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Live Nation talks DoJ, all-in pricing, festivals

President and CFO Joe Berchtold opened up in an interview at JP Morgan's global technology, media and communications conference

By James Hanley on 22 May 2024

Joe Berchtold

Live Nation president and CFO Joe Berchtold has spoken out on a range of issues including the company’s all-in pricing success and the US Department of Justice’s (DoJ) investigation into the firm.

Speaking yesterday (21 May) at JP Morgan’s 52nd annual global technology, media and communications conference, Berchtold responded to LN’s disclosure that its all-in ticket pricing policy, which shows customers the total price and fees associated with their tickets upfront, has resulted in an 8% increase in completed sales in its first six months.

“We were pleasantly surprised,” said Berchtold. “That showed that fans not being surprised by an add-on price down the road meant that they were more likely to buy.

“I think it’s the right first step for us. I think it’s the right step for the industry. If you take a step back in the conversation over the past year and a half about ticketing – particularly on the legislative side – it went from us being the demons, the root of all evils in the industry, to a lot of education. And the conversations today on the legislative side tend to be very different; they tend to be very focused on what are reasonable consumer protections.”

Last week, the US House of Representatives voted to pass the TICKET Act, which aims to ensure transparent pricing for consumers and was the most comprehensive consumer protection ticketing legislation to receive a floor vote in eight years. Live Nation was among a number of companies in the US that pledged to adopt “all-in” ticket pricing last summer.

“I’m hopeful that we’re now on a path, all-in ticketing being the first step, of some pretty common sense reforms in ticketing”

“I’m hopeful that we’re now on a path, all-in ticketing being the first step, of some pretty common sense reforms in ticketing that will be good for the fans and will be good for the artists,” added Berchtold.

Following a Wall Street Journal report that the DoJ is expected to file an antitrust lawsuit against LN in the coming weeks, Berchtold revealed that talks were ongoing with the department at a senior level.

“We’re now in discussions with the senior division leadership, which is generally the last part of the process,” he said. “These are always serious discussions, it wouldn’t get to this point if they didn’t have concerns, but the good news is we’re still talking and they’ve said they have an open mind.

“Without getting into the real details of the conversation… I continue to believe that we fundamentally have business practices that are fully defensible. But we’re also open to figuring out common ground in order to get this settled and moved on. What we don’t know is exactly what they want at this point still. If you look at the Apple case, from my view, you have some similarities that it seems to be some discrete business issues where they ultimately decided they wanted to take action against the broader platform as opposed to sorting the specific issues.

“As I said, we’re continuing the conversations and we’ll keep showing up and continue them as long as they are interested in doing so. But I think we’re getting to the late stages now of it.”

“It’s a very competitive market… It doesn’t get easier, it gets harder”

According to WSJ sources, the lawsuit will claim the Ticketmaster parent has abused its market-leading position in the ticketing business to harm competition. But Berchtold played down suggestions that exclusivity deals would be a particular focus.

“It’s a bit of a red herring,” he said. “If you’re a venue, you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute, why is somebody telling me I need to work with multiple systems?’ We just find that that’s not generally what the venues are asking for… At the highest level, what they care about are two things. One is, is the platform going to sell the most tickets for me? And then secondly is, just what are the financial terms of the deal?

“I think if you stopped a manager on the street and said, ‘What building [do] you want your artists to go into?’ They’ll say, ‘Well, what’s going to sell the most tickets and gross the most money for my artist?’ So if you’re a venue in a competitive world, trying to get those shows, that’s what’s going to ultimately really matter to your decision.

“It’s a very competitive market. Don’t let any of the press reports fool you. Every renewal that we have, it’s what you expect in today’s world. It doesn’t get easier, it gets harder.”

Below, are a few other highlights from the conversation with Berchtold…

“You’ll continue to see us very active, particularly on the venue front in South America, Europe, Asia”

2024 ticket sales…
“It continues to be a very strong year. I think as of now we’d be at about 100 million concert tickets sold, up a couple of percent, so it’s accelerated a little bit. As we’ve long said, stadiums are quieter this year, but arenas, amphitheatres, theatres and clubs, ticket sales are up double digits across all of those different venue types. So continuing, they think this is going to be a very good year in particular for shows at our own venues.

“On the Ticketmaster side, we’ve sold about 140 million tickets, so up around 5%. So [consumer demand] continues to be very strong. We’re feeling very good about where we are as we head into the summer season.”

M&A strategy…
“You’ll continue to see us very active, particularly on the venue front in South America, Europe, Asia, all over as we continue to try to build that. I think you’ll still see some promoter acquisitions, again, with South America, Asia as the primary targets as we further expand our footprint in those markets. So no slowdown in appetite or discussions.”

“We’ve got some creative people that have come up with some great festival ideas… The best example is When We Were Young, which we launched in Vegas a year and a half or so ago. It’s pop-punk. I remember when the lineup came out, if you looked at [social media], it was, ‘This has got to be fake. There’s no way they can have this group of acts in one day. This is a Fyre Festival. It’s not going to happen.’ But so then what happened is it was set up as a one-day festival, but we did it five days. So we repeated it five times because there was so much demand for it.

“I think it’s complementary with the Lollapaloozas of the world, Austin City Limits, BottleRock, See.Hear.Now. You’re still seeing a lot of these do well, but you’ve got this… emergence of these new festival types. It’s taking a minute to figure out how to work with sponsors on something that, rather than being a three-day event, is many one-day events with a new audience generally each day. So I always look at it as glass half full: that means more opportunity as we figure that out. That’s another area of growth that we have.”


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