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The case for breaking up Ticketmaster, ‘the monopoly of our time that everyone hates’

The Justice Department on Thursday filed a long-awaited antitrust lawsuit against Ticketmaster and its parent company Live Nation, seeking to break up what officials call an illegal monopoly that is squeezing artists, promoters and venues while raising prices for fans.

Two days before the lawsuit was filed, one of the “architects” of President Joe Biden’s antitrust agenda presented a concise and clear argument for why the administration should implement it.

Tim Wu, former special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy, spoke to a gathering of antitrust hawks at the American Economic Liberties Project’s Antitrust Summit in Washington, DC, on Tuesday. When the discussion turned to Ticketmaster and Live Nation, Wu called it “the monopoly of our time that everyone hates.”

He argued that if any modern company should be subject to antitrust enforcement, it should be Ticketmaster-Live Nation, and that pursuing such a case was a matter of following the “popular will”:

If the United States Department of Justice files a lawsuit against Ticketmaster-Live Nation, it will be a happy day for the republic. I just want to point out that if you ask a person on the street, they may have any feelings about Google or Apple, but no one, no one likes the Ticketmaster monopoly. And I think there is something to that. I think we have to show that we take people’s concerns seriously. It’s like sitting in front of everyone’s faces: Ticketmaster Live Nation is this monopoly intact…

Going back in history, Theodore Roosevelt started the fight against monopolies and said, ‘We have to break up Standard Oil.’ What is this? If this law was written for anything, it was written for the Standard Oil monopoly.’ And in our times, if this movement means anything, it will be taking on Ticketmaster, which is the monopoly of our time that everyone hates. Now, I don’t want to prejudge the case, but I guess I did. But I do believe that it is important that the popular will say something.

See Wu’s full comments above, courtesy of the American Economic Liberties Project.

The Justice Department’s lawsuit accuses Ticketmaster-Live Nation of dominating rivals in the live events market, retaliating against venues that don’t play along, blocking competition with exclusive contracts and intimidating artists into using their promotional services. The agency was joined by 30 state and district attorneys general in filing the complaint.

Live Nation said in a statement that the lawsuit “will not resolve the issues that fans are concerned about” related to ticket prices and service fees, and called the Justice Department’s allegations “baseless.”

“Calling Ticketmaster a monopoly may be a public relations victory for the Justice Department in the short term, but it will lose in court because it ignores the basic economics of live entertainment, such as the fact that most of the fees of service go to venues, and that competition has steadily eroded Ticketmaster’s market share and profit margin,” the company said.

If the lawsuit is successful, a judge could force the company to sell certain parts of its business. Jonathan Kanter, head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, said in a statement Thursday that the goal was to “restore competition for the benefit of fans and artists.”

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