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May 7, 2020, 5:07 p.m. EDT

Live Nation's sales drop as shutdowns hit concerts

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By Anne Steele

Live Nation Entertainment Inc. reported a drop in revenue in the most recent quarter as social-distancing protocols and lockdown orders began squeezing the world's largest concert promoter and ticketing provider.

Shares in the company, which have fallen by nearly half this year, climbed about 1% in after-hours trading Thursday, to $39.80.

Live Nation, at the top of a booming live events industry, was expected to have its best year ever in 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic swept the world, making a business predicated on large gatherings impossible. The company, along with rival Anschutz Entertainment Group, broadly suspended shows March 12, just ahead of the critical summer concert season.

On Thursday the company said 80% of affected shows have been rescheduled, rather than cancelled, and that 90% of fans are holding onto tickets for rescheduled dates.

For the quarter that ended March 31, revenue in the concerts segment slipped 25%, to $993.4 million, while ticketing fell 16% to $284.3 million. Sponsorship and advertising rose 20% to $90.3 million.

In all for the period, Live Nation widened its loss to $184.8 million, or 94 cents a share, from $52.4 million, or 31 cents a share in the year-earlier quarter. Revenue fell 21% to $1.37 billion.

Given that the just-reported quarter included less than three weeks of shutdowns in the U.S., the pandemic's impact on the current quarter is likely to be even greater.

Live Nation said it had $3.3 billion in cash and equivalents in hand as of March 31, including $817 million in free cash -- enough to last the rest of the year without staging any events, the company has said. Executives have also said they're optimistic about being able to postpone, rather than cancel, most affected shows, but in recent weeks many artists have been calling off entire tours to allow their fans to collect automatic refunds.

The company has faced fans' complaints that their money was tied up in tickets for events that have been postponed but not formally canceled. Live Nation introduced a new policy letting consumers ask for a refund on any ticket up to 30 days after a new date is announced. Fans can also ask for a refund if no new date is announced within 60 days of a show being postponed.

In addition to the monumental task of rescheduling thousands of shows, the company, which owns Ticketmaster, is facing a prolonged and costly refund process.

Meanwhile, Live Nation has taken cash-saving measures, reducing top executives' pay by as much as 50% -- with Chief Executive Michael Rapino forgoing his full salary -- and implementing hiring freezes and furloughs. The company is also reducing its use of contractors and cutting discretionary spending, including on travel, marketing, repairs and maintenance.

Write to Anne Steele at Anne.Steele@wsj.com

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