Songkick is suing Ticketmaster and Live Nation in an antitrust suit
Ticketmaster and Live Nation serve as the world’s largest companies in terms of ticketing and promotion, respectively. Songkick, the live event aggregator and recent host of two massive presales for Adele, alleges their size has become too big. Songkick is suing the two companies for “antitrust violations, intentional interference, and anticompetitive behavior.”
In a 68-page complaint filed in the US District Court of California, the company asserts that Live Nation and Ticketmaster put forth significant effort for the express purpose of hampering Songkick’s business, using their oligarchical status in the ticketing industry to achieve their goal. Songkick claims that Ticketmaster’s outsize profitability is used as a tool that allows Live Nation to make offers to clients that undercut competition, which freezes companies like Songkick out of consideration entirely. Industry data cited in the complaint states that 70% of ticket sales go through Ticketmaster’s website, and Live Nation controls 60% of the concert promotion market. Additionally, Live Nation promoted 22 of the top 25 global tours in 2014.
Much of Songkick’s problem with Ticketmaster is their cutthroat ‘fan club’ policy. Traditionally, artists receive a bundle of presale tickets, to do with what they wish — in most cases, sell them. Songkick’s business model is centered around these presale tickets, which the company packages, promotes and sells. Songkick collects data and insights about the artist’s fans as a part of this process, which is information turned over to the artist as part of their service. When UK startup Crowdsurge merged with Songkick in June 2015, Ticketmaster informed Crowdsurge’s artist clients that they could only sell their presale allotment to ‘fan clubs,’ and furthermore, said clubs needed to adhere to a specific set of criteria in order for the artist to receive their presale bundle. Songkick and Crowdsurge were forced to agree to these conditions, the lawsuit claims, because of Ticketmaster and Live Nation’s majority control of the market. Ticketmaster abused this position, often threatening to rescind presale allotments.
Live Nation director and CEO Michael Rapino was specifically mentioned thirteen times in the complaint, which argued that he “personally and repeatedly engaged in the anticompetitive acts giving rise to this complaint.” The lawsuit mentions a specific instance where Live Nation and Ticketmaster informed an artist that, should the artist use Songkick for presale rather than Ticketmaster, Live Nation would refuse to market the client’s tour and Ticketmaster would forbid the artist to use paperless ticketing (which curtails scalping). The complaint elaborates:
“In a competitive market, such threats would be economically irrational. Ticketmaster’s aggression therefore demonstrates the lengths to which Defendants were prepared to go in order to protect Ticketmaster’s market power, including damaging themselves and their clients in order to preserve that power. In this specific instance, the threat worked. As the artist’s management explained to Songkick: ‘[T]he Ticketmaster bullying is out of control and we’re not going to be able to do all tour pre-sales off-platform. They are just sticking it to us too hard.’”
When Ticketmaster and Live Nation merged in 2010, the companies were required to submit a consent decree to the Department of Justice. Said decree did not include presale ticketing, but covered stipulations including Ticketmaster licensing to competitors like AEG, and selling Paciolan, a company which allows venues to host ticketing on their websites. The conditions were intended to ensure the existence of at least two competitors in the ticketing market. The decree also barred the two companies from requiring an artist to employ Live Nation as the promoter if they used Ticketmaster for ticketing, or vice versa. Live Nation and Ticketmaster have not yet responded to the allegations.