When buying concert tickets, fans of A-list artists like Swifties, the BTS Army, the Beyhive, and others really can’t catch a break. Fans have fought tooth and nail to land tickets to the hottest tours of 2023, from Swift’s The Eras Tour and Beyonce’s “Renaissance” Tour to Drake’s It’s All a Blur tour. And despite the headline-making, disastrous Ticketmaster presale of Swift’s Eras Tour in November 2022 that ended in a literal congressional hearing, fans are still frustrated by the system.
While fans are always willing to pay a premium to see their favorite artist live, exploitative business practices like inflating costs based on demand and slapping nonsensical service fees on top of the ticket cost have sent prices soaring to an unreasonable high for even nosebleed seats.
Ticketmaster has been at the forefront of ticket sales controversy as the platform continues to dominate the industry. Since the return of live music post-lockdown, the demand for live music has been greater than ever.
Ticketmaster has been at the forefront of ticket sales controversy as the platform continues to dominate the industry. Since the return of live music post-lockdown, the demand for live music has been greater than ever. At the end of 2022, Live Nation reported that event attendance increased 24 percent compared to 2019 before the COVID-19 shutdowns.
But with the increased demand, getting tickets to see artists live has become increasingly difficult, especially with bots and resellers often gaining access to tickets before fans. Despite programs like Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan that aim to keep bots out, the ticket-buying process still does not prioritize fans the way it should. Various options can be explored to keep bots and resellers out of the purchasing experience and give fans a fair shot.
Ahead, we break down how the ticketing market reached this point and implementable changes that can bring relief to fans and artists alike.
Is Ticketmaster a Monopoly? How the Platform Dominated the Ticketing Industry
The 2010 merger of Ticketmaster and Live Nation virtually eliminated competition from other ticket sale platforms by monopolizing venues under the Live Nation entity. While the platform technically only controls 70 percent of the live event ticketing market, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said she still considers it a monopoly during the January Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled “That’s the Ticket: Promoting Competition and Protecting Consumers in Live Entertainment,” according to CNBC.
John Oliver dedicated an episode of “Last Week Tonight” to Ticketmaster’s exploitative practices, reporting on how the platform withheld a majority of tickets from the general public to allow resellers the chance to buy them and add them to resale platforms, including Ticketmaster’s own reselling platform, StubHub, and SeatGeek.
The result of these practices: a 2020 Department of Justice memo said that the majority of sales on the platform were conducted by professional resellers that would sell tickets between 75 percent and 7,000 percent over face value. A 2019 study by Distil Networks also found that bots made up 40 percent of traffic on ticket-buying platforms between September and December 2018.
The Verified Fan process was Ticketmaster’s answer to ensure fans have a fair chance at securing tickets to their desired show while reducing the chances of bots and resellers getting them first. But despite these efforts, tickets are still ending up in the wrong hands and are being resold at exorbitantly higher prices on the platform.
Solutions to Prioritize Fans in Live Event Ticketing
One solution that could be explored to get tickets into the hands of fans first is preventing bots and resellers from entering presale in the first place.
Hype Commerce platforms like EQL, which keeps bots out of high-demand sales, have been used for online retail sales like the Nike x Tiffany & Co. collaboration to manage website traffic and ensure that fans have the best shot at making a purchase. These tools could be implemented to manage ticket sales as well.
Andrew Lipp, CEO and co-founder of EQL, told POPSUGAR that another option includes using data from social media, newsletters, websites, or music-streaming platforms to identify fans who regularly engage with an artist and provide priority access to them first. Swift used a similar tactic for her 2018 “Reputation” Tour when she offered “boosts” to fans who watched videos or bought specific merch for a better chance at scoring tickets at presale. For the Eras Tour, fans who purchased tickets for the canceled Lover Fest Tour and anyone who bought the “Midnights” album or merch were offered a boost in the presale. However, the boosts did not seem to help with the ticket-purchasing experience for the Eras Tour.
Amid the ongoing difficulty with Ticketmaster, more artists are speaking out against the platform and are even stepping in to restrict ticket resales. During the Ticketmaster congressional hearing, musician Clyde Lawerence testified that most artists had no negotiating power regarding ticket pricing because the venue and promoter are under Live Nation, according to Time.
While Ticketmaster claims artists control the pricing for a tour, in his testimony, Lawerence alleged that this was not entirely true because Ticketmaster controls the exorbitant fees that get tacked onto the prices. “We have absolutely zero say or visibility into how much these fees will be,” he said. “We find out the same way as everyone else, by logging onto Ticketmaster once the show already goes on sale.”
And simply deciding not to use Ticketmaster isn’t so simple. The previously mentioned Department of Justice memo alleged that since Ticketmaster owns many of the top music venues in the country through Live Nation, the company has allegedly forced venues into using Ticketmaster by retaliating against venues that refused its services (via The Guardian).
Some artists have successfully stepped up for their fans and made ticketing more equitable for them, though. In March, English rock band The Cure aimed to make tickets for their Shows of a Lost World Tour as affordable for fans as possible. But during the presale, fans ended up paying way over the asking price because of hidden Ticketmaster fees. Frontman Robert Smith took to X and shared his frustrations on the process, writing, “I am as sickened as you all are by today’s Ticketmaster ‘fees’ debacle. To be very clear: the artist has no way to limit them. I have been asking how they are justified. If I get anything coherent by way of an answer I will let you all know.” Eventually, Ticketmaster conceded and offered fans a refund for the extra fees.
Before his 2023 Mathematics World Tour, Ed Sheeran announced that ticket resales would only be available through verified resale platforms at face value. Sheeran’s team used blockchain technology for his show in France to combat bots and prevent tickets from being sold above face value on the resale market. To prevent scalpers from accessing tickets altogether, Maggie Rogers and her team took the old-school route and hosted in-person ticket sales for her Summer of ’23 Tour. Rogers even offered exclusive merch at an extra cost to incentivize fans to purchase in person.
Live music is a priceless experience for fans and artists alike, but that doesn’t mean that fans should have to break the bank or jump through endless hoops to see their favorite artist in person.
Live music is a priceless experience for fans and artists alike, but that doesn’t mean that fans should have to break the bank or jump through endless hoops to see their favorite artist in person. Ticketmaster has demonstrated that despite their claims, the ticketing model will remain the same and only benefit the ticketing platform and other insiders.
While there are ongoing efforts by lawmakers to make ticketing more equitable (President Biden has long been pushing for all sectors – from ticketing to cable and banking – to scrap hidden “junk fees”), artists and their teams have the best leverage to enact real change in the industry. Some artists have already enacted changes to protect their fans.
Still, it will take the biggest artists in the industry to stand united against the ticketing system, much like actors and writers in Hollywood are putting major studios’ feet to the fire amid the actors’ and writers’ strikes. They hold the power to truly pressure Ticketmaster, SeatGeek, and the like to create a fairer system for the fans who want to experience the magic of live music together.