Azoff: Ticketmaster "Highly Confident" Merger Will be Approved

Ticketmaster Entertainment (TKTM) “remains highly confident that” its planned merger with rival ticketing agency Live Nation (LYV) “will happen,” says Ticketmaster CEO Irving Azoff despite published reports that U.S. antitrust regulators have concerns over the combination. Azoff made his comments during an Oct. 17th entertainment symposium of Los Angeles lawyers at USC, but then outlined some of the very anti-competitive concerns that might be fueling Washington’s concerns.

Azoff, who initially derided the press reports as “either wishful thinking or idle speculation,” went to great lengths during his 30-minute question answer presentation to present Ticketmaster’s case that scalping should be declared illegal so that his company and “rights holders” (i.e. sports teams and rock stars) could control the flow of tickets and prices that consumers pay to get them. “It’s up to those rights owners to decide what they want to do with those tickets.”

Azoff says he has been meeting in Washington with various congressional members to press federal legislation to put curbs on scalping. (The majority of states have laws that allow scalping, and several have removed anti-scaling provisions in recent years,) “I tell them that they wouldn’t allow someone on the street to scalp a gallon of gasoline when there’s an oil crisis” says Azoff. “Why would they allow someone to stand on a street corner and scalp a ticket when it’s in high demand, too?”

During his talk, Azoff did not address reports that his company and Live Nation may be pondering making concessions, including selling off some ticketing sites, in order to curry favor with regulators who worry that the combined company would control too many venues and drive out competitors. “We would never have undertaken this merger if we thought it wasn’t legal,” he said.

Instead, Azoff said he rarely reads newspaper accounts of the deal, although he had seen some recently and dismissed the leaked accounts. “I know that the Justice Dept hasn’t been the source of any of these leaks,” he said, hinting that interested parties were trying to squash the merger. “Despite what (rival concert promoter) AEG might think, this is not a popularity contest,” Azoff added.

Azoff did offer one potentially pro-consumer initiative. Early next year, said Azoff, it plans to introduce “dynamic pricing” of tickets it sells. Under dynamic pricing, a virtual open market would be established for tickets, with the most popular tickets commanding the highest prices based on the numbers of folks wanting them. Alternatively, less attractive tickets would command lower prices. According to Azoff, about 40% of concert ticket seats go unsold these days because they often are too high priced. With dynamic pricing, “we’d have lower priced tickets, more tickets sold and more opportunities for venues to sell popcorn and beer,” the Ticketmaster CEO says.

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