Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger unlikely to benefit consumers

Live Nation, the nation's largest concert promoter with a major presence in Atlanta, and Ticketmaster, the nation's largest ticket seller, have agreed to merge in a deal worth an estimated $2.5 billion. The transaction is subject to regulatory approval.

"Being able to put Live Nation and Ticketmaster into an equal partnership will allow the companies to get through this difficult period and be able to expand live entertainment options to audiences throughout the world," Ticketmaster Chairman Barry Diller said in a statement Tuesday.

The timing of this merger announcement came on the heels of bad publicity Ticketmaster received last week after tickets went on sale to Springsteen concerts in New Jersey. The rock star, whose tour comes to Atlanta on April 26, became angry after Ticketmaster referred fans to a ticket brokerage it owned selling tickets at prices far higher than face value. The stink over the ticket sales forced Ticketmaster CEO Irving Azoff to issue an apology.

On his Web site, Springsteen denounced the Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger, recommending fans complain to their representatives. The merger will need approval from the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission.

The combined Live Nation Entertainment would be deeply entrenched in concert ticketing, venues, promotion and artist management.

"I can understand the motivation since these are two public companies with struggling stock prices," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar, which follows the industry. "But it's looking a lot like a vertical monopoly."

Ticketmaster sells tickets for more than 80 percent of major arenas and stadiums in the U.S., according to concert tracking firm Pollstar. It also has a controlling interest in Front Line Management, which handles the careers of performers such as Jimmy Buffett, Aerosmith and Christina Aguilera.

Live Nation is the world's No. 1 concert promoter (with more than 160 million tickets sold last year) and owns more than 140 venues, including Atlanta's Lakewood Amphitheatre and the Tabernacle.

"Together," said Michael Rapino, CEO of Live Nation, in a statement, "we will work to simplify the ticketing process and ultimately increase attendance at live events."

Ticketmaster was able to take control of major concert ticketing in the 1990s by signing long-term exclusive deals with many of the major venues in town including Philips Arena and Fox Theatre.

As a result, competitors such as Atlanta-based Ticket Alternative are locked out of virtually all big concerts. Rather, the five-year-old company handles mostly smaller venues such as Hard Rock Cafe's Velvet Underground downtown, the Loft in Midtown and special events such as Taste of Atlanta at Atlantic Station.

"While the big get bigger, there's still room for the small guy and Ticket Alternative provides great customer service," said Dan Nolan, who co-owns the Midtown venue Smith's Olde Bar. Its upstairs performance space fits at most about 300 people.

Before the merger announcement, Live Nation tried to break Ticketmaster's dominance by creating its own ticketing service earlier this year, but there's no evidence consumers are saving any money.

Ticket Alternative, which sells 250,000 tickets to events nationwide, prides itself on significantly lower service charges. A $33.50 ticket, for instance, would include a $3.25 service charge, said president Iain Bluett. Purchased through Live Nation, a $33.50 ticket for Ben Folds at the Tabernacle later this month adds a "convenience charge" of $12.25, or nearly 37 percent of the face value of the ticket.

Steve Harris, who runs the 1,000-seat Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points, has stuck with Ticketmaster despite the rising service charges but calls the pending merger "scary."

"I can't see the good in it." he said. "We're exploring ticketing options,"

Atlanta-based concert promoter Rich Floyd, who has been in the business for 35 years, said Live Nation's strength has already forced him into doing mostly private corporate gigs instead of traditional concerts. This merger, he says, won't help matters.

"Most of us little guys have already been wiped out," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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