Economy

Senators Ask DOJ To Keep Eye On Event Ticket Price Gouging

Senators warn that live entertainment could see more monopolistic consolidation

Live concert tickets, already rising in recent years amid monopoly-related fears, could see even more expensive turns if smaller companies and venues are shut out due to the pandemic.

A letter from lawmakers Amy Klobuchar, Richard Blumenthal and Cory Booker to the Justice Department’s top antitrust enforcer urged the department to “closely monitor these markets during and after the pandemic to help ensure that a vibrant and competitive live performance marketplace will re-emerge once this crisis is behind us.”

The coronavirus pandemic, which has made it an unsavory idea to stand in a large group of people as the virus is highly contagious, has essentially frozen the live entertainment industry for now. Industry titan Live Nation, along with other competitors, canceled concerts in broad sweeping moves in March, some without set dates for rescheduling.

And the pandemic’s effects on business, cutting off profits as people are forced to self-isolate, could edge smaller promoters and venues out of the business as they run out of funds and business, the letter reads.

“[T]here are hundreds of independent performance venues around the country that have been forced to cease operations,” the letter reads. “These independent venues, most of which compete with Live Nation venues, do not have the financial resources of a multi-billion dollar company to weather a drastic downturn in revenue. The financial stress of the pandemic could force many to sell out to large buyers, if not to Live Nation itself.”

The letter also posits that Live Nation may end up using its outsized influence to prevent other venues and promoters from pushing events once things have opened up more.

Live Nation has said it has the required funds to last out the year even without things reopening fully.

The fears of monopoly were seen with Live Nation’s controversy late last year when the Department of Justice extended a 2010 consent decree with Live Nation and Ticketmaster from when the two merged.

The decree prohibited Live Nation from forcing venues to use Ticketmaster to book tours and from retaliating when the venues went with a competitor. The DOJ investigated five possible antitrust violations at the end of 2019, and thus extended the decree to 2025 instead of letting it expire in 2020 as it would have otherwise.

Now, under the new agreement, a DOJ overseer will make sure Live Nation is not violating the antitrust rules — and if any violations are found, the company will be at the mercy of a $1 million penalty. Live Nation said it intended “unwavering commitment” to DOJ’s rules.

Live Nation is planning to stream some events online. And, following complaints, the company has revised its rules to give refunds for events canceled by the pandemic.

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