Federal Investigators Demand Documents Regarding Aborted Live Nation Amphitheater Deal

The City of Irvine is facing a January 11, 2024 deadline to submit to federal investigators “all documents relating to the City’s potential partnership with Live Nation to develop a new venue within the City of Irvine.” The Civil Investigative Demand (“CID”) was accompanied by a December 11, 2023, letter to City Attorney Jeffrey Melching from Brittney Dimond, a trial attorney for the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Dimond’s letter states that the documents are sought in connection with the Antitrust Division’s “Investigation of Competition in Ticketing and Concert Promotion Services.”  The New York Times reported last January that the Justice Department had “opened an antitrust investigation into the owner of Ticketmaster, whose sale of Taylor Swift concert tickets descended into chaos this week . . .. The investigation is focused on whether Live Nation Entertainment has abused its power over the multibillion-dollar live music industry.” Citing an unnamed source, the Times stated that the “inquiry appears to be broad, looking at whether the company maintains a monopoly over the industry.”

The Wall Street Journal reported last November that the focus of the investigation is on whether Live Nation uses anticompetitive agreements with venues and artists, including any restrictions on the ability of venues to work with other promoters or ticket services.  A Live Nation representative stated: “We participate in competitive bidding for both artist and venue deals. That competition has only increased in recent years, and we welcome any discussion on our specific business practices as this growing industry continues to evolve.”

As revealed in previous Irvine Watchdog articles, Live Nation originally sought a deal in which the City would spend more than $100 million to build a 14,000-seat amphitheater that Live Nation would have the exclusive right to operate for up to 50 years.  After months of negotiations and intense public controversy, in July 2023, the City Council rejected a revised version of that proposal in favor of a smaller amphitheater to which a variety of promoters would have equal access.

The Justice Department’s demand to the City is for all relevant “documents, data, and other information created, altered or received by the [City] since April 1, 2022.”  “Documents” is defined as “all written, printed, or electronically stored information (‘ESI’) of any kind in the possession, custody, or control of the [City], including information stored on social media accounts like Twitter or Facebook, chats, instant messages, text messages, other Messaging Applications, and documents contained in Collaborative Work Environments and other document data bases.”

The CID is similar to a Request for Production, a discovery device commonly used in civil litigation, but the Justice Department has not yet initiated litigation against Live Nation. The CID includes the following admonition: “Your attention is directed to 18 U.S.C. section 1505 … which makes obstruction of this investigation a criminal offense. The information you provide may be used by the Department of Justice in other civil, criminal, or regulatory cases or proceedings.”

When contacted by Irvine Watchdog, Melching declined to comment. The text of the Civil Investigative Demand can be found here.