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The U.S. Justice Department is suing Ticketmaster and Live Nation. What does that mean for concertgoers?

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Will the U.S. Justice Department's lawsuit against Ticketmaster and Live Nation give concertgoers, sports fan and theater patrons some relief from surging ticket prices?

The lawsuit could potentially lead to a breakup of Live Nation Entertainment, a company that resulted from Ticketmaster's 2010 merger with concert promoter Live Nation. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the aim is to allow more competition and to let smaller players gain more of the U.S. ticket-selling market – which Ticketmaster controls a whopping 70 per cent of.

More competition could lead to cheaper tickets. But experts say live event lovers shouldn't expect changes any time soon.

What happened?

The Justice Department on Thursday accused Live Nation of engaging in a slew of practices that have allowed it to maintain a stronghold over the live music scene. They accused it of using long-term contracts to keep venues from choosing rival ticketers, blocking venues from using multiple ticket sellers and threatening venues that they could lose money and fans if they don't choose Ticketmaster.

Does Taylor Swift have anything to do with this?

The uproar that resulted from a myriad of problems Swifties encountered while trying to buy tickets through Ticketmaster for the pop star's Eras Tour in 2022 shined a light on cracks in the U.S. ticketing system.

State attorneys general – 30 of whom have joined the Justice Department's lawsuit – started probing Ticketmaster. The widespread social media outcry even led to a Senate hearing.

Eleanor Fox, professor emeritus at the NYU School of Law, said the debacle of an entertainment giant appearing incapable of servicing an eager audience might have helped the Justice Department build its case by making the scale of Ticketmaster's domination more apparent.

"I mean, you can say it was extraordinary that there was so much demand (and that is what led to problems), but they knew it was going to be extraordinary there was so much demand," Fox said. "When you have competition, the companies are more sensitive and responsive to problems that can come up."

Why are ticket prices so high?

Ticket prices have gone up for multiple reasons, including a huge surge in demand after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Live Nation reported last month that worldwide ticket sales for the top 100 tours in 2023 jumped 46 per cent compared with the previous year, bringing in US$9.17 billion in sales. Attendance at Live Nation-produced events jumped 20 per cent to a staggering 145 million last year.

According to trade publication Pollstar, the average ticket price from the 100 top tours in 2023 was US$122.84, which was 17 per cent higher than the year before and a 31 per cent increase compared to the average price in 2018.

And as anyone who has tried to score tickets to a popular event knows, service fees and ticket resales can push prices up much higher, in some cases into the thousands of dollars.

The Justice Department's lawsuit alleges that having a giant company like Live Nation Entertainment exacerbates markups since it controls so much of the market.

What does Ticketmaster say?

Live Nation and Ticketmaster which have long clashed with artists and fans, have always denied they act in a monopolistic manner. They say they aren't to blame for high ticket prices. They said Thursday that the DOJ's lawsuit "won't solve the issues fans care about relating to ticket prices, service fees, and access to in-demand shows." They say service fees go to concert venues and that outside competition has "steadily eroded" Ticketmaster's market share.

What happens next?

Unless it is dismissed, the lawsuit Thursday kicked off what is likely to be a long trial. The trial might take a year to commence, and then there would be months of arguments before a judge issues a ruling, NYU School of Law's Fox said.

"And especially if the judge orders a breakup, there's going to be an appeal," she added. "So you are looking at years."

Are there other lawsuits against monopolies ongoing?

The U.S. government has several ongoing lawsuits accusing big companies of engaging in illegal monopolies that box out competitors and drive up prices.

In March, the Justice Department sued Apple, accusing the tech giant of engineering an illegal monopoly in the smartphone market.

Earlier this month, closing arguments were made in a lawsuit against Google that dates from the Trump administration. Federal prosecutors accused the tech giant of maintaining a monopoly status as a search engine.

In September, the Federal Trade Commission sued Amazon, alleging the e-commerce behemoth abuses its position in the marketplace to inflate prices on and off its platform, overcharge sellers and stifle competition. Amazon asked for the suit to be dismissed in December, but a judge set a trial date for October 2026.

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