The Year In Ticketing: Pandemic, SafeTix Leave Scalpers Scrambling

The Black Keys
Scott Dudelson/Getty Images
– The Black Keys
The Black Keys perform an underplay show at The Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles on Sept. 19, 2019. That show infamously used SafeTix technology and sparked a massive debate about primary ticketers’ ability to restrict resale, which may become more common in 2021.
An optimist can always find bright spots, but the effects of the COVID-19 shutdown on the concert ticketing industry in 2020 have been overwhelmingly negative, with obvious reason.
To start, most marketplaces have had to implement major layoffs and furloughs, and Ticketmaster, the largest, was severely hit in this regard. 
In late April, Ticketmaster furloughed roughly 25% of its North American workforce, constituting hundreds of employees, a decision which global chairman Jared Smith told Pollstar was the hardest he has had to make during his tenure as the company head. 
Parent company Live Nation had an additional round of staff reductions in September that impacted its ticketing groups, though Pollstar was unable to ascertain what percentage of remaining staff were affected at that time.
Smith himself announced he would be leaving his role at the helm of Ticketmaster at the end of 2020, to be succeeded by Mark Yovich, while Amy Howe will be elevated to the position of COO.
Alliances were undoubtedly shifting in 2020 as stalwart independent promoter Jam Productions signed a ticketing integration contract with AXS, AEG’s in-house ticketing company. SeatGeek also scored its second NBA arena contract, signing as the primary ticketing provider for the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in November. 
Technology became a big area of focus for many ticketers as live events were delayed, and there was a brief moment of confusion when Ticketmaster announced that it was developing the capacity to associate someone’s vaccination status with their ticket, prompting the ticketer to clarify that event producers made decisions about who could and could
 not attend events, and it was not introducing any sort of broad policy for its clients. 
Concerns among brokers and secondary sites that Ticketmaster’s SafeTix barcode technology would begin shutting them out of the business were already running high prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. 
With TM working on its ability to implement the technology at scale upon the return of live events, this concern is sure to reach a fever pitch in 2021. 
The concern, for those unfamiliar, is that barcode technology has the capacity to restrict resale on unauthorized marketplaces, meaning event organizers can prevent resale entirely or set price restrictions on high-demand shows, both of which could dramatically impact the existing broker and secondary marketplace.
But the biggest story of ticketing in 2020 is that of StubHub and Viagogo. 
In late 2019 it was announced that eBay Inc. was selling its subsidiary StubHub to viagogo for a cool $4.05 billion. 
That merger was halted by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority in February, and when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of all live events, StubHub was effectively left without a parent company in eBay or viagogo. 
The results were dramatic, as StubHub was forced to alter its refund policy and deny ticketholders refunds for canceled or postponed events, instead providing credit on the marketplace. 
StubHub President Sukhinder Singh Cassidy announced in May that she would transition to an advisory role and Jill Krimmel would take over as interim president. 
StubHub, the largest secondary platform in North America, has remained operational, albeit with reported layoffs and furloughs. Viagogo proposed in November to divest itself of all StubHub business outside of North America in order to expedite the merger process. 
Pollstar understands some brokers were getting out of the secondary ticketing business after such a rough 2020, partially because they have lost access to actual capital in non-refunded tickets, but there will be plenty remaining whenever business does return. Some brokers were able to remain active during the limited capacity sporting events that were allowed to take place during 2020. 
Corrected Dec. 17: A previous version of the story said that the StubHub/Viagogo merger was greenlit by the CMA in November. The proposal to divest StubHub business outside of North America came from viagogo, not the CMA, and the merger has still not been approved.