Department of Justice brushes back opposition to merger

The U.S. Department of Justice brushed back objections by competing concert promoters to the Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger Monday, essentially formalizing the January settlement of its antitrust suit against the companies.

The DOJ maintained the settlement would “provide an effective and appropriate remedy for the antitrust violations,” and said it would ask the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to enter the final judgment in the case.

In January, the government cleared the way for the merger, which resulted in the creation of the concert promotion and ticketing giant Live Nation Entertainment, by requiring the companies to make proprietary ticketing software available to its chief competitor AEG and sell off a ticketing subsidiary (Daily Variety, Jan. 28). A 60-day period for public comments ended on May 3.

Among those filing objections to the settlement were two prominent independent promoters, Washington, D.C.-based It’s My Party, (the No. 11 U.S. promoter in 2009, according to concert biz tracking site Pollstar) and Chicago-based Jam Prods. (the No. 5 promoter). At hearings on Capitol Hill last year, IMP chairman Seth Hurwitz and Jam chairman/executive VP Jerry Mickelson opposed the merger.

Hurwitz also reportedly filed suit against state officials in Maryland last week, alleging that a $4 million bond deal for an LNE venue in Silver Spring was illegal.

IMP’s 137-page filing asserted that the DOJ’s judgment “does not take into account LNE’s domination of the promotion of popular music concerts by major artists” or its control of major concert venues. It also claimed that since the merger’s approval, LNE “has flexed its dominance,” and that booking agents for artists including Rascal Flatts, Brad Paisley, Iron Maiden and Jimmy Buffett “did not even solicit competitive offers for this 2010 summer concert season.”

“This conduct has already impacted ticket prices and ticket servicing fees,” IMP added. Mickelson noted since LNE’s predecessor, SFX, began buying concert promo firms in 1996, “ticket prices for the top 100 tours have risen 142% through 2009 (from $25.81 to $62.57).”

The DOJ countered that the merger “seems unlikely to alter the competitive dynamics in the venue market.”

Meanwhile, LNE announced the appointment of Mike Evans as prexy of arenas, a new position. Evans, formerly executive VP of sports and entertainment for SMG, will oversee dealings with firm’s North American arena partners, reporting to Jason Garner, CEO of concerts.

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