Potential sale of Isle of Wight Festival opens up competition issues

September 2017

Live events sector


The UK’s festivals trade association, the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) has written to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) urging the CMA to widen its investigation into Live Nation’s acquisition of Isle of Wight Festival to include an inquiry into US promoter’s “position in the [UK] market overall”.

The 60 festival strong group made the recommendation after publishing research that showed that Live Nation either owns or holds a majority stake in nearly a quarter (23%) of all UK events with a capacity of over 5,000. In total, Live Nation controls 28 UK festivals, including eight of Britain’s largest outdoor events (Download, V Festival, Reading/Leeds, Parklife, Creamfields, Lovebox and Wilderness) and whilst this excludes Glastonbury, it is almost three times more than its nearest competitor, Global, which AIF says has a  8% marketshare. Rival AEG promotes the 65,000 capacity British Summer Time shows in London’s Hyde Park.

Live Nation has divisions operating in tour and festival promotion, venue management, primary and secondary ticketing, and artist management, and continues to be acquisitive, not least in the UK where it has bought into a number of touring, festival and venue companies in recent years.

AIF’s general manager, Paul Reed, said: “For the sake of its future health and diversity, it is vital that the UK’s live music sector remains open and competitive. We continually need new artists to break through and entrepreneurs to launch fresh and exciting events” adding  “The live music sector is fiercely competitive, but data we have published today rings several alarm bells – highlighting that a single transnational corporation is fast headed towards widespread dominance. For independent festival operators, a Live Nation monopoly would quite simply be a stranglehold with profound and serious consequences.”

AIF has significant concern over “Live Nation’s “deep-rooted influence across the live music sector, from venue and festival ownership” (LNE also owns the network of small and mid-sized venues through Academy Music Group and the former MAMA & Company venues and of course is dominant in ticketing “through to control of ticketing with Ticketmaster, ownership of two of the ‘big four’ secondary ticketing sites and security and management businesses”.

Reed highlights exclusivity deals with artistes as a major issue: “The complaint we hear privately from a growing number of AIF members is about the collateral damage caused by the imposition of hugely restrictive exclusivity deals …. by their nature, these deals are anti-competitive, restraining when and where even the smallest artist can perform and significantly diminishing the pool of talent that non-Live Nation promoters can draw upon. On this basis, we have urged the CMA to extend their investigations beyond acquisition of the Isle of Wight Festival and into Live Nation’s position in the market overall.”

In turn, Live Nation has filed a complaint with the Competitions & Markets Authority against its rival AEG Live. The complaint relates to a dispute between AEG Live and Azoff MSG Entertainment that has seemingly forced global touring acts to choose sides, and may have prevented certain acts from appearing at London’s O2 Arena. The underlying battle  is US based, and seemingly began when Azoff MSG reportedly refused to book acts into its prestigious Madison Square Garden venue in New York unless they also played the company’s Los Angeles venue, The Forum, in preference (or to the exclusion of) AEG’s Staples Centre.


In response, AEG stated that its “hand has been forced” and it planned to “level the playing field” and that acts that chose Azoff’s Forum over the Stales Centre would apparently not be booked into its London venue, The O2. 

“The UK Competition & Markets Authority has advised us that they have received a complaint from Live Nation,” said a spokesman for AEG Live. “We will meet the Authority to discuss the matter and we believe our responses will satisfy them.”

Azoff has now told Billboard that there is “no mandated booking link between his group’s venues, the Forum and Garden”.




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