A Case Study In Pricing: Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift
John Salangsang/Invision/AP, file
– Taylor Swift
Performing at the DIRECTV NOW Super Saturday Night Concert in Houston, Texas.

Speculation that Taylor Swift’s ticket sales might be struggling seems silly now that she has added second-night (and even a third-night!) stadium plays in multiple markets. Indeed, Tay-Tay is poised to possibly have the biggest tour of the year, and Pollstar is happy to explore why there are still tickets available to many of her shows.

To be clear, one main reason there is even a conversation about the matter was an article published by the New York Post Jan. 1.

In recent history the dynamic of hot-tickets selling out immediately often comes from low-pricing and inflated demand. Re-sellers, meaning both large-scale bot/clickfarm owners and small-time amateur brokers primarily turn profits by identifying where tickets are under-priced.

If Taylor Swift refused to charge more than $100 for decent seats, the reality is that there are many fans who would gladly pay three times that for the tickets. This means that any broker worth their salt will be scrambling to get as many of those under-priced tickets as possible, systems for identifying and disqualifying scalpers like Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan notwithstanding.

The cumulative effect of hundreds if not thousands of brokers scrambling to snap up all available tickets is inflated demand, and it becomes very difficult for the average fan to get tickets through the primary ticketer, in this case Ticketmaster.

Industry bigwigs have addressed this dynamic for years and said a preferred means of combating the secondary market is pricing closer to market value. This means that face-value ticket prices more closely resemble what a tout might charge. With the margin for profit on resales decreased, fewer brokers scramble to get large portions of inventory, and it becomes easier for fans to get tickets through the primary ticketer – albeit at a higher price.

At press time there were plenty of seats to see Swift available through Ticketmaster. Not counting all TM’s Verified Resale tickets, the lowest price available at Arlington, Texas’s AT&T Stadium was $240, but FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland still had cheap seats for $71.

We can’t provide a reliable average ticket price until the shows have taken place and we receive Box Office reports, but many of her shows during her landmark “1989 tour” in 2015 had a bottom end of $39.50 and topped out around $139.50.

An aggressive pricing approach takes money out of the secondary market and puts it into the pockets of organizers. In the case of Taylor Swift “organizers” includes the artist and her team, AEG/Messina Touring Group, Ticketmaster, and the various venues.

The caveat to this approach is that, if pricing gets too aggressive, fans do not necessarily end up paying less than they would to touts. Finding this sweet spot is a dance that The Rolling Stones and Concerts West co-CEO John Meglen has mastered.

“It’s not about how much can we charge, it’s about how can we find what these seats are worth,” Meglen told Pollstar after the Stones’ latest “No Filter” European tour. “If a ticket is worth more than what we’re selling it for, somebody is going to figure that out and make some money there. Like I said, I just want it on our side of the fence. Believe me, I know we’re not getting all of it, but we’re getting a hell of a lot more than we were 10 or 15 years ago.”

Obviously no artist wants to be in a position where fans are unable to afford tickets to their shows, and Swift’s team is undoubtedly closely monitoring voices of complaint about prices on social media

The desire to monitor fan experience during the purchase might explain AEG/Messina Touring Group’s decision to use Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan system to gather data and make sure that tickets get to real fans.

The implementation of a rewards system that incentivizes behaviors like purchasing merchandise or promoting the tour on social media was not unique to Taylor Swift Tix, but it was one way that fans could secure a better chance at the seats they wanted in the VF presale. That option might have irked some who put energy/resources into the presale, only to find tickets available well after the public onsale (and even additional dates in multiple markets). Cries from fans who paid full price for the Verified Fan presale seeing the same seats going for cheaper, if legitimate, only further demonstrate how the industry is training consumers to buy late

Many of those lower prices may have been brokers seeking to unload inventory before Taylor announced additional stadium dates though. Any damage to Swift’s “reputation” with those fans is hard to gauge on the whole.

If history has taught us anything about the Swifties though, it is that they are intensely loyal and they will likely arise by the millions, ignoring whatever barriers exist, to support their favorite artist.

Pollstar reached out to Messina Touring Group, AEG and Premium PR for this story, but hadn’t heard back from anyone at press time. Ticketmaster couldn’t offer substantive comment about pricing through the Verified Fan onsale.