Tuesday, June 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Arbitration agreement sticks in Ticketmaster antitrust fight

The court rejected the argument that the arbitration agreement wasn't valid because it didn't contain Ticketmaster's full legal name.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Ticketmaster customers who accused the company of using its market dominance to inflate ticket prices struck out at the Ninth Circuit, which agreed with a judge who had said that the consumers must arbitrate their grievances rather than fight them in court.

The unanimous appellate panel ruled Monday that Ticketmaster's terms of use for its website, including the arbitration agreement, were not invalidated because, as the purchasers argued, these terms didn't include the full legal names of the corporate entities, Ticketmaster LLC and its parent company Live Nation Entertainment Inc., as parties to the agreement.

"Ticket purchasers effectively ask this court to impose a requirement that parties to an arbitration agreement identify themselves in the contractual document by their full legal names," Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Danny Boggs, a Ronald Reagan appointee sitting by designation from the Sixth Circuit, wrote for the panel. "However, they fail to produce any authority, mandatory or persuasive, demanding as much."

U.S. Circuit Judges Kim McLane Warldaw, a Bill Clinton appointee, and Sandra Ikuta, a George W. Bush appointee, rounded out the panel.

An attorney for the ticket purchasers didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling.

Live Nation and its Ticketmaster subsidiary, a frequent target of consumer lawsuits in the best of times, have found themselves under renewed scrutiny following the botched sale this past November of tickets for Taylor Swift's upcoming tour. The Ticketmaster website crashed when it was overwhelmed by 3.5 billion request from both fans and bots posing as consumers, leaving thousands of "Swifties" who preregistered as verified fans unable to buy tickets after waiting in online queues for many hours.

The Taylor Swift ticket debacle prompted a U.S. Senate hearing on Ticketmaster's market dominance, and the Justice Department reportedly opened a new antitrust investigation of Live Nation. It also brought new antitrust lawsuits by frustrated ticket buyers.

The Ninth Circuit ruling, however, may be bad news for Taylor Swift fans and other Ticketmaster detractors who want to hold the company liable in antitrust actions. If Monday's ruling applies to their claims, they'll have to argue them individually before an arbitrator instead of being able to use the leverage of a class action to negotiate a settlement on behalf of all similarly duped ticket buyers.

The case before the Ninth Circuit was brought in 2020 by Ticketmaster customers who claimed the company, which has a 70% market share for live events at major venues, and Live Nation — the concert promoter it merged with in 2010 — have achieved such dominance of the live music market that fans are forced to pay excessively high prices to see their favorite artists on stage.

"Subsidized by the supracompetitive profits Ticketmaster’s business generates from its domination of primary ticketing services for major concert venues, Live Nation Entertainment is able to keep a stranglehold on concert promotion
services — losing tens of millions of dollars annually — by paying its clients exorbitant amounts," the ticket purchasers said in their complaint. "Using its promotion business as a loss leader in turn helps maintain Ticketmaster’s dominance, because venue operators must take into account the very real possibility that Live Nation Entertainment will not route tours through their venues if they do not select Ticketmaster as their primary ticketing service provider."

Representatives of Ticketmaster didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a Feb. 1 statement, following President Joe Biden's call for limits on fees for concert tickets, the company said it supports ticketing reforms that will benefit artists and fans, prevent fraud and clean up fraudulent practices in resale markets.

"These basic steps should be the things everyone agrees on, including mandating all-in pricing and outlawing speculative ticketing," the company said. "We stand ready to work with the president and Congress on many common sense ticketing reforms, while also speaking out against proposed legislation that would benefit scalpers over artists and fans.”

Categories: Appeals Consumers Entertainment

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.