Ticketmaster Apologizes For & Explains Taylor Swift Ticketing Failure; Live Nation Responds To Antitrust Allegations

Taylor Swift at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Live Nation and Ticketmaster responded vigorously to its critics on Friday (Nov. 18) evening in two different online posts following its marred pre-sale for Taylor Swift’s 2023 “The Eras Tour” and subsequent accusations of anti-competitive business practices.

“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 | The Eras Tour,” said the post on the Ticketmaster Business site. “First, we want to apologize to Taylor and all of her fans – especially those who had a terrible experience trying to purchase tickets.”

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The post divided its explanation for the ticketing failures into three subcategories. The first, entitled “We Knew A Record Number Of Fans Wanted Tickets To Taylor’s Tour,” described how its Verified Fan technology, which authenticates fans and weeds out bots, had 3.5 million fans pre-register—the largest pre-sale registration in Ticketmaster history. 1.5 million people were sent codes for all 52 show dates while the remaining 2 million Verified Fans were placed on a waiting list.

The second bucket, “The Demand For Our Tickets To Taylor Tour Broke Records—And Parts of Our Website,” further quantified the problems. The traffic was unprecedented in Ticketmaster history and four times its previous peak traffic due to a “staggering number of bot attacks” and fans without codes resulting in “3.5 billion total system requests.” That massive volume throttled the system with longer wait times and some losing tickets already in their carts. Ticketmaster claims “15% of interactions across the site experienced issues, and that’s 15% too many.” Indeed, if 1.5 million received codes, then 15% would leave 225,000 frustrated and upset Swift fans.  

A graph in the post (below), illustrated traffic to Ticketmaster in 2022 which looks like a steady EKG pulse that suddenly slammed into a skyscraper on Nov. 15 when Taylor Swift’s Verified Fan pre-sale took place 

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Despite the mishap, the final bucket explained how Ticketmaster still set a sales record. Over 2 million tickets were sold on Nov. 15 and 2.4 million tickets sold across onsales for Verified Fans and Capital One cardholders on both Ticketmaster and SeatGeek. The post said less than 5% of the tickets for the tour were sold or posted for resale on the secondary market, which is 20-30% less than what’s usually seen on non-Verified Fan sales.

On the Live Nation Entertainment site, the world’s largest promoter vigorously defended itself against all claims that it violated its consent decree obligations and, in fact, has instituted oversight to ensure that never happens.

“As we have stated many times in the past,” the promoter said in its post, “Live Nation takes its responsibilities under the antitrust laws seriously and does not engage in behaviors that could justify antitrust litigation, let alone orders that would require it to alter fundamental business practices.”

The posts noted there are currently more promoters working with artists in the market than ever before; Ticketmaster’s market dominance is due to its major investments in technology, which Live Nation says is more than any other ticketing company; Ticketmaster does not dominate the secondary market which includes a number of competitors, like “StubHub, SeatGeek, Vivid and many others;” and since 2020 Live Nation has voluntarily had its compliance monitored by a former federal judge.

In response to exorbitant ticket pricing, the statement said that Ticketmaster “does not set or control ticket prices and strongly advocates for all-in pricing so that fans are not surprised by what tickets really cost.” In fact, Live Nation signed on to the FTC’s recent call for greater transparency in ticketing with face-value prices and fees being shown upfront to consumers before purchases.

The post also noted that Ticketmaster is the market leader in fighting bots and ticketing security and doesn’t support the practices of “speculative ticketing,” in which secondary ticketers offer tickets they don’t actually have.

Both the Live Nation and Ticketmaster posts are transparent, forceful and a clear response to a situation that over the last week snowballed into a major media storm. It’s not the first time, however, Live Nation’s faced such pillorying and it’s handled the situation in the same manner: With candor and clarity that directly addresses the criticism.

Ticketing is always difficult. The continuous battle against scalpers and counterfeiters goes back fifty years. More recently, technological advances have made ticketing generally easier for fans (remember lining up at record stores or waiting on hold for hours and not getting tickets?), but bots, or opportunistic digital algorithms, can overwhelm digital protocols making it more challenging for both ticketers and consumers. Balancing all this with fans legitimately transferring tickets and a robust and legal secondary market, makes ticketing a difficult at best proposition.

It should also be noted that on Friday, amidst what is still a thriving live market, Ticketmaster had successful onsales with other major artists, including Paramore, Lizzo, Pink, Maná and Wizkid among others, which means the ticketing system is back up and running.

Also worth considering: many artists, managers agents, venues and promoters Pollstar has spoken with say they prefer Ticketmaster for its ease of use and superior technology. They can see where an onsale is at on their phones in real time along with demographic information. Live Nation also shared its technology with competitors as a condition of its initial DOJ approval for the Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger. 

Finally, though many presume ticketing companies set service fees, they are in fact determined by a number of stakeholders including artist representatives, promoters, venues, and ticket providers.