“We need transparency”: Australia’s live events industry backs Ticketmaster lawsuit in US

“We need transparency”: Australia’s live events industry backs Ticketmaster lawsuit in US

With the world’s largest entertainment company Live Nation Entertainment being sued by the US government, all eyes are on the outcome of the legal battle and whether the conglomerate will be pulled apart due to concerns it is suffocating competition, harming artists and driving up prices for fans.

While it is too early to know what the global ramifications will be, industry experts in Australia are welcoming the trial and calling on the government to introduce a similar level of scrutiny to local ticketing platforms, citing a yearslong struggle to engage with large-scale venues.

Speaking with Business News Australia, Australian Live Music Business Council executive general manager Ant McKenna shared his concerns about the current state of the live events ticketing industry Down Under.  

“I think there’s an opportunity for the Australian government to follow what's happening in the US and ensure there is that transparency so that punters are able to compare prices. Obviously, that's difficult if an artist is through one company. Once we have that transparency, we honestly believe there will be downward pressure on costs,” McKenna says.

“There has been some concern about the role that global multinational companies are playing in the Australian music industry. It's not new. It has been happening for over a decade. This is something that is really throughout the whole industry. There are three major global corporations in Australia, Live Nation, TEG (Ticketek), and AEG-Frontier (AXS).”

“We need to be concerned. I think we need transparency; we need to talk about it. We need to ensure that we don't allow any company to own every part of the sector in a vertical strategy. That is in danger of happening…if any company owns all of those pieces of the pie, they really do have the opportunity to state their own working arrangements with the people that they engage. We need to ensure that we're not allowing that kind of vertical ownership to happen.”

Humanitix co-founder Adam McCurdie echoes a similar sentiment, saying that market concentration in Australia has become a concern for the Sydney-based not-for-profit.

The events booking platform, which was founded in 2016 by McCurdie and Josh Ross, has injected $4 million toward charitable causes that assist children in low-income communities, offer students scholarships, teach young girls computer science, and more.

To date, the company has committed more than $10 million to charity.

“We're very excited by this news and hope it can be replicated in Australia. It’s giving fans, artists and events the choice of who tickets their events at major venues - that's a huge step in the ticketing industry,” McCurdie says.  

“With events who choose their ticketing provider, Humanitix has taken a lot of market share on the back off Humanitix being a better technology platform, better customer service, low fees and people loving our charitable model.

“However, in the large venue scene it's been impossible for us to participate because people don't have the ability to choose their ticketing platform.”

But McKenna also notes there are benefits to artists who work directly with one company as it quickly offers access to their global fanbase.

“The artists and businesses that are part of that system will have huge benefits in terms of global opportunities and quick access to major festivals. However, there is no doubt that whenever you have monopoly behaviour, the companies involved utilise that to their benefit, which is to build their profit margin for their shareholders.”

“Overall, it's about it's about competition. We've seen that in the recent senate inquiries in Australia around Coles and Woolworths and the power of those major food companies.”

Live Nation has come out refuting the claims put forward but the Department of Justice (DoJ) in the US, stating that it is “absurd” to claim that the company wields monopolistic power. The lawsuit comes more than a decade after the firm merged with the world’s ticket seller, Ticketmaster, to form Live Nation Entertainment in a deal worth US$2.5 billion (AUD$3.7 billion).

At the time the merger was proposed in 2010, it was indicated that the combined group would have 140-plus concert venues globally selling 140 million tickets per annum, hosting 22,000 concerts a year.

In its defence against the DoJ, Live Nation claims its service charges are no higher than competitors such as SeatGeek, AXS or another primary ticketing site. Live Nation also contends that its bundled ticketing and venue agreements were designed to benefit consumers, offering lower ticket prices and increased access to live events.

In Australia, the company is behind some of the country’s largest festivals, such as Splendour in the Grass which was cancelled this year, Falls Festival, as well as Adelaide’s Harvest Rock and Spin Off events.

In 2019, the company acquired Sydney-based ticketing platform Moshtix for an undisclosed sum, absorbing its 34 employees and operations. At the time of the buyout, Moshtix worked with Australian event operators and venues like Groovin’ The Moo, Oxford Art Factory, Supanova and the Australian Turf Club.  

A few years after, Live Nation also snatched up Kicks Entertainment and its flagship event Spilt Milk Festival, which tours through Canberra, Ballarat, Perth and the Gold Coast.

McKenna of the Live Music Business Council says while it’s important to be critical of global entities, big players like Live Nation are here to stay in the long run.

“Multinational companies are not going anywhere. This kind of process is here to stay. It's really important to have a focus on the benefits for the Australian community and micro businesses that work in the industry,” he says.

“We need to look at any kind of government funding, financial support or sponsorship. Anytime you are working with a global corporation, the government is often there to help fund activities for those businesses to be involved in because they see that economic benefit to Australia. That's across all kinds of creative industries like film and screen - it is also the same with festivals any kind of major activity that attracts a lot of people.”

“Whenever the Australian government is involved with providing funding, we need to make sure that there's equity and transparency around that funding. And also that there's really clear processes to ensure Australian entities are supported and treated fairly.”

Two months ago, the government announced it was launching a new inquiry into the challenges and opportunities within the Australian live music industry. As part of that process, the ALMBC’s submission called for an arena ticket levy model to be introduced at Australian arenas and stadiums as a way to raise funds for grassroots venues.

The process would involve putting aside $1 from every ticket sold at a major music arena to support small businesses and restore confidence in the struggling sector.

“What we would like to see is that any funding that is developed is focused on the grassroots sector. That it's focused on reducing risk for regional touring, paying artists and ensuring that venues are able to cover their costs when it comes to putting on shows in regional locations,” McKenna says.

“We want to focus on regional Australia as much as possible and really ensure that that money goes to sole traders and micro businesses rather than hoping for some kind of trickle-down effect, which we noticed is really unsuccessful.”

McCurdie notes that while Humanitix has managed to help host thousands of small music gigs, conferences and free events, the platform has been shut out from working with major music venues in Australia, which are often left with no choice in selecting their ticketing partner in order to secure big-name artists.

Major events that have been organised through Humanitix include the Strawberry Fields Music Festival, Cancer Council’s 7 Bridges Walk, and tours of Australian Parliament House.

“Humanitix is the chosen ticketing partner for thousands of events across Australia and other countries, but none at major venues and that is because events of major venues cannot choose their ticketing partner,” he says.

“We're already doing what we can to improve the ticketing experience through lower fees for our hosts and attendees, making events more accessible for everyone, and most recently offering ethical ticket resale that reduces fraud and shuts out the scalpers.

“It's these types of innovations - particularly event for events that happen in major stadiums – that everyone's really crying out for but they cannot access this innovation because they don't have the choice to use our technology.”

When asked about what the potential ramifications of the US lawsuit might be, he was optimistic it would serve as a springboard for Australian lawmakers to take action in scrutinising the local market.

“I think more and more people will appreciate the benefit and the need for events which occur at a major venue to have a choice of which ticketing partner they can they choose to use to ticket their events,” McCurdie says.

“When you think about what ticketing is, it's the middleman between arts and culture and its supporters. It's corrosive for society when ticketing exploits the relationship between artists, entertainers and their supporters. This is why we think ticketing should be non-profit, so that the incentives aren't aligned with profiteering off arts and culture, which will really struggle for funding and sustainability.

“I'm very optimistic. I think the government will make sensible decisions and choices about this. I think they're going to look to the US as a really great case study of what sensible policy is with the consolidation of power and events ticketing at major venues.”

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