Lefsetz Letter

Tune in Saturday May 25th to Faction Talk, channel 103, at 4 PM East, 1 PM West.

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DOJ v. Live Nation

Native American Stevie Salas played guitar for Rod Stewart, was the guitarist and music director for Mick Jagger, and has worked with a cornucopia of artists, from Terence Trent D’Arby to T.I. and Justin Timberlake. Stevie is a personable raconteur, you’ll love him.

Apple – https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/steve-salas/id1316200737?i=1000656496399

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It’s not going to make ticket prices any lower.

Assuming that Live Nation and Ticketmaster are broken up, or ticketing is not exclusive at venues. Ticket prices have nothing to do with Ticketmaster. If anything, a remedy will help other promoters, who will be able to participate in ticket resale by using another platform. But if you think any change is going to trickle down to the consumer, you’re delusional.

This isn’t as bad as the Amazon Kindle action, which resulted in the price of e-books GOING UP! Yes, under the aegis of aiding the consumer, the government f*cked the consumer. Instead of e-books being under ten bucks, they jumped five to ten dollars when the model was changed to an agency format pioneered by Apple’s iBooks. And all these years later…iBooks has a sliver of the overall e-book market. Amazon’s ecosystem was just too good. And the Seattle company had a first mover advantage. You could download e-books to your Kindle. Apple didn’t have a competing device. Although you could download e-books to your iPad, where you’d have a nearly indistinguishable experience between Apple and Amazon. Actually, I’d say the iBooks app on the iPad is just a tiny bit better than the Kindle app on the iPad, but the improvement is nearly irrelevant. It’s akin to the battle between VHS and Beta. Although in this case, Beta, i.e. Apple, came later. Bottom line, people now had an option to buy e-books for the same price at Apple and almost no one did. I don’t see Apple even promoting iBooks anymore.

The silver lining was reserved for publishers, who wanted the e-book dead. They didn’t like the fact that Amazon sold books for below wholesale, to build a business, to grow the overall book business, despite paying wholesale price to the publisher. E-books in many cases ended up costing as much as the physical book, and no one could fathom that, just like they can’t fathom all the fees that come with purchasing a concert ticket.

All these fees exist in order to have a pot of money that acts can’t commission, so the promoter and the ticket company can profit. And the dirty little secret is the acts even share in the fees while in many cases railing against them.

It’s perfect for the acts. They give the impression that they’re on the fans’ side, against evil Ticketmaster, when in truth they love passing the blame for high ticket prices, which they want and authorize, on to someone else.

So you hate the fees. Without the fees there are no shows. Period.

So let’s just bake the fees into the overall ticket price. Which Live Nation has begun to do. Let’s be clear, it’s the acts who have resisted all-in ticket pricing, because once again, they like to make it look like it’s not their fault that the ticket price is high.

So let’s say we get rid of exclusive building contracts. Then the building won’t have that guaranteed money that goes straight to its bottom line. Meaning they’re going to have to get it somewhere else, after all it’s a business. Meaning the money’s just going to be shifted around, but it will all be behind the scenes, and you’ll end up paying the same. Not a penny less.

And you hate the so-called Taylor Swift ticketing “debacle.” I hate to tell you this, but Ticketmaster is the best at what it does. Only Ticketmaster has the computing power to sell this many tickets. As for the glitches… Blame them on the bots, the secondary market.

And the secondary market has done a genius job of marketing. Convincing consumers and lawmakers that fans own the ticket and can do whatever they want with it. Sounds good in principle, but the end result is tickets in the secondary market are oftentimes astronomically priced. And the act doesn’t share in a penny of this uplift. So, acts are charging more and more, what the tickets are really worth, so they capture that money. And the consumer complains. The same consumer that likes the secondary market because they know if they’re willing to pay the price, they can buy a ticket at the last minute to any show.

If you want to address high ticket prices, you’ve got to address the secondary market. That would be a better effort for the DOJ. But the unsophisticated public incorrectly believes Ticketmaster is responsible for high ticket prices and therefore must be hobbled. 

Once again, if another promoter wants to use a different ticketing company, even their own… That gives them many advantages. Primarily because of the uplift on resale. Yes, go to the Ticketmaster site and you’ll see that many tickets for shows are being resold by the primary buyer. And Ticketmaster takes a percentage of that, even if it’s not a Live Nation show. And the act decides whether to turn on Ticketmaster resale or not. But there’s a big pool of money there, and third party promoters are angry they don’t have access to it.

As for Live Nation routing tours to buildings where they have ticketing contracts… This is hazy. They’ve already been slapped by the government once for leveraging this relationship. But it makes good business sense. If you have the option between two buildings, why not choose your own, where you can make more money? Live Nation says it is not doing this, but how can one prove this? You can look at each and every date on each and every tour and it still might not be clear.

But if Live Nation puts a show in a building that has an exclusive contract with Ticketmaster, the company ends up making more money.

Let’s be very clear, concert promotion is a license to lose money. Guarantees are large and margins are slim, which is why there’s not a huge indie sphere. A bad show or two can put you out of business, whereas Live Nation can suffer a loss. Also, Live Nation pays. It’s not the wild west, if you make a deal with Live Nation you’ll get your money, unlike in the old days of cash and guns and…

So, if Live Nation doesn’t have the advantage of Ticketmaster, that will make it a bit easier for third parties to bid for talent. But Live Nation can oftentimes still pay more, because of sponsorship and other revenue streams. Some acts might shift their tours to a third party, but that’s assuming the third party will pay them as much and is as good. And if you’re a developing act, Live Nation might even make you a deal for the future. You can use that money to your advantage while you grow your business. The ticket price is not the only revenue stream. There’s merch, food, parking… Almost no one goes to a show and pays for a ticket and nothing more.

So, antitrust law is about making change to the advantage of the consumer. Nothing the DOJ can do will lower prices for consumers, NOTHING! Because you, the consumer, are willing to pay the high prices to see your favorite acts. One person might stay at home, but another will pony up, in many cases even if they’re not rich. After all, IT’S THEIR FAVORITE ACT!

So there will be hosannas in the marketplace on Thursday, or whenever the DOJ files their action. Finally, someone is standing up to Ticketb*stard. But it’s a pyrrhic victory. Because Ticketmaster is not responsible for high prices, not whatsoever. As a matter of fact, Ticketmaster takes a de minimis amount of the overall fees.

As for fees that are equal to the face price… I mean come on, you think you can see these major acts for twenty five or fifty bucks? It doesn’t make financial sense. The act makes it look like they’re doing the fan a solid and it’s Ticketmaster’s fault prices are high. But that’s complete b.s. Once again, without the fees there is no show, they pay for the promoter, the building, the staffing…the act doesn’t bring any of these with it.

So we have to see what the DOJ is asking for. And whatever it is, there’s no guarantee they’ll win. Live Nation could settle on the most advantageous terms possible or it could fight the action in court, which could take years!

And in truth, ticketing is a low margin business. Don’t expect a plethora of new competitors to Ticketmaster, it wouldn’t be cost effective, there’s just not enough money in it.

So, there are true advantages to third part promoters if Ticketmaster is separated from Live Nation, or exclusive contracts with buildings are prohibited, but no advantages to the public whatsoever.

And the DOJ’s track record is not perfect. They can file, but it does not mean they’ll win. Rulings are not based on emotion, but law, statutes. There are burdens of proof, can the DOJ reach them?

If you want lower ticket prices address the secondary market. Allow the act and promoter to control the ticket as opposed to the fan. But the fan doesn’t want this. The fan wants to be able to resell their ticket and make a profit. Someone’s got to suffer in order to bring ticket prices down. And Live Nation and Ticketmaster are not the culprit.