Artist News Business News Live Business

Taylor Swift and Ticketmaster comment on last week’s ticketing dramas

By | Published on Monday 21 November 2022

Taylor Swift

Live Nation’s Ticketmaster posted an updated blog post this weekend about all the issues that occurred last week during the pre-sale of tickets for the US dates on Taylor Swift’s 2023 ‘The Eras Tour’, reckoning that about 15% of Swift-related “interactions” on its website “experienced issues”.

The update followed an Instagram post from Swift herself on Friday in which she stated: “We asked them, multiple times, if they could handle this kind of demand and we were assured they could”.

There was a flood of outrage on social media last week as many Swift fans with access to the pre-sale of tickets for the tour experienced issues with the Ticketmaster platform. In response to the growing discontent online, the ticketing firm admitted on its own social media that “historically unprecedented demand” was creating delays, but encouraged fans to “hold tight” and thanked them for their patience.

A separate pre-sale for Capital One cardholders was then pushed back while Ticketmaster dealt with the ongoing “unprecedented demand”. Plans to make all of the remaining tickets available to anyone without pre-sale access on Friday were then ultimately called off “due to extraordinarily high demands on ticketing systems and insufficient remaining ticket inventory to meet that demand”.

Following all the social media chatter and accompanying media reporting about the various problems Swift fans were experiencing accessing tickets to her show, the musician herself took to Instagram to respond.

“It goes without saying that I’m extremely protective of my fans”, she declared, explaining that’s why she tries to run as much of the operations around her music and shows within her own team, so she’s in full control of the fan experience. But sometimes third parties have to be relied upon, of course.

“There are a multitude of reasons why people had such a hard time trying to get tickets and I’m trying to figure out how this situation can be improved moving forward”, she went on. “I’m not going to make excuses for anyone because we asked them, multiple times, if they could handle this kind of demand and we were assured they could”.

In its new blog post on Saturday, which updated an earlier and previously deleted post, Ticketmaster writes: “We strive to make ticket buying as easy as possible for fans, but that hasn’t been the case for many people trying to buy tickets for Taylor Swift’s ‘The Eras Tour’”.

“First”, it then states, “we want to apologise to Taylor and all of her fans – especially those who had a terrible experience trying to purchase tickets. Next, we feel we owe it to everyone to share some information to help explain what happened”.

Swift’s tour made use of Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan system to manage the pre-sale, which seeks to block any bots trying to hoover up tickets for sale on the secondary market. “Based on fan interest at registration we knew this would be big”, the blog post adds. “Over 3.5 million people pre-registered … which is the largest registration in history”.

Given that usually only about 40% of those who register actually try and buy tickets when they go on pre-sale – and with the average purchase being three tickets – Ticketmaster sent codes to 1.5 million fans that would give them access to tickets on 15 Nov. The remaining two million fans who had signed up were then put on a waiting list on the off chance tickets would still be available after the initial influx of purchases.

“Historically, we’ve been able to manage huge volume coming into the site to shop for tickets, so those with Verified Fan codes have a smooth shopping process”, it goes on. “However, this time the staggering number of bot attacks as well as fans who didn’t have codes drove unprecedented traffic on our site, resulting in 3.5 billion total system requests – four times our previous peak”.

“Never before has a Verified Fan onsale sparked so much attention – or traffic”, it adds. “This disrupted the predictability and reliability that is the hallmark of our Verified Fan platform. Overall, we estimate about 15% of interactions across the site experienced issues, and that’s 15% too many, including passcode validation errors that caused fans to lose tickets they had carted”.

However, despite all that, the Ticketmaster blog post goes on, over two million tickets were sold, and those all went to people who had previously registered with the Verified Fan system. As a result, it reckons, less than 5% of tickets for the tour have popped up on secondary ticketing sites, compared to the 20-30% that is common for in-demand shows in the US that don’t use a system like Verified Fan.

And while Ticketmaster is willing to take responsibility for the tech issues Swift’s fans occurred last week – “we’re working to shore up our tech for the new bar that has been set”, the company insists – it isn’t taking the blame for all the fans that missed out on tickets for the shows. Because when there is high demand to access a show – let alone “historically unprecedented demand” – some fans will inevitably miss out.

Indeed, Ticketmaster concludes, “based on the volume of traffic to our site” to satisfy all the demand for tickets “Taylor would need to perform over 900 stadium shows – almost 20 times the number of shows she is doing – that’s a stadium show every single night for the next 2.5 years”. However, “while it’s impossible for everyone to get tickets to these shows, we know we can do more to improve the experience and that’s what we’re focused on”.

It remains to be seen whether this weekend’s blog post does anything to placate the pissed off Swift, let alone the multitude of angry Swift fans. Though last week’s debacle also put the spotlight back on the wider criticisms that have been made about Ticketmaster within the music community, and by politicians and consumer rights groups.

Those criticisms include the long-standing consumer resentment over ticketing fees; Ticketmaster’s ongoing interests in the secondary ticketing market in the US; the lack of transparency over how tickets for shows are allocated; and – of course – Ticketmaster being part of the wider Live Nation group, a combination that has been frequently criticised, including by US-based artist groups just last month.

Now, arguably none of those issues are particularly relevant to last week’s problems, which was really just about a tech platform that wasn’t equipped to cope with the levels of demand for Swift’s first tour in five years.

But maybe some of the practices that are common in the modern ticketing business did contribute to the problems – and even if they didn’t, when you have as many critics as Ticketmaster, it’s inevitable that at least some of them are going to be ready to kick you whenever you’re down.

Among Ticketmaster’s critics in the US Congress is Amy Klobuchar, who used last week’s Swift tickets meltdown to prompt another letter to Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino.

“In the last twelve months, how much have you invested in upgrading your systems to address demand surges, and specifically, what improvements did those investments generate?” the senator wanted to know.

Perhaps wondering if the allocation of tickets to brand partners, such as Capital One, had contributed to last week’s problems with tickets to The Eras Tour’, she also asked: “Typically, what percentage of high profile tour tickets are available to the general public compared to those allocated to pre-sales, radio stations, VIPs, and other restricted sales opportunities?”

And, unsurprisingly, Klobuchar used the moment to again discuss the 2010 merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster, and the obligations the two companies made to the US Department Of Justice, via one of those consent decrees, in order to get regulator approval for that deal.

Earlier this year the Senator requested that the DoJ again review the dominance of Live Nation and Ticketmaster in the US live sector, and following last week’s Swift debacle the New York Times reported that such review is actually underway.

In her new letter to Rapino, Klobuchar wrote: “Ticketmaster has been repeatedly accused of violating the requirements of its consent decree with the Department Of Justice. Is Ticketmaster aware of any complaints that have been made to it or to government agencies about potential noncompliance with the consent decree in the last twelve months?”

The senator requested that her questions be answered by 23 Nov.