The Year In Ticketing: Change Is The Only Constant

Eric Church
Ron Matay
– Eric Church
Runaway Country Music Festival, Osceola Heritage Park, Kissimmee, Fla.

The complex and nuanced world of ticketing saw some major shakeups in 2017, including several big acquisitions, the advent of new technologies and changes in how various actors deal with the secondary market.

The biggest ticketing news of the year was the fiasco that was Pemberton Music Festival, which was to stage its fifth edition in Pemberton Valley, British Columbia. Pemberton, like the ill-fated Fyre Festival in the Bahamas, was a failed attempt at a major festival but unlike the latter it did not take place and seemingly experienced Pemberton organizers declared bankruptcy, not even attempting to offer refunds to fans who bought tickets. This was a huge stain on the reputations of Ticketfly and promoter Huka Entertainment, and a general embarrassment for the industry as Pemberton was to host major artists like Chance The Rapper, Muse, A Tribe Called Quest, Major Lazer, Haim, and Run The Jewels and had staged successfully in previous years.

Ticketfly managed to dodge the questions about its business that have since dogged Huka (though it is being sued by Tortuga Music Festival for allegedly breaching an agreement). Ticketfly has since been acquired by Eventbrite, which also bought Ticketscript and integrated Twickets in the year. Add in that Ticketfly partnered with fan-to-fan ticket exchange company Lyte earlier in the year, and Eventbrite has become the heavyweight in the independent ticketing space.

Outside of the independent space, Ticketmaster and AXS, the ticketing arms of Live Nation and AEG respectively, still dominate the North American market. TM has been testing and refining its Verified Fan system well before 2017, but the year marked its full entry into the public consciousness as U2Taylor Swift and Bruce Springsteen all had fans registering for a chance at tickets well in advance of onsales.

The rise of Verified Fan gives a pathway to answers for questions about how Live Nation deals with fan clubs, though the concert giant remains locked in legal battle with Songkick, which had its assets scooped up by Warner Music Group in 2017.

Verified Fan is now Ticketmaster’s flagship method of combating bots and shady actors on the secondary market, but some artists like Eric Church took matters into their own hands, canceling 25,000 tickets after determining they had been purchased by scalpers.

“We’re getting better at identifying who the scalpers are,” Church told the Tennessean. “Every artist can do this, but some of them don’t. Some of them don’t feel the way I feel or are as passionate.” Similarly, Iron Maiden shared in March that the band had successfully reduced its listings on secondary sites by 95 percent compared with 2011.

Europe saw a number of shakeups in ticketing, including increasing scrutiny of the secondary market.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose 2016 report year exposed numerous concerns about practices in the ticketing industry, announced in May that six ticket resellers were ordered to pay $4.2 million to settle allegations of bot use.

Ticketmaster has since filed suit against Prestige Entertainment, Renaissance Ventures and various named and unnamed individuals in the same matter.

Another notable regulatory change came in Ontario, Canada, where resale prices of tickets were capped at 50 percent above face value and bots were outlawed. Government regulators also made industry-related decisions in Chicago, which added a concert ticket tax as a part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s budget and in Virginia, which actually passed legislation to protect ticket resellers.

New technology is still a huge part of the ticketing game.

Ticketmaster is building hype around its Presence initiative and the industry continues to transition away from paper ticketing and towards a primarily digital interaction that can better use data and communicate with fans.

Of course, technology is great until it fails. Ticketmaster had a server and network infrastructure failure Aug. 31, causing frustration for many attempting to use the ticketing app to get into NFL, MLB and college football events.

Tech giants continued taking a larger role (or acknowledging the role they already play) in the ticketing. AXS announced Dec. 19 that Facebook is now a part of its AXS Anywhere ticket distribution program, along with Spotify, Groupon and Goldstar. AXS also utilized its Flash Seats app to combat scalpers and help fans with disabilities at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colo., and inked a deal with Playster, a new online entertainment platform that provides access to music, film, television, games and books.

Eventbrite and Ticketmaster launched similar partnerships with Facebook in 2016, and a rep for Eventbrite told Pollstar that the company has seen impressive conversion rates on ticket purchases completed on Facebook through the integration.

Rumors that Amazon might throw its weight into the ticketing game got everyone’s attention immediately. Meanwhile in China, the nation’s largest online retailer, Alibaba, acquired the online ticketing platform, just one of many culture and entertainment assets the digital giant has recently picked up.

Google announced it is restructuring policies regarding the sale of AdWords to resale sites in an attempt to make clear the distinction between primary and secondary ticketing sites. YouTube also launched a partnership with Ticketmaster to link viewers from the world’s largest video-sharing website to a potential ticket purchase.

Ticketing bundles remained popular, with Live Nation’s Country Megaticket and Festival Passport as prime examples of leveraging ownership of huge amounts of content.

In general we observed a trend in 2017 of primary ticketers pricing closer to the actual market value of a ticket (i.e. higher). Aggressive pricing means that there less meat left on the bone for the secondary market, but it also means the resellers do not inflate demand and shows may not completely sell out in advance, if at all. 

Late buying was decidedly on the rise in 2017, a theme which Pollstar explored in depth.

Finally, several smaller ticketing companies were snapped up – TicketsWest and WestCoast Entertainment were bought by Paciolan, while ExtremeTix and Ticketbiscuit were acquired by Etix.