The Year In Ticketing: Charmed Year Ends on Sour Note

A Ticketmaster sign hangs on the wall at the FTX Arena ticket window on November 18, 2022 in Miami. The Justice Department is reportedly investigating the parent company of Ticketmaster for possible antitrust violations. News of the investigation broke days after Taylor Swift concert ticket sales overwhelmed the Ticketmaster system. Photo by Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Live industry long-timers are fond of saying ticketing isn’t easy. And they are fond of saying that in normal times.

And 2022 wasn’t normal.

Audiences had two years of pent-up demand to release and artists were eager to get back on the road (and back to making money).

That made for a record-breaking year, and more tickets than ever would have to be issued to hungry patrons. Live Nation alone sold 115 million tickets in the first nine months of 2022.

It was a colossal undertaking and hiccups and speed bumps weren’t unexpected.

There was plenty of success. Live Nation Entertainment reported Ticketmaster had its highest gross transaction value quarter ever, to the tune of $7.3 billion, in the third quarter of 2022. All spots in the list of the top 10 GTV months all-time for Ticketmaster occurred between September 2021 and September 2022.

But ticketing is hard, right? If you ask an economist, ticketing is simple. The supply side of the equation is fixed — there’s only so many seats — so the price should reflect the demand. Yet the latest innovation to more efficiently set the market caused controversy in July after Bruce Springsteen announced a 2023 arena tour.

Ticketmaster implemented dynamic pricing for the tour, meaning the prices would respond in real-time to demand.

Of course, there’s a great deal of disagreement between academia’s ivory tower and the folks in the floor seats for The Boss as to what is “good.” While the professors may have been satisfied that the market was getting to speak unfettered, the fans facing $5,000 price tags were less chuffed. Economics is, after all, the dismal science.

The outrage and disenchantment bubbled from would-be ticketbuyers to the halls of power, as the clutch of New Jersey congressmen who are always making hay about Ticketmaster whenever Springsteen hits the road, fired off angry letters. For his part, The Boss admitted he didn’t want to be associated with sky-high ticket prices, but defended the practice, noting that affordable tickets were still available and, besides, wouldn’t folks rather the money go to the artists on stage instead of the scalpers on the corner.

The Springsteen dust-up, however, was a tea party compared to what happened when Taylor Swift announced her first tour in three years, a loop of stadiums across the United States, often with multiple nights. The combination of supersized venues and multiple shows is a strategy often used by promoters and artists to wrest pricing control from the secondary market. Another method to verify fans get tickets rather than scalpers is, well, the Verified Fans system.

When Swift’s Eras Tour launched its Verified Fan sale, any warm and fuzzy feelings generated by the desire to make sure real people were able to buy tickets to see the megastar disappeared in minutes, as many of those real people were totally incapable of finding tickets to buy.

The Verified Fan sale overwhelmed Ticketmaster’s system, crashing the site, forcing delays and ultimately leading to the cancellation of the general public sale. Recriminations were, well, swift. How could Ticketmaster be faced with “unexpected” demand — as the industry giant claimed in a statement — when it was Ticketmaster itself that issued the codes for the sale? How could it be caught unaware when the tour in question was that of a proven box office star (to put it mildly) who, at the time, had 10 singles in the Top 10?

America’s political environment is fraught and fractured, to say the least, but politicians of all stripes — from the proudly progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to rock-ribbed Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn — had questions to ask and points to prove.

Some of those questions had been raised before — Is Ticketmaster a monopoly? Did the 2010 merger with Live Nation violate antitrust laws? Why weren’t federal laws designed to stop bots from scarfing up tickets being enforced? And what’s with the fees? — but never before had the outrage erupted so universally.

In the meantime, The New York Times reported Live Nation was under investigation for violating the 2010 consent decree it entered when it merged with Ticketmaster. A Senate committee announced it would hold hearings about Ticketmaster’s practices. 

Like Uncle Ben Parker famously told his future superhero nephew: with great power comes great responsibility; Ticketmaster has plenty of power (and money). Now it has to show how much responsibility it bears.