The Live Nation/Ticketmaster hearing, in brief | Bleader

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Live Nation/Ticketmaster hearing, in brief

Posted By on 02.25.09 at 03:45 PM

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In my column on the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger I made the not exactly bold prediction that the proposed combination of two companies with near monopolies in their respective industries might attract some unfriendly attention from the feds. Yesterday, two weeks after the merger was announced, the deal got some public scrutiny at the hands of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights.

Despite its impressive name, the subcommittee doesn't actually have the power to stop the deal, but the hearing did give the merger's opponents a forum in which to air their grievances. Jerry Mickelson of Chicago's Jam Productions--a Live Nation competitor and Ticketmaster client--called the deal "the poster child for why the country has and needs antitrust laws," described to the assembled senators a concert industry already dominated by Live Nation, and predicted that the merger would effectively strangle LN's remaining competition.

The Ticketmaster and Live Nation execs who testified didn't do much to help their own case. Live Nation head Michael Rapino attempted to use Chicago as an example of a market where robust competition still exists, before Mickelson's testimony that LN has the city's biggest productions on lock. Ticketmaster CEO Irving Azoff tried to brush off criticism of the company's much-reviled ticket fees but ended up revealing that chunks of the fees were handed back to venues, as well as to artists and promoters, in the form of "rebates" that bear a striking resemblance to kickbacks.

It'd be hard to spin the hearing as a victory for Live Nation and Ticketmaster. They certainly didn't seem to make a good impression on Senator Herb Kohl, the Wisconsin Democrat who chairs the subcommittee and could recommend that the Justice Department block the merger. "Mr. Rapino," he told the Live Nation head after his testimony, "you strain our common sense.”

For more details check out the Daily Swarm's helpful synopsis of the proceedings.

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