The Emails at the Heart of the Government’s Ticketmaster Case

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

The Justice Department argued in an extensive complaint filed on Thursday that the merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster, which went through in 2010, had hurt competition, hindered innovation and resulted in higher ticket prices and fees for consumers. It called for the company to be broken up.

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

Detailing its allegations, the government relied on eye-opening emails that it says were written by Live Nation’s chief executive, Michael Rapino, and other high-powered figures in the concert world.

Here are a few of those accusations.

One episode from 2021 goes to the heart of the Justice Department’s allegations that Live Nation went to extreme lengths to protect its competitive edge.

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 promotions company that was involved in a highly anticipated benefit show by Kanye West and Drake at the L.A. Coliseum. 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 relayed to the investor that Live Nation was “not happy.” Rapino then told Silver Lake he was “all in” with Oak View Group, “where the big play lies with venues — why insult me with this investment in ticketing/promotions etc.”

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

Live Nation then “threatened to pull its support from Oak View Group,” and Irving Azoff, the powerful artist manager who was a co-founder of Oak View Group, refused to allow TEG to promote shows with any of the artists he managed. Azoff told Rapino he would demand that Silver Lake sell TEG, and Rapino replied, “Love ya.” According to the complaint, Silver Lake sought 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 deep hypocrisy.”

Rapino’s complaint, Wall said, was “fundamentally the same” as a concern by both the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission over “private equity companies making multiple investments in the same industry because of competitive ‘entanglements.’”

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

Live Nation, the government says, initially viewed Oak View Group as one of its “Biggest Competitor Threats.” But soon the companies “colluded,” the government says, to “avoid competing with each other, and chart a mutually beneficial business plan to cement Live Nation’s dominance.”

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

The government’s complaint quotes from what it says are emails from 2016 in which Rapino complains to Oak View Group executives about their intention to promote shows with an artist that Live Nation works with. Oak View Group backs down, with the company’s chief executive — who is not identified in the complaint, but is Timothy Leiweke — saying: “Our guys got a bit ahead. All know we don’t promote and we only do tours with Live Nation.”

Wall, the Live Nation executive, said in response that Oak View Group “has never been a concert promoter, nor aspired to be one,” and that it was simply looking to fill the occasional dark night at one of its venues. “To portray that as an agreement not to compete in concert promotion is farcical,” Wall wrote. A representative of Oak View Group declined to comment.

In early 2023, The New York Times broke the news that Barclays Center, the arena in Brooklyn, was dropping SeatGeek, the young and aggressive ticketing business it had just entered a seven-year contract with, and signing a new deal 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 as retaliation for switching from Ticketmaster to SeatGeek. Live Nation denied that at the time, and a review of concert data by The Times was inconclusive. The number of Live Nation-promoted shows at Barclays had indeed fallen since SeatGeek took over, but so had those by independent promoters.

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

According to the government, Live Nation “followed through on its threats, re-routing concerts to other venues.”

In response, Live Nation said, “We categorically deny that any concerts were rerouted to retaliate against their decision to go to SeatGeek.”

The government argues that Live Nation has acquired a number of companies with an aim to eliminate rivals in both concert promotion and ticketing.

Among the examples the government cites are United Concerts in Utah, which used a regional ticketing company called SmithsTix. According to the what the government says were internal communications at Live Nation, the company wanted a greater ticketing foothold in Utah but chose not to acquire SmithsTix because doing so would “require us to go to the DOJ.” Instead, Live Nation bought United Concerts in 2017 and converted its venues to Ticketmaster; SmithsTix, it said, ultimately went out of business.

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

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 did not have a Knoxville office, so for $15 million it made the deal,” Wall wrote. “Seriously? The DOJ is challenging that?”

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