The emails at the center of the government's Ticketmaster case

In its lawsuit accusing Live Nation Entertainment, the concert giant that owns Ticketmaster, of being an illegal monopoly, the Justice Department drew on a series of internal communications that offered a rare behind-the-scenes look at the industry.

The Justice Department argued in a sweeping complaint filed Thursday that the 2010 merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster had harmed competition, hindered innovation and resulted in increased ticket prices and fees for consumers. He asked for the company to be dissolved.

In response, Live Nation, which is also the world's largest concert promoter, said it was not a monopoly and denied it had unilateral power to raise prices. Contrary to the government's arguments about its great power, Live Nation says it now faces more competition than ever and that the Justice Department's lawsuit “will not reduce ticket prices or service fees.”

In detailing its allegations, the government relied on illuminating emails that it said were written by Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino and other high-power figures in the concert world.

Here are some of these accusations.

A 2021 episode gets to the heart of the Justice Department's allegations that Live Nation went to great lengths to protect its competitive advantage.

Late that year, the government says, Live Nation “threatened commercial retaliation” against the private equity firm Silver Lake, which had an investment in TEG, an Australian ticketing and promotion company that was involved in a highly anticipated show Kanye West and Drake charity. at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. Silver Lake had also invested in Oak View Group, a venue management company with close ties to Live Nation.

According to the government, Rapino complained to an Oak View Group executive that he viewed TEG as a competitor, and Oak View Group told the investor that Live Nation was “not happy.” Rapino then told Silver Lake that he was “all in” with Oak View Group, “where the big game is in the venues – why insult me ​​with this investment in tickets/promotions etc.”

TEG had agreed a deal to sell some tickets via StubHub. According to the complaint, Live Nation attempted to “frustrate” TEG by blocking those tickets, and as a result, “hundreds of StubHub customers were refused entry to the event.”

Live Nation then “threatened to get its support from the Oak View Group” and Irving Azoff, the powerful arts manager who co-founded the Oak View Group, refused to allow TEG to promote shows featuring any of the artists he managed. Azoff told Rapino that he would ask Silver Lake to sell TEG, and Rapino replied, “I love you.” According to the complaint, Silver Lake tried to sell TEG and offered it to Live Nation.

In a detailed response to the Justice Department's lawsuit, Dan Wall, Live Nation's executive vice president of corporate and regulatory affairs, said the claim that Live Nation had threatened Silver Lake “reveals not only a disregard for the facts, but also a profound hypocrisy.”

Rapino's complaint, Wall said, was “fundamentally identical” to concerns expressed by both the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission about “private equity firms making multiple investments in the same industry due to competitive 'entanglements'.”

In a separate statement about the concert at the LA Coliseum, Live Nation said: “The only thing we did was frustrate TEG's efforts to place tickets directly on the secondary market in violation of our exclusive primary ticket rights.” Silver Lake did not respond to a request for comment.

Live Nation, the government says, initially viewed Oak View Group as one of its “major competing threats.” But the companies soon “worked together,” the government says, to “avoid competing with each other and map out a mutually beneficial business plan to consolidate Live Nation's dominance.”

Oak View Group, the government claims, operated as an “agent” for Live Nation, even calling itself a “pimp” and “hammer” for the larger company, sometimes issuing threats on Live Nation's behalf to venues that were considering the possibility of abandoning Ticketmaster. for another ticket provider.

The government's complaint cites what it says are emails from 2016 in which Rapino complains to Oak View Group executives about their intention to promote shows featuring an artist Live Nation works with. Oak View Group backtracks, with the company's CEO — who is not identified in the complaint, but is Timothy Leiweke — saying, “Our guys have gotten ahead of themselves a little bit. Everyone knows we don't promote and only tour with Live Nation.”

Wall, the Live Nation executive, said in response that the Oak View Group “has never been a concert promoter, nor aspired to be one”, and that he was simply trying to fill the occasional dark nights in one of his locations. “To paint this as an agreement not to compete in concert promotion is ridiculous,” Wall wrote. A representative for Oak View Group declined to comment.

In early 2023, the New York Times broke the news that Barclays Center, the Brooklyn arena, would abandon SeatGeek, the aggressive young ticketing business with which it had just entered into a seven-year contract, and sign a new agreement with Ticketmaster.

The abrupt change raised eyebrows in the industry and led to questions about whether Live Nation had denied the venue access to Live Nation's biggest tours in retaliation for the switch from Ticketmaster to SeatGeek. Live Nation denied this at the time, and a review of concert data by the Times was inconclusive. The number of shows promoted by Live Nation at Barclays had actually declined since SeatGeek took over, but so had those from independent promoters.

The Justice Department's case omits Barclays' name from the suit, but Wall confirmed this in a conference call with investors late Thursday. The government cites an email that it apparently sent to the venue's CEO from “a senior Live Nation executive” who had heard the venue was moving to SeatGeek: “Anyway,” says the email, “you should think about a bigger relationship with LN not just who is writing a bigger sponsorship check,” adding a “wink” emoji.

According to the government, Live Nation “followed up on its threats by rerouting concerts to other venues.”

In response, Live Nation said: “We categorically deny that any concerts were rerouted in retaliation for their decision to go to SeatGeek.”

The government alleges that Live Nation has acquired a number of companies with the aim of eliminating rivals in both concert promotion and ticket sales.

Among the examples cited by the government are United Concerts in Utah, which used a regional ticketing company called SmithsTix. According to what the government says were internal communications at Live Nation, the company wanted a bigger ticket foothold in Utah but chose not to acquire SmithsTix because doing so “would require going to the DOJ.” Instead, Live Nation purchased United Concerts in 2017 and converted its venues to Ticketmaster; SmithsTix, we read, eventually went out of business.

Another is AC Entertainment in Tennessee, which had played a role in the Bonnaroo festival there. Live Nation acquired a controlling stake in the company in 2016. A Live Nation executive considered the economics of the deal “not very exciting” but called it “a defensive move” against AEG, according to the complaint. In 2018, Live Nation purchased Frank Productions, a promoter in Wisconsin that used ticketers other than Ticketmaster; Live Nation acquired the company and “rolled the venues into exclusive contracts with Ticketmaster.”

In response, Wall said the deal for AC Entertainment was made with a promoter who was in his 60s and wanted to retire. “Live Nation didn’t have an office in Knoxville, so for $15 million they made the deal,” Wall wrote. “Seriously? The Justice Department is contesting this?”

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