG, Live Nation and MSG Entertainment. MSG and AEG have accused each other of block-booking intimidation – that an artist must play one building to get the luxury of playing another. AEG now says its policy was a response to Live Nation’s steering of concert to the Forum in Inglewood, Calif.
It has been eight years since Live Nation and Ticketmaster merged. At the time, the country’s top antitrust regulator, assistant attorney general Christine A. Varney, said there would be “enough air and sunlight” for competitors to thrive, and that the merger would result in lower ticket service fees and lower ticket prices.
“Eight years after the merger, the ticketing business is still dominated by Live Nation and its operations extend into nearly every aspect of the concert world,” the Times said. “Ticket prices are at record highs. Service fees are far from reduced. And Ticketmaster, part of the Live Nation empire, still tickets 80 of the top 100 arenas in the country. No other company has more than a handful. No competitor has risen to challenge its pre-eminence.”
Jared Smith, president of Ticketmaster, wrote a lengthy blog post on Ticketmaster.com refuting AEG’s claims. “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 said. “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.
“The New York Times article suggests that any benefits of being a vertically integrated company are, in and of themselves, anticompetitive. They insinuate that we ‘condition’ content. That we ‘retaliate’ when Ticketmaster is not selected as a venue’s ticketing partner. In short, they say we have stifled competition.
“The reality is that none of these things are true. 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. We also do not re-route content as retaliation for a lost ticketing deal. 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.”