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British regulators put roadblock on Ticketmaster-LiveNation merger

October 8, 2009 | 11:07 am

Sorry old chum.

Ticketmaster and Live Nation may have to divest assets in the United Kingdom in order to go ahead with their proposed merger, British regulators said today.

The country's Competition Commission, which investigates mergers for the British government, issued a provisional ruling that the merger of ticketing giant Ticketmaster and concert production company Live Nation could "severely inhibit" German ticketing company CTS Eventim AG.

AZOFFRAPINO CTS signed a deal before the proposed merger was announced in February to sell tickets to music events for Live Nation in the U.K. The Competition Commission ruled that if the merger goes ahead, Live Nation "would have the incentive to impede CTS's entry into the UK ticketing market, in particular by minimizing the supply of its tickets to CTS, and thereby frustrate CTS from becoming an additional effective competitor to Ticketmaster."

The public agency said it will consider a range of possible steps the two companies could take to address its concerns before issuing its final report by Nov. 24. Among the possible remedies, the Competition Commission said, is a divestiture of either Ticketmaster or Live Nation's British businesses or specific steps to make sure CTS Eventim or another outside company can sell tickets to Live Nation events.

The provisional ruling comes as the U.S. Department of Justice is still investigating the proposed merger. Critics have complained that if the two companies combined, they would have outsize power to set prices for concerts and other live events.

In a joint statement, Ticketmaster and Live Nation didn't address any specific steps they might take to deal with today's ruling. "Both our companies are committed to this merger and look forward to addressing any and all issues that the commission deems necessary," they said.

They also continued to position their proposed merger as a necessary step to aid the troubled music industry: "Where the recording industry was once the economic engine for the music business, it is live entertainment that is now the future of the music industry.... [W]orking together we will be able to help achieve needed change that will strengthen the flagging music industry."

--Ben Fritz

Photo: Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino and Ticketmaster CEO Irving Azoff testify on Capitol Hill about their proposed merger. Credit: Kevin Wolf/Associated Press.