Live Nation Entertainment, the concert production giant and parent company of Ticketmaster, is under Justice Department antitrust scrutiny over its dominant role in the music industry that could lead to a possible break up of the company, according to two people with knowledge of the probe.
The company has endured a wave of criticism this week over the botched sale process for musician Taylor Swift’s upcoming concert tour. But the Swift debacle is unrelated to the DOJ investigation, which began in earnest over the summer, according to the people, who spoke anonymously because they are not authorized to comment on a confidential investigation. The probe is focused on whether and how the company uses its heft to muscle out competing ticketing services, concert promoters and other parts of the multibillion-dollar live music industry, the people said.
A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment. A spokesperson for Live Nation did not respond to a request for comment.
The New York Times earlier reported the DOJ investigation.
While the investigation has gained steam in recent months, Live Nation has been under federal oversight since 2010 when it merged with the ticketing giant Ticketmaster. As part of a settlement with the government allowing the deal to close, the companies agreed to sell off some ticketing assets, license ticketing software and agree to not force venues to use Ticketmaster. That settlement had an expiration date in 2020.
In late 2019 the company settled with the DOJ again, over violations of the earlier agreement. The DOJ accused the company of using its dominant position in the live music industry to force artists and venues to use both its ticketing and concert promotion services. The company is by far the largest ticketing company in the U.S., as well as one of the largest concert-promotion, artist management and venue operators. As part of the new agreement, the company agreed to extend court oversight via an independent compliance monitor through 2025.
Musicians and venues have complained for years that the company enforces anti-competitive contract terms that, for example, make it difficult for an artist being promoted by Live Nation to use a Ticketmaster competitor for ticket sales. The court-appointed monitor overseeing the company’s compliance with the settlement has been fielding a steady stream of complaints about the company’s business practices over the last several years, according to a person with knowledge of the complaints.
The company came under fire this week when its system was unable to handle the overwhelming demand for Swift concert tickets. Swift, however, is using Ticketmaster rival AEG to promote her tour.
Any legal action against Live Nation by the DOJ is not imminent, said the people with knowledge of the probe. However, if a lawsuit is ultimately filed, the department could potentially seek a break up of the company, the people said. Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter, who heads up the DOJ’s antitrust division, has said repeatedly that he prefers to litigate rather than settle enforcement actions, and has indicated a preference for so-called structural remedies, such as separating lines of business, rather than behavioral fixes, which include promises not to engage in certain types of conduct.
The DOJ is not the only entity investigating the company. This week attorneys general in both North Carolina and Tennessee have announced probes, and multiple lawmakers including Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who heads up the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, have called for hearings and investigations.