Ticketmaster: How a Monopoly is Killing Live Music

GRAPHIC BY MORGAN LEE/GRAPHICS CENTER

Taylor Swift is the face of today’s music industry —  she is the most streamed artist per month on Spotify, and broke numerous industry records with the release of her latest album, “Midnights.” She has won 11 Grammys and has 42 nominations, and she’s won 40 American Music Awards, more than any any artist in history. With the extent of her commercial success, a high demand for tickets to her shows is no surprise. In fact, for her first tour in five years, the demand for tickets was so high that Ticketmaster, host of ticket sales for the shows, utterly failed to do its job: sell tickets in a way that is fair and keeps customers happy.

On Nov. 15, tickets for “Taylor Swift The Eras Tour” became available through Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan presale. It was a bloodbath. Fans waited hours in virtual queues, some of which Ticketmaster paused, only to be greeted with a sold out notice. Others faced errors that prevented them from completing purchases of seats that were already in their carts, forcing them to go through the seat selection multiple times and in some cases, ending up with nothing.

To receive access to the presale, fans pre-registered for TaylorSwiftTix Presale powered by the site’s Verified Fan system earlier in November. Ticketmaster reported in an apology statement that over 3.5 million people signed up, and that the site sent presale codes to around 1.5 million people. That’s a large number, but it’s a number that Ticketmaster’s servers are well equipped to handle.

However, during the presale, Ticketmaster’s servers had to contend with 3.5 billion system requests. Their statement explained that a “staggering number of bot attacks as well as fans who didn’t have codes” drove unexpectedly high site traffic. And while this may be true, it places the blame on Swift’s fans and takes focus away from the fact that Ticketmaster could have avoided this meltdown. 

Ticketmaster did not require users to enter their presale code before entering the queue to purchase tickets, but stated in its apology that “only ticket buyers who were verified were permitted to enter a queue.” Of the three million people who registered for codes, “2 million Verified Fans were placed on a waiting list.” It’s unclear if this means that these two million code-less Verified Fans could enter the queue. Additionally, no apparent bot prevention appeared before the site allowed users to enter.

After the chaos of the presale, Ticketmaster rescheduled its Capital One credit card presale from 2 p.m. on Nov. 15 to the same time on Nov. 16 — meaning that fans who rearranged schedules, took time off work, and otherwise dropped everything to buy tickets were out of luck. Ticketmaster also canceled the general sale of tickets. Without a general sale, the two million fans who were waitlisted, and those who didn’t sign up in the first place, currently have no opportunity to buy tickets.

There are always going to be people who don’t get tickets to see such a large artist because there are simply not enough seats available for every fan. With 52 shows during the tour and each stadium holding roughly 70,000 people, the amount of tickets available for the tour comes out to about 3.6 million. That’s a lot, but it’s a lot less than Swift’s 84 million monthly Spotify listeners. 

Ticketmaster is a near monopoly. According to the New York Times, Ticketmaster accounts for 70% of the United States’ concert ticket market. In 2010, Ticketmaster merged with Live Nation to form Live Nation Entertainment, a move that “inspired fear in the live-concert business.” The company’s lack of competition means that they can get away with poor business practices without losing customers. 

Tickets that are bought through Ticketmaster can be resold directly through the site. The Star reported that Ticketmaster Resale owns software called Trade Deck, which enables resellers to “seamlessly sync their Ticketmaster accounts…with their online resale operation.” When scalpers resell using Ticketmaster, the company earns commision with every purchase of a resale ticket. The company’s terms of use state that users may not “order, or attempt to order, a number of tickets for an event that exceeds the stated limit for that event.” But Trade Deck allows scalpers to do so without consequence, “We don’t spend any time looking at your Ticketmaster.com account…We don’t monitor that at all,” a Trade Deck sales executive told undercover reporters from The Star.

In response to the fumbled presale, Swift’s fans as well as politicians such as New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have called for Ticketmaster and its parent company, Live Nation, to separate. On the day of the presale, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that Ticketmaster and Live Nation should be “reigned in.” A campaign on Action Network, an open platform that allows users to “organize for progressive causes,” called for fans to send letters to the Department of Justice urging them to investigate Ticketmaster and their potential abuse of monopolized power. The campaign resulted in over 46,000 letters being sent to the Justice Department. 

On Nov. 18, the New York Times reported that the Justice Department opened an antitrust investigation of Live Nation Entertainment to determine if the company has “abused its power over the multibillion-dollar live music industry.” The Time’s source said that the investigation started before the chaos of the presale. 

At the moment, it’s unclear what the rest of the sale for the Eras Tour will look like, but I will be going. My friend was one of the lucky few who got tickets and when she bought them, my place in the queue hadn’t moved for over an hour. The experience of buying tickets was deeply stressful for all involved, and Ticketmaster needs to be held accountable, whether that’s by Swift’s fans or the Department of Justice.

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