Too Big to Fail, Round 2?

The looming behemoth that is the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger just got one step closer. Over half of Ticketmaster's lenders have approved the deal, and despite much protest over antitrust concerns, a Justice Department investigation into the merger and millions of concertgoers who have learned to shake their head at anything that would make the ticketing giant any more giant, the deal is expected to go through.

While Ticketmaster is a part of modern life for people of any age, those of us born in the late-seventies and early eighties have a special relationship with Ticketmaster, which was founded in 1978. When we came of age, it did too. When our teenhoods were survived only by the grace of Phish, Nirvana, Dave Matthews Band, or any of the other acts that sprang up on the nineties, Ticketmaster survived its own adolescence with our service fees of a dollar. Then two. Then three plus convenience fees and building facility charges (we thought life was getting more complicated as we got older -- really, it was just Ticketmaster.) We remember Pearl Jam and String Cheese Incident trying to take them down a couple notches. Short story long, we remember a world before Ticketmaster, but barely. We certainly remember it turned 30, but thought it was 40 and started crashing all those Porsches and dating its shrink.

Or buying the prime seats to all Bruce Springsteen shows and automatically directing fans to a website for the reseller which they in fact own. Engaging in a semi-scam that that was basically Neil Diamond knowingly scalping tickets to his own concerts through that same website (Note: in a peculiar instance of questionable journalism, the Wall Street Journal article that broke this story mentions the fact that Ticketmaster CEO Irving Azoff is Diamond's manager in the TENTH paragraph. And you say blogs are killing the newspaper industry? But I digress. Where was I? Oh yeah, Ticketmaster...) Like selling too many tickets through secondary websites to Springsteen's DC show next week and having to refund customers' money or give them worse seats since they sold them tickets they couldn't actually provide.

Stepping back from this a second, we just bailed out the banks because they were "too big to fail". They got that way through a series of megamergers, swallowing up smaller competitors, and the addition of interest payments and fees on their customers that at the very least caused some eyes to open particularly wide. Ticketmaster? Check, check and check. In the wake of the bailouts, many understandably mentioned that if something is too big to fail, it might make sense to do some things to not let it get so big.

This impending merger with Live Nation, the largest concert promoter in the world, will of course make the new company an even more powerful force for music fans to both fund and reckon with, and might be exactly the kind of institution that requires a good gut check, short-term memory recall, and some input from live music fans who have dealt with Ticketmaster more than the folks in the DoJ antitrust division. Ticketmaster/Live Nation may or may not be too big to fail, but that doesn't mean it's not going to be too big anyway.