The notorious ticket peddling service Ticketmaster has never been a fan favorite, and anyone who's ever bought a concert ticket there can attest to why. Preposterous prices, slimy junk fees, and terrible customer service are just a few of its mundane evils. In spite of how universally reviled it is, Ticketmaster has persisted as the king of the box office. But now, it's facing its worst PR nightmare in years — and that's saying something. Why? It made the fatal error of pissing off Taylor Swift fans, or "Swifties."
Swift's "Eras Tour," which will have her perform at over 50 venues in the US alone, is set to be one of the biggest music events on the planet. Biding their time, her fiercely loyal fanbase — probably the largest of any single artist and easily the most vocal online — have been waiting since 2018 for her next headlining tour. So, looking to guarantee a spot, many of them signed up for Ticketmaster's Verified Fans program, a system which was supposed to only allow a select amount of around 1.5 million real fans — as opposed to scalper bots — to buy tickets ahead of time.
It didn't work. Ticketmaster CEO Michael Rapino told The Hollywood Reporter that around 14 million users, some of them bots, rushed to buy pre-sale tickets this week, and it pretty much broke the service. Parts of the website immediately crashed, leaving millions either waiting for hours or suffering through a miserable, glitchy experience — only for some to be told they couldn't buy a ticket anyway even though they were verified. In total, Ticketmaster was barraged with 3.5 billion system requests, which is nearly half the population of the Earth and four times its previous peak.
Even with all the difficulties, it did manage to sell around two million tickets — but it's unclear how many of those went to actual, verified Swifties and how many went to scalpers.
And we suspect that Ticketmaster has made way more than that in the form of enemies. Search its name on social media right now, and you'll be returned with swarms of complaints from ardent Swifties and Ticketmaster haters crawling out of the woodwork.
To make matters worse, the maligned seller abruptly informed fans via Twitter that it would be canceling the sale of tickets to the general public originally planned for Friday, "due to extraordinarily high demands on ticketing systems and insufficient remaining ticket inventory to meet that demand."
With Ticketmaster shutting its doors, vulturous resellers who gobbled up tickets during the presale pandemonium remain the only alternative for fans, selling them at outrageous amounts as high as $28,000, Reuters reports.
Exceptionally crummy service isn't exactly a scandal in itself, but the magnitude of Ticketmaster's mishandling of the situation — and the blatant scalping it's enabled — has brought significant attention to the company's nefarious practices and its stranglehold on the market.
Now, politicians are jumping on the Swifties' grievances to call for Ticketmaster's head.
"Daily reminder that Ticketmaster is a monopoly, [its] merger with LiveNation should never have been approved, and they need to be [reined] in," said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), in a tweet. "Break them up."
"It's no secret that Live Nation-Ticketmaster is an unchecked monopoly," echoed Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-RI), the chair of the House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law.
"The merger of these companies should never have been allowed in the first place," Cicilline added, stating that he's joining others to call on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to "investigate LiveNation’s efforts to jack up prices and strangle competition."
Ticketmaster was already a behemoth in the 90s when Pearl Jam — then one of the biggest bands in the world — tried to take them on. Eddie Vedder and his bandmates certainly made the concert corporation sweat for a time, but since then, it's only grown. In 2010, it merged with LiveNation, once its largest competitor and now Ticketmaster's parent company. Critics, like AOC and Cicilline, argue that this merger was in blatant violation of antitrust laws.
Monopolistic behavior aside, as well as frequently bullying artists and venues to give into its tyrannical demands, consumers don't have to dig very far to realize Ticketmaster is ripping them off. Buy a ticket on there and it could charge you a significant portion of the ticket price in service and other junk fees.
Another culprit? Its dynamic pricing model, infamously used in other industries like airline tickets and hotels, in which prices are continuously adjusted in real time based on demand. As a result, ticket prices are not made public before a sale begins. In theory, dynamic pricing is meant to make predatory resellers obsolete by keeping prices competitive. But really, it's just a good excuse for Ticketmaster to match its prices with that of ludicrous resellers and pocket the extra cash.
Furthermore, at least one 2018 investigation by CBC found that Ticketmaster was quietly recruiting professional scalpers into its reseller program, and turned a blind eye to them using hundreds of fake accounts to sell tickets.
Bearing all that in mind, you'd think Swift would speak up about the most recent fiasco over her tour.
And for a while, she didn't, driving fans frantic over her silence — which she's finally broken.
On Friday, Swift spoke out in a carefully worded statement on her Instagram.
"Well, it goes without saying that I’m extremely protective of my fans," she began. "It’s really difficult for me to trust an outside entity with these relationships and loyalties, and excruciating for me to just watch mistakes happen with no recourse."
Swift is clearly alluding to Ticketmaster here, and euphemistically summed up the situation as there being "a multitude of reasons why people had such a hard time trying to get tickets" — though she never specifically names the corporation.
Diplomatic as the words may be, they've dropped at the perfect moment, because The New York Times reports that the DOJ has opened an antitrust investigation over LiveNation's ownership of Ticketmaster (though at press time, official confirmation is still pending.)
Could this be the beginning of the end of the company's unfettered dominance? Maybe. Ticketmaster and LiveNation only seem to get stronger with the more bad PR they get. So taking them down? It'll take more than online outrage. However, with Swift looking poised to join the fight alongside the DOJ, maybe this time around the concert conglomerate will get a run for its money.
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