Taylor Swift ticket debacle leads to Senate committee hearing | What can be done to help fans?

The frustration felt by Swifties over the recent struggles to purchase tickets to their idol’s tour is nothing new. In fact, gig-goers have felt powerless to the whims of the ticketing industry for years. This time, however, the reported site disruption, system failures and ultimately the bereft feelings of the legions of Taylor Swift fans has led to a Senate Committee hearing. But how did we get to this point and is there any hope the situation can be improved for fans?

Taylor Swift tickets singing

The frustration felt by Swifties over the recent struggles to purchase tickets to their idol’s tour is nothing new. In fact, gig-goers have felt powerless to the whims of the ticketing industry for years.

This time, however, the reported site disruption, system failures and ultimately the bereft feelings of the legions of Taylor Swift fans has led to a Senate Committee hearing. But how did we get to this point and is there any hope the situation can be improved for fans?

How did the Taylor Swift ticket fiasco happen?

On 1 November, having smashed records with her latest album Midnights, Taylor Swift announced what all fans had been clamouring for: a tour. This wouldn’t just be putting one record out on the road, though. As its title suggests, and Swift explained on social media, The Eras Tour was a “journey through all of [her] musical eras”.

Having not toured her previous albums, Lover (2019), Folklore (2020) and Evermore (2020), too, due to COVID (what else?), the backlog of demand was immense. This might have been Swift’s second all-stadium tour, after 2018’s Reputation Stadium Tour, but in reality, no venue would have been able to service such demand.

Taylor Swift VMAs

In fact, with a record 3.5 million fans having registered for Ticketmaster’s presale for the tour the ticket company’s website crashed around 30 minutes before the digital gates opened, in what would be just the start of fan’s frustrations.

Part of many fans’ irritation was Ticketmaster’s system to establish ‘Verified Fans’. In theory, it’s a fairly commendable idea, providing fans with a code and a link to the purchase site, designed to weed out bots who buy up tickets in bulk and resell at higher prices (more on that later).

The company also says that by doing this it “avoid[s] overcrowding [and] helps to make wait times shorter and onsales smoother.”

But this was not the experience felt by many. In fact, Ticketmaster, whose parent company is Live Nation, say that 1.5 million fans were sent ‘Verified Fan’ codes, whilst the remaining 2 million were placed on a waiting list which offers only “the small chance” to get tickets, should some “still be available after those who received codes had shopped”. Already, then, more than half of Verified Swifties were left feeling disappointed.

Further, many have found the Verified Fan system itself difficult and cumbersome to navigate. What’s more, this extra step in the process takes time; and when you have millions of other fans behind you, digitally pressing at the gates as well, time is a precious commodity. A second really can make the difference between you seeing your favourite artist in the flesh or not.

In fact, some fans were said to have waited in the digital queue for as much as eight hours, with their hope of seeing Swift dwindling every minute – and that, in total, is a lot of dwindling.

Ticketmaster have said that due to the nature of such a tour as this, there was a “staggering” number of bot attacks, resulting in 3.5 billion system requests. Not only did this compound the site issues, but also meant some bots inevitably slipped through the online net.

As a result, some tickets were then reportedly listed on resale sites like StubHub for as much as $22,000 (£18,200). At this point, resale – what you could describe as the next stage of ticket fan grief – both anger and delirium set in. You’ve come this far, experiences are often said to be priceless; so do I take out a second mortgage to see my idol? I’m certainly in no position to do so, but there’s always some (often very wealthy) person who thinks that’s acceptable.

Taylor Swift

Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images.

Ultimately, on Thursday 17 November, the pressure on both their computer system, and the inevitable public scrutiny levelled at Ticketmaster from furious fans (perhaps that’s what’s helped Twitter’s record usage, not just new CEO Musk’s decision-making), led the ticket company to cancel the sale of tickets on Friday 18 November. They simply couldn’t take it anymore.

That’s not to say they didn’t sell enough tickets, though. In fact, as should be glaringly obvious by now, that was the least of their problems. Taylor Swift even set a new record, with the two million tickets sold at presale on Tuesday 15 November, constituting the most tickets ever sold for an artist in a single day. A reported 2.4 million tickets have been sold in total.

What has Taylor Swift said about the ticket issues for her tour?

Of course, fans weren’t the only ones to express their ire. Ever one to embody the feelings of her followers, Swift took to Instagram on Friday 18 November (the same day Ticketmaster were made to cancel further ticket-selling), to vent her grievances about the situation.

She didn’t mention Ticketmaster by name, nor its parent company Live Nation, but she did write: “It goes without saying that I’m extremely protective of my fans… 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.”

taylor swift

“There are a multitude of reasons why people had such a hard time trying to get tickets, and I’m trying to figure out how this situation can be improved moving forward… I’m not going to make excuses for anyone because we asked them multiple times if they could handle this kind of demand, and we were assured they could.”

There was some glimmer of positivity, describing the “truly amazing” fact that 2.4 million people got tickets and are going to see her live for the first time in five years. “But,” she added, “it really pisses me off that a lot of them feel like they went through several bear attacks to get them.”

What can the U.S. Congress and government do to help fans when it comes to tickets?

For slightly political reasons – politics being their job after all – the situation even caught the attention and criticism of U.S. Senators. But let’s put our cynicism against politicians aside for one moment (if you can stomach it) and look at the substance of what some of them are saying.

Those like U.S. Senator for Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, who tweeted: “I’ve long urged DOJ to investigate the state of competition in the ticketing industry.” (Incidentally, Blumenthal is one of the wealthiest members of Congress with a net worth of over $100 million, and for whom a $22,000 resale ticket purchase is easily doable).

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, meanwhile, known for her staunchly progressive views and activist roots, asked her 13.4 million Twitter followers, “Tickemaster monopoly got you down?”. She also referred them to a petition that asks for an investigation into the Live Nation-Ticketmaster merger deal, which consequently owns 70 percent of the live events market in America, and which the Department of Justice approved in 2010.

That petition, which is part of a broader campaign succinctly titled ‘Break Up Ticketmaster’, has currently been signed by just shy of 50,000 people.

But beyond the digital confines of Musk’s Twitter-sphere and a petition, there is some practical regulatory action in motion.

U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Mike Lee, who chair the subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights in the U.S. Senate, have launched a hearing to examine the lack of competition within the ticketing industry, specifically following the Taylor Swift tour debacle.

Amy Klobuchar

Amy Klobuchar

“Last week, the competition problem in ticketing markets was made painfully obvious when Ticketmaster’s website failed hundreds of thousands of fans hoping to purchase concert tickets, Klobuchar said, announcing the hearing.

“The high fees, site disruptions and cancellations that customers experienced shows how Ticketmaster’s dominant market position means the company does not face any pressure to continually innovate and improve.”

As such, the hearing will call on concerned parties – including, most likely, representatives from Ticketmaster and Live Nation – to discuss the issue.

But similar to the yelling into the digital void, these hearings can often lead to little more than just political grandstanding; a chance for Klobuchar and co. to verbally slap the wrists of their interviewees, and possibly express their Swiftie credentials, maybe even in the hope of a few votes.

U.S. Senate

What’s more encouraging for weary gig-goers is an antitrust investigation that’s also underway by the Justice Department – one that, as reported by The New York Times, in fact predates all of the Taylor Swift ticketing fiasco. Now this would have some powers (as you’d hope, what with it being the Justice Department). But it’s not plain-sailing.

Upon investigation, were their findings to conclude that Live Nation Entertainment has abused its market position, they have the power to allege what’s called a Sherman Act Violation, which would then go to court.

At this point, Live Nation could settle, which would be a somewhat likely and surmountable prospect for the billion-dollar company to do (Live Nation is currently valued at $15.8 billion).

However, should the judge (possibly a Swiftie who was unable to get tickets) set a trial, then it could be deemed that the Live Nation-Ticketmaster deal is simply too monopolistic, and they pair could be broken up again.

Dua Lipa

In that event, albeit unlikely and a long way down the regulatory road, artists would have more option as to who they sell their tickets through, they’d likely be able to perform in mid-or-lesser-sized venues for more intimate, curated shows, and fans would have greater options, rather than the empty-handed experience millions have faced.

It won’t happen swiftly, and it won’t happen for Swifties, but there is a glimmer of hope it can change for the better.

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