Ticket trouble

The Baltimore Sun

Marylanders who got stiffed on Bruce Springsteen tickets by Ticketmaster are but one reason to be skeptical of a proposed merger between the behemoth of ticket sellers and the powerhouse promoter Live Nation. Justice Department lawyers who are scrutinizing this deal should recognize that competition in the marketplace now is virtually nonexistent and consumers deserve more choices - not fewer - in buying tickets to concerts and other shows.

Live Nation owns more than 140 venues and has multiyear comprehensive deals covering the tours of Madonna, Jay-Z, U2, Nickelback and Shakira. Last year, the company ended a long-term agreement to sell its concert tickets through Ticketmaster and launched its own ticketing service. That move threatened to siphon off at least 15 percent of Ticketmaster's revenue and set the stage for a head-to-head battle over future sales. It also led to the proposed merger, and now, legitimate anti-trust concerns from the Justice Department. Ticketmaster, which sold 141 million tickets in 2007 and controls 70 percent of live concert sales, sparked the ire of the Boss himself last week after Ticketmaster referred potential buyers of his concert tickets in Maryland and elsewhere to a higher-priced reseller it owned.

Ticketmaster has been a frequent target of complaints about alleged predatory practices from artists, consumers and competitors. As long ago as 1994, Pearl Jam complained to the government about Ticketmaster's refusal to agree to low concert ticket prices and fees. The grunge band claimed it couldn't organize a tour without Ticketmaster's cooperation.

The proposed merger comes at a challenging time in the concert music business. Rock stars now depend more on tours than music sales for most of their income, but the number of tickets sold for the top 100 touring acts was down last year. Still, concert industry revenues were up 7 percent to $4.2 billion, thanks to higher ticket prices.

With a single entertainment giant responsible for ticket sales, artist management, concert promotion and concert venue ownership, it's not hard to imagine who will profit most from future concert dates if this merger goes through. But competition primarily benefits both artists and their audiences.

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