Ticketmaster has been the bogeyman of the concert world for as long as I've been alive. And for the last four years, concert promotion giant Live Nation has lurked next to it under the bed. So it was with a trembling grip on the sheets that I learned that the two mega-companies now intend to merge into a single hydra-headed corporate beast that could haunt every aspect of the music world.
"Live Nation Entertainment" is the proposed name of this $575 million abomination, and unless the government steps in and smashes this egg before it hatches, that name may pop up on everything from concert tickets and T-shirts to CD cases and downloading websites.
Ticketmaster already controls 70 percent of event ticket sales in the United States, and Live Nation controls promotion rights to about 40 percent of the venues. And since Live Nation began signing artists like Jay-Z, U2 and Madonna to "360 deals," which include everything from touring to T-shirts to recordings, its hand in the biz has increased frighteningly beyond its original market share.
To put a single entity in control of every step of the concert process is to usher in a new era of Rockefeller rule over an industry already polarized into bickering artists and greedy executives. It's mergers like this that are the reason our country created antitrust laws, and it's these safeguards that the music world is hoping will hold firm while the government investigates the deal.
Both the Senate and House judiciary committees have now had a crack at Ticketmaster CEO Irving Azoff and Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino during recent hearings in Washington. The two execs, whose companies are worth a combined $2.5 billion, sold themselves as struggling entrepreneurs whose only option for survival was to combine into a mega-company with tentacles stretching through every facet of the music business.
For the most part—thank goodness—lawmakers were skeptical. New York Democrat Charles Schumer and Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah led the opposition to the deal and proved that every now and then bipartisanship is possible on Capitol Hill. Others, like working-class rock hero Bruce Springsteen, have also come out against the merger, saying it would create a "near monopoly on ticket sales."
If these two behemoth companies had some sparkling reputation for stellar customer service and fair business practices, the merger might be perceived with slightly less revulsion. But since Ticketmaster has long been viewed as charging unreasonable "convenience fees" for its tickets, especially when no inconvenient option is available, and Live Nation has been seen as bullying its way through several company acquisitions, their standing is suspect. Add that to Ticketmaster's recent handling of Springsteen's tour, in which fans seeking tickets to the sold-out show were told to visit TicketsNow, a Ticketmaster sister site, where tickets were being sold for up to five times original face value, and you have a textbook example of corporate gluttony gone wild.
Still, the House and Senate committees have released no decisions, and final say on the merger can be challenged by Obama's Department of Justice. But for this music fan, the thought that one shady company could have its grubby paws touching nearly every major concert in the United States is the stuff of nightmares.
Ticketmaster and Live Nation are among the most despicable companies in the world, but mergers are one thing; scalping's another. Sadly, no amount of antitrust litigation is going to stop jerks from snatching up tickets in presales and selling them to the losers. Any idiot can do it. Even if Ticketmaster dropped its TicketsNow sales site, even if eBay dropped StubHub, Internet scalping would still be a fan's No. 1 enemy.
And yet anyone could have predicted it a mile away. We made it easier to buy tickets, but where did it get us? Remember 10 years ago, when scalping was still considered illegal? That's all changed. Now the ticket agencies and promoters are in on the profits. Who's going to raise a stink? Who's going to see commercials for StubHub and say, "Wait a sec, isn't that wrong?"