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CMA: StubHub must sell Europe, Asia, S. America biz

StubHub must sell its entire international business – including its operations in the UK, Europe, South America and Asia – for the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to sign off on its acquisition by Viagogo, the UK regulator announced today.

The CMA, which put the brakes on the already completed merger in October after finding it will significantly reduce competition in the secondary ticketing market, said in its final report summary, released today, that of three possible effective remedies – a full divestiture of either Viagogo or StubHub by the new company, or a partial divestiture of StubHub – the latter solution is the least intrusive for the combined business.

In addition to requiring the sale of the StubHub business outside North America, the CMA reserves the right to choose the identity of the buyer, as well as the terms of the transaction – including the right of the purchaser to use the StubHub brand for the next decade.

Should ‘Stubagogo’ not agree to the sale voluntarily “in a timely fashion”, the competition watchdog will issue a binding order, it says.

“The evidence shows that Viagogo selling StubHub’s international business will resolve our competition concerns”

The partial reversal of the merger will mean StubHub’s operations outside North America “will be independently owned and run by a separate company, with no input from Viagogo”, according to the CMA, which sought input from Viagogo/Stubhub customers, competitors and other experts, including industry professionals and consumer groups, to reach its verdict.

“The CMA has focused on ensuring competition in this sector works best for UK consumers. After examining all the options, including unwinding the merger in full, the evidence shows that Viagogo selling StubHub’s international business will resolve our competition concerns, effectively and proportionately,” says CMA inquiry group chair Stuart McIntosh.

“Creating a fully independent StubHub international business will maintain competition in the UK and help ensure that the users of these ticketing platforms don’t face higher prices or poorer quality of service.”

The CMA’s full final report will be released in the coming weeks.

Adam Webb, from campaign group FanFair Alliance, cautiously welcomes the news, explaining that the identity of the buyer will depend on whether the CMA’s decision is good for fans. “Tackling this hugely controversial $4bn merger was always going to be tough for regulators, and we welcome the CMA’s hard work during this investigation,” he comments.

“Going forward, the most pertinent question will be the identity of potential buyers”

“Going forward, the most pertinent question will be the identity of potential buyers. Practically all of StubHub’s value is in the company’s North American operation. Aside from the acquisition costs, anyone wishing to operate a successful uncapped ticket resale business in the UK would require two things: significant relationships with large-scale ticket touts to supply inventory, and deep enough pockets to outspend Viagogo on Google search advertising.

“That might be good for Google, and it might be good for ticket touts. But we need a conclusion that’s good for UK consumers, and stops them being ripped off.”

“We welcome the CMA’s decision, for which both it and the FanFair Alliance ought to be applauded,” adds Sam Shemtob, director of the Face-Value European Alliance for Ticketing (FEAT). “The requirement will help protect the live sector across Europe from a concentration of market power from the world’s largest uncapped secondary sites.

“When live events resume, reduced capacities and social distancing will likely lead to increased demand, making it more important than ever that fans can see their favourite bands at the prices intended. FEAT is working hard to make this possible, both with regulators and by developing best practice.”

 


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Eventim’s TicketOne fined for anti-competitive behaviour

TicketOne, the market-leading primary ticket agency in Italy, has been fined €10 million by the Italian Competition Authority for alleged abuses of its dominant market position.

The latest judgment follows an investigation by the authority into TicketOne’s parent company, CTS Eventim, that first became public in 2019, when a handful of Italian promoters, led by Zed Entertainment’s Valeria Arzenton, alleged unfair competition on the part of Eventim-owned Friends and Partners (F&P).



Arzenton accused CTS Eventim/F&P of trying to strong-arm promoters and artists into ticketing contracts with TicketOne at the expense of non-Eventim operators – a claim strenuously denied by CTS Eventim, TicketOne, F&P and sister companies D’Alessandro e Galli, Vertigo and Vivo Concerti.

Competitors accuse Italian promoters of foul play (updated)

The verdict of the Competition Authority (known as the Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato, or AGCM, in Italian), published today (19 January), appear to back up Arzenton’s claims, finding that the ‘CTS Eventim-TicketOne group’ has created a “complex, abusive strategy” which prevents competing ticket sellers from obtaining a “particularly high proportion” (“quota particolarmente elevata”) of tickets for live music events.

In doing so, the group violated EU competition law, in particular Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, according to AGCM.

The authority further found that Eventim particularly sought to exclude TicketOne rival Ticketmaster, a relatively new entrant in Italy (and a non-exclusive ticketing partner of Arzenton’s Zed Entertainment), from the “relevant market”.

By preventing other ticket sellers from obtaining significant ticket inventory for shows organised by F&P, D’Alessandro e Galli, Vertigo and Vivo Concerti, all of which it acquired in a less than eight-month period in 2017–18, Eventim additionally caused harm to consumers, says AGCM, by limiting the choice of tickets available and allowing TicketOne to charge higher prices.

“CTS Eventim … are very confident that this illegal decision will also be overturned by the court”

In addition to the €10m fine, the authority has ordered CTS Eventim to grant TicketOne’s competitors a share of at least 20% of the tickets available for popular music shows organised by owned companies.

Arzenton welcomes the ruling as confirmation that “everything I was complaining about as true, in relation to the pressures and boycotts suffered” by Zed. “But now is the time to look ahead and work all together, as operators in this sector, to face the difficulties caused by this terrible pandemic,” she adds, “and be ready to start again in the name of culture and entertainment.”

In a statement provided to IQ, a CTS Eventim spokesperson refutes the ACGM ruling as being based on flawed data and says the company plans to appeal the verdict.

“TicketOne and CTS Eventim firmly reject AGCM’s claims that the group allegedly abused a dominant position,” they say. “On the basis of incorrect market definitions and in violation of essential procedural rules, the authority made a decision that should never have been made.

“Accordingly, TicketOne and CTS Eventim will appeal to the competent administrative court and are very confident, also with a view to the previous case law on decisions of the AGCM, that this illegal decision will also be overturned by the court.”

AGCM has previously been forced to return money to TicketOne, having refunded the company €1m after a court found it was wrong to claim TicketOne had facilitated unlawful ticket resale.

 


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CMA: Viagogo-StubHub merger anti-competitive

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has found that the acquisition of StubHub by Viagogo will reduce competition in an “already very concentrated market”, throwing into doubt the fate of the already completed deal in the UK.

The UK competition watchdog opened an in-depth, ‘phase 2’ investigation of the merger in June after finding competition concerns during its initial probe.

According to the CMA’s provisional decision, with Viagogo and StubHub now the only two companies of “material size” in the British ticket resale sector, the merged outfit would have a market share of more than 90%.

The authority is concerned the merger could lead to higher fees for fans (both selling and buying), as well as “a lower quality of service and reduced innovation in the sector”.

Stuart McIntosh, chair of the CMA inquiry group, comments: “The evidence we’ve seen so far consistently points in the same direction: that Viagogo and StubHub have a market share of more than 90% combined and compete closely with each other. We are therefore concerned that their merger could lead to secondary ticketing customers facing higher fees and lower quality services.

The CMA has suggested the sale of StubHub by Viagogo in the UK

“We’re now inviting comments on our provisional findings and possible remedies.”

Among the options floated to address the CMA’s concerns is the sale, either partial or whole, of StubHub by Viagogo on a global basis, which would leave Viagogo as an effective monopoly in many markets.

Adam Webb, campaign manager for anti-ticket touting group FanFair Alliance, says: “FanFair Alliance welcomes today’s provisional findings. Though poorly timed and focused predominantly on the US market, Viagogo’s $4.05bn acquisition of StubHub raises acute competition concerns in the UK. We are pleased the CMA has recognised this.

“Ultimately, the merger would bestow a hugely controversial business monopoly status in this country, and risk unpicking some significant progress made over recent years to clean up the secondary ticketing market. We now look forward to submitting further views to the CMA about both their findings and potential remedies.”

A Viagogo spokesperson says: “Our intention remains to provide eventgoers in the UK with the best possible service, and whilst we disagree with the provisional conclusion that the deal would reduce competition, we look forward to working with the CMA to deliver a comprehensive solution which addresses their concerns.”

The deadline for comments on the CMA’s provisional findings is 5 November 2020. Written representations can be made to viagogo.StubHub@cma.gov.uk.

 


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Live Nation-Ticketmaster consent decree extended

The US district court for the District of Columbia (Washington DC) has issued a judgment extending the ‘consent decree’ governing the 2010 merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster for a further five and a half years.

Live Nation reached a settlement extending the decree with the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) in December, following a DOJ investigation into alleged anti-competitive business practices.

The DOJ alleges Live Nation has violated provisions of the decree – which, among other things, requires Ticketmaster to license its ticketing software to competitors – on multiple occasions over the past decade. The claims are strenuously denied by Live Nation, which says the North American ticketing market is more competitive now than ever.

As a result of the court judgment, Live Nation will pay the DOJ’s costs, as well as fees for monitoring and enforcement of the decree through 2025.

“We strongly disagree with the DOJ’s allegations in the filing and the conclusions they seek to draw”

Makan Delrahim, assistant attorney-general in the DOJ’s antitrust (competition) division, says: “The amended decree reimburses the American people millions of dollars and makes it easier for the antitrust division and state enforcers to identify and prosecute future transgressions.”

“Live Nation settled this matter to make clear that it has no interest in threatening or retaliating against venues that consider or choose other ticketing companies,” said a Live Nation spokesperson in a statement issued on 9 January.

“We strongly disagree with the DOJ’s allegations in the filing and the conclusions they seek to draw from six isolated episodes among some 5,000 ticketing deals negotiated during the life of the consent decree. [In a court filing earlier this month, DOJ lawyers submitted evidence they allege shows instances in which six venues were told Live Nation would stop booking acts there if they used a ticketing company other than Ticketmaster.]

“Nevertheless, in keeping with our decision to settle, our focus is now on bringing this matter to its conclusion and continuing to deliver the best live event experiences to fans everywhere.”

Photo: Phyzome/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

 


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UK’s CMA threatens StubHub with court action

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has demanded StubHub make changes to its site change or face court action, after identifying several problems it believes could be in breach of UK consumer law.

As part of its “regular monitoring”, the British competition regulator says it has identified issues with the information provided about some tickets for sale via StubHub’s UK website – and is now concerned the secondary ticketer is not complying with commitments it made following a previous CMA investigation.

According to the CMA, it believes StubHub is still:

The watchdog says StubHub has already agreed to make said changes – and it expects they will be made “swiftly” – but if the site fails to comply it will continue taking action through the courts, as it has previously with Viagogo.

“It’s unacceptable that we have now found these concerns”

The chief executive of the CMA, Andrea Coscelli (pictured), says: “StubHub had previously committed to make important changes to the information on its site, so anyone buying a ticket would know what they were getting before parting with their money. It’s therefore unacceptable that we have now found these concerns.

“We have demanded swift action to resolve these problems and are pleased that StubHub has said it will make changes in response. We will closely monitor the firm’s efforts and, if it does not quickly implement changes that satisfy us, we will take further action – potentially through the courts.”

However, Wayne Grierson, NEMEA regional manager for StubHub UK, says the CMA’s demands are “additional asks” beyond its 2018 obligations.

“StubHub UK has complied with everything that the CMA requested following their investigation into the online secondary ticketing sector in 2018,” he says. “Our compliance with our undertakings was confirmed through a compliance audit in 2019. We have always collaborated closely with regulators in the interests of our fans, and will continue to do so.

“The CMA has now made additional asks. We remain in open dialogue with the CMA to address both these new asks and any remaining valid concerns about disclosure of information on our site. We are working closely to resolve these as quickly as possible, and in the best interest of our customers, the fans.”

“StubHub UK has complied with everything that the CMA requested following their investigation”

The CMA says it is also continuing to monitor Viagogo, which before Christmas agreed to acquire StubHub for US$4.1 billion.

Adam Webb, campaign manager for anti-touting group FanFair Alliance, welcomes the CMA announcement, which “again highlights continuing dysfunctions in the secondary ticketing market,” he says. “StubHub have had years to comply with UK consumer law: they were forced to sign legal undertakings in April 2018, and yet they still fall short of expected standards.

“If StubHub and other secondary ticketing platforms continue to mislead UK audiences, we would urge the CMA to take decisive action through the courts. Today’s developments should also provide yet more impetus for regulators to thoroughly investigate the proposed merger between Viagogo and StubHub.”

A separate CMA investigation is ongoing into Viagogo’s purchase of StubHub, which has sparked concern from the wider live music industry.

 


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LN-Gaiety’s purchase of MCD cleared by CMA

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has cleared the acquisition of Ireland’s MCD Productions by the UK-based Live Nation-Gaiety joint venture, after finding last month the merger does not raise competition concerns in Britain.

The UK competition watchdog referred the merger for an in-depth, ‘phase-2’ investigation, after finding the coming together of Live Nation and MCD could lessen competition in Northern Ireland.

However, the findings of the phase-2 inquiry said the opposite: that the merger is “not likely to raise competition concerns, as Live Nation would not be expected to have the incentive to harm rival music promoters by making it harder for them to sell tickets through Ticketmaster”.

“Having consulted on this provisional finding”, the CMA today (19 December) confirms the merger has been cleared.

“Having consulted on” its provisional findings, the CMA has formally cleared the merger

LN-Gaiety Holdings – a joint venture between Live Nation UK and Denis Desmond’s Gaiety Investments – announced last August it planned to acquire Desmond’s company MCD Productions. Cork-born Desmond succeeded John Probyn as Live Nation’s chairman in the UK and Ireland in 2015, although MCD – founded by Desmond and Eamonn McCann in 1980, and now co-owned by Desmond and his wife, Caroline Downey – remained independent of Live Nation/Gaiety.

The company is one of the big two promoters and venue operators in the Irish republic, alongside Peter Aiken’s Aiken Promotions.

The LN-MCD merger has already been cleared by the CCPC, the CMA’s counterpart in the Republic of Ireland.

 


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UK regulators investigate Viagogo-StubHub merger

Following pressure from anti-ticket touting campaigners, British competition regulators have opened an investigation into the acquisition of StubHub by Viagogo.

The US$4 billion all-cash mega-acquisition, announced late last month, is opposed by anti-secondary ticketing and consumer groups, with FanFair Alliance recently having written to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to urge it investigates – warning the merger would “leave a single market-dominant platform” with no competition in the domestic ticket resale market.

The CMA today revealed it is doing just that, having opened a preliminary ‘phase-1’ investigation into whether the merger of Viagogo and StubHub “may be expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition within any market or markets in the United Kingdom for goods or services”.

Interested parties have until 10 January to submit any comment or evidence relating to the acquisition, which the CMA fears could be in breach of the 2002 Enterprise Act.

“A merger between Viagogo and StubHub would have profound and damaging impacts for UK audiences and music businesses”

“Having written to the CMA and urged them to investigate, we’re obviously pleased they’ve opened a phase-1 inquiry,” comments FanFair’s campaign manager, Adam Webb.

“Aside from the persistent controversies surrounding these platforms – both of which are almost wholly dependent upon large-scale commercial ticket resellers – a merger between Viagogo and StubHub would have profound and damaging impacts for UK audiences and music businesses.”

Feat, the Face-value European Alliance for Ticketing, also welcomed news of the investigation, saying the union of StubHub and Viagogo would “create an effective monopoly of the UK secondary market, making the situation worse for fans already priced out by touts”:

A Viagogo spokesperson says: “It’s customary for regulators to review acquisitions of this size. We will work collaboratively with the CMA to address any of the enquiries.”

The CMA only recently suspended previous legal action against Viagogo, which it accused of having failed to comply with a court order instructing it to provide more information to ticket buyers.

 


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Campaigners urge CMA to investigate StubHub takeover

Anti-ticket touting campaign group FanFair Alliance has written to UK regulators to urge an investigation into the takeover of StubHub by Viagogo, warning that the US$4bn acquisition could “leave a single market-dominant platform” with no competition in the secondary ticketing sector.

In a letter to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), FanFair campaign manager Adam Webb writes that the deal “would concentrate market power in ‘for-profit’ secondary ticketing in the hands of a single operator (a combined Viagogo/StubHub would control closer to 100% of the UK market, far above the CMA’s 40% benchmark) and potentially result in anti-competitive behaviour with significant and damaging implications throughout the UK’s live music sector.”

One of the CMA’s criteria for if a company might have a dominant position in the market if is if it has more than a 40% market share in its given sector.

Following the shutdown of Ticketmaster’s Get Me In! and Seatwave sites this time last year, Viagogo and StubHub are the last of the ‘big four’ ticket resale sites operating in the UK.

“A merger of the two would potentially leave a single market-dominant platform”

Differentiating between B2C (business-to-consumer, describing tickets sold by professionalised touts and for-profit ticket resale businesses) and C2C (consumer-to-consumer ticket exchange, such as Ticketmaster Exchange, See Tickets’ Fan-to-Fan and CTS Eventim’s FanSALE) platforms, Webb notes that the combined Viagogo and StubHub would be the only remaining major B2C resale site, effectively eliminating all competition in that market.

“Under a single dominant B2C platform, we would be concerned that such practices would become increasingly prevalent in the UK,” Webb adds, “pushing the market away from consumer-friendly ticket resale and towards the kind of anti-consumer practices currently being investigated in North America.”

Other organisations urging the CMA to look at the merger include the Consumers’ Association (Which?), which said earlier this week that “the regulator should closely examine this deal and the impact it could have on competition in the sector to ensure consumers do not lose out”.

 


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CMA investigates Hasbro’s eOne takeover

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority has launched a preliminary investigation into Hasbro’s planned acquisition of London Stock Exchange-listed Entertainment One (eOne).

Hasbro, the US toy/board game giant whose brands include MonopolyTransformersMy Little PonyGI Joe and Power Rangers, announced in August it would pay US$4 billion dollars to take control of eOne, the Canada-based TV, film and music company.

Eone’s biggest brand is children’s TV franchise Peppa Pig, though it also has a robust music portfolio, including live production outfit Round Room Entertainment, labels Dualtone, Death Row and Last Gang Records and artist management company People’s Champ.

The CMA says it is considering whether the acquisition would substantially reduce competition “within any market or markets in the United Kingdom for goods or services”.

The competition watchdog is inviting comments on the proposed deal until 5 December, with the deadline for its ‘phase-1’ decision set for 21 January 2020.

 


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Live Nation refutes DOJ antitrust allegations

Live Nation and Ticketmaster have hit back at allegations their business practices are in violation of the ‘consent decree’ that governed the 2010 merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster.

At a Senate antitrust subcommittee hearing yesterday (17 September), Makan Delrahim, assistant attorney-general for the US Department of Justice (DOJ)’s antitrust, or competition, division, said the DOJ is “examining allegations of violations” of the decree – which, among other provisions, required Ticketmaster to license its ticketing software to competitors including AEG (an offer AEG reportedly never took up) and offload its then-subsidiary Paciolan.

The consent decree attracted renewed attention last year when a New York Times article, ‘Live Nation rules music ticketing, some say with threats’, reported that the DOJ was looking into “serious accusations about Live Nation’s behaviour in the marketplace”, including “complaints that Live Nation, which manages 500 artists, including U2 and Miley Cyrus, has used its control over concert tours to pressure venues into contracting with its subsidiary, Ticketmaster.”

Responding to the Times’s article, Ticketmaster’s North American president, Jared Smith, asserted that the ticketing market in the US today is “far more competitive than ever”, and that Ticketmaster remains the market leader “because we have worked hard to create better products and add new services”.

“We do not force anyone into ticketing agreements by leveraging content”

Delrahim (pictured) yesterday declined to elaborate on his findings, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Commenting on the DOJ investigation, Ticketmaster and Live Nation say in a joint statement: “As we have previously stated, Live Nation and Ticketmaster have always complied with their obligations under the consent decree.

“We do not force anyone into ticketing agreements by leveraging content, and we do not retaliate against venues that choose other ticketing providers.”

The antitrust hearing primarily focused on the big tech firms, including Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Alphabet (Google).

 


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