| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Live Nation Inc's (LYV.N) planned acquisition of Ticketmaster Entertainment Inc TKTM.O has received support from rock stars including Van Halen, Seal and Shakira ahead of a U.S. antitrust hearing on Tuesday.
The companies said they have received supportive letters and emails from these artists, even as others including Bruce Springsteen and Senator Charles Schumer have opposed a combination of the world's biggest concert promoter and largest ticketing company.
Ticketmaster Chief Executive Irving Azoff and Live Nation Chief Executive Michael Rapino will tell a Washington antitrust hearing that the merger will help save jobs in the beleaguered music industry by forming a strong American company that can fend off foreign takeover threats, according to prepared testimony seen by Reuters.
"This is a great American industry. It's an important part of our culture and our history and it's at a very important crossroads," Azoff said in an interview. "The current music industry is broken."
U.S. recorded music sales are down more than 50 percent since peaking in 2000, hurt first by piracy, then by digital music services such as Apple Inc's (AAPL.O) iTunes, which sell much fewer albums.
"We're certainly not anti-record company, but the labels tried to fight technology and look where it got them," said Azoff.
Live Nation has been trying to diversify its concert promotion business to boost thin profit margins. In the last 18 months, it has moved into ticketing and signed high-profile stars like Madonna and Jay-Z to multiple rights deals to include merchandising.
Ticketmaster has also diversified into artist management by buying Azoff's Front Line Management and making him CEO of the combined company.
With the latest merger, some music industry insiders have complained that the company -- with control over many artists, venues and ticket sales -- would have access to business-sensitive information of competitors.
But Azoff, one of the world's leading artist managers, and Rapino said they had received letters of support from artists, small venues and promoters with whom they work.
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In one letter seen by Reuters, rock star Seal, who has no relationship with Live Nation or management relationship with Ticketmaster, said he was in full support of the merger.
"Anything that can strengthen the link between music creators and music lovers has my support," Seal said in the letter to be presented to the U.S. antitrust committee. "I believe the combined company will achieve that by aligning resources, talent and services."
Other names of support include Eddie Van Halen and his son Wolfgang, 1970s rock act Journey and Colombian pop star Shakira, who signed to a $70 million multiple rights deal with Live Nation last year.
The companies also had letters of support from owners of small venues and a few independent promoters around the country.
However, some lawmakers and consumer groups said the merger will lead to higher ticket prices and limit artist choices.
"This merger would give a giant, new entity unrivaled power over concert-goers and the prices they pay to see their favorite artists and bands. It must be viewed skeptically and scrutinized," Schumer said in a statement on Monday.
Rapino said fans are frustrated with the lack of transparency in ticket sales that lead to scalpers and resellers charging exorbitant prices for the best seats.
The merger would aid ticket price transparency, boost sponsorship revenue, and help small venues discover "the next Bruce Springsteen," Rapino and Azoff said.
Springsteen came out against the merger after Ticketmaster's website appeared to redirect fans to buy tickets to one of his concerts at TicketsNow.com, the website of a subsidiary where prices were much higher.
Azoff, seen by many as one of the most powerful players in the global music industry for more than 40 years, said he has personally apologized to Springsteen.
"I was angered and embarrassed by the incident," he said.
(Reporting by Yinka Adegoke, editing by Tiffany Wu, Richard Chang)