Presale Postmortem: Swifties, Now Is the Time to Overthrow the Ticketmaster Monopoly

Taylor Swift's The Eras Tour crashed Ticketmaster multiple times yesterday, and the Swifties are pissed.

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Swift’s absence from touring following 2018's Reputation Stadium Tour likely helped fuel the increased demand for tickets, and Ticketmaster outages.
Swift’s absence from touring following 2018's Reputation Stadium Tour likely helped fuel the increased demand for tickets, and Ticketmaster outages.
Image: Mark Metcalfe (Getty Images)

Taylor Swift’s hotly anticipated first tour in five years, called The Eras Tour, is set to kick off next year. Tickets went on sale yesterday to lucky Swifties who won a presale lottery—until all hell broke loose. Outages plagued Ticketmaster throughout the morning and afternoon as feral fans tried to secure their spot in stadiums across the country, with Ticketmaster eventually waving the white flag and rescheduling the presale for later times and dates. Fans were understandably upset, furious, and downright sad at the prospect of not seeing Swift perform, and many were left with a single question: Why are we stuck with Ticketmaster in the first place?

The best chance of securing tickets to The Eras Tour was to enroll in presale through Ticketmaster, called TaylorSwiftTix Presale powered by Verified Fan. Given the high demand for tickets, the presale option operated as a lottery: Anyone could enroll in presale from November 1 to November 9, but only a select portion would receive a special access code via email/text on November 14, which was to be used on November 15.

Enrolling in presale did not guarantee that you would receive an access code and it didn’t matter when you signed up as long as it was within the specified window. While Ticketmaster did say it would favor those who held tickets to Swift’s Lover Fest—which was cancelled due to the covid-19 pandemic—at its core, The Eras Tour presale strategy completely randomized the ticket buying process. Given the huge turnout for enrollment in presale, Ticketmaster also waitlisted some fans meaning they might get the chance to participate in presale if the opportunity arose. Obtaining a presale code also did not ensure that you would definitely get tickets, it only ensured that you might snag them before the general public.

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On November 15, presale for all shows was scheduled to open at 10 a.m. in the respective time zone of the stadium you would buy tickets for, with a special presale for any CapitalOne cardholders slated to begin at 2 p.m. ET later that day. At 10 a.m. Eastern Time, tickets for Swift’s East Coast shows in Boston, East Rutherford, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Columbus, and Atlanta were opened for those with presale access. At this time, fans were randomly placed into a digital queue, which would display how many buyers were ahead of them. When they reached the front of the line, they would be shown a map of the stadium and could select and purchase their seats.

Everything appeared to be going smoothly for about 20 minutes, when Ticketmaster began crashing. Outages were reported on Downdetector for the majority of the morning and early afternoon, with a peak at 11:30 a.m. ET. This meant that some Swifties were stuck in a frozen queue indefinitely as the thousands of fans ahead of them purchased tickets, while some were sent to the back of the line as their website crashed. Some users experienced errors upon checkout and lost their tickets in the process. To be blunt: it was a disaster, and Ticketmaster was noticeably silent amidst the chaos.

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Swifties across social media expressed their discontent, confusion, sadness, and anger at Ticketmaster. While the reaction to this entire debacle is absolutely warranted, it comes without surprise as Swift’s ticket presale was horribly mismanaged. Fans that received an access code were not prompted to use it until they entered the stadium map to purchase tickets, meaning there were potentially hundreds if not thousands of people accessing the queue that didn’t even have an access code, hampering the website’s traffic.

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Likewise, Ticketmaster responded three hours after presales began with a statement that blamed “historically unprecedented demand” for the outages, except Ticketmaster knew exactly how many people signed up for presale and had accurate numbers on how many people would be accessing their site. As users in other time zones began to log on for their respective presale, users on the East Coast were still waiting in their queues, effectively stacking the website traffic and further buckling the site’s hosting capability.

At 1:05 p.m. ET, Ticketmaster announced on Twitter that it would be rescheduling West Coast presale, which was scheduled to begin 5 minutes prior, to 6 p.m. ET while CapitalOne presale would be pushed back 24 hours to 2 p.m. on November 16. Ticketmaster experienced additional outages during this rescheduled presale, according to Downdetector.

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Swift is not the only artist who has offered an abysmal ticket buying process through Ticketmaster. As Vice reported last month, Blink 182 fans were shocked to find outrageous ticket prices for the band’s 2023 reunion tour, with singer Mark Hoppus even describing his own awful experience of trying to buy tickets to his own show. Ticketmaster has been using a dynamic pricing algorithm which can surge the price of a ticket depending on demand and venue to thwart scalpers from buying and selling the tickets secondhand. What this means, however, is that there is no longer a face value for a ticket as long as Ticketmaster is selling it with dynamic pricing—it will change inordinately with demand.

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Dynamic pricing was also the culprit behind Bruce Springsteen’s $5,000 concert tickets this summer, says the New York Times, which fans noticed during a Ticketmaster presale. Adele fans faced a similar issue trying to secure ticket sales for her Las Vegas residency, with prices skyrocketing to a massive $41,280 according to the New York Post. The company behind the price? Ticketmaster. These exorbitant prices also don’t include the extra fees tacked on during checkout, which can be a substantial percentage of the ticket’s cost. While price wasn’t necessarily the core issue of Swift’s presale for The Eras Tour, the performance of Ticketmaster’s digital infrastructure coupled with its track record of price-gouging dynamic pricing paints a very clear and long-standing picture of a corporation with too much power.

Ticketmaster merged with Live Nation officially in 2010, and the New York Times reported then that Ticketmaster cornered “70% of the concert ticket market,” and the merger naturally faced a lot of backlash and friction from the live music industry. This level of power allows Ticketmaster to maintain a stranglehold on the concert industry, which has many forms—one of which is an agreement between venues and Ticketmaster itself.

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Swift is one of the world’s largest musical acts who needs a certain amount of space to reasonably host a concert that thousands of people will pay to attend. Under these conditions, Ticketmaster could leverage the limited amount of stadiums across the country to their benefit with exclusive deals. For example, Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, where Swift will be playing in May 2023, is in agreement with Ticketmaster, where the company serves as the “official ticketing partner for all events” at Metlife Stadium. That means if you want to attend a concert or sports event at the arena, you will be purchasing your tickets through Ticketmaster—and potentially paying top dollar through dynamic pricing and/or experiencing website outages.

Calls to break up Ticketmaster plagued the internet in the aftermath of Swift’s presale yesterday. “Daily reminder that Ticketmaster is a monopoly, it’s merger with LiveNation should never have been approved, and they need to be reigned in,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted after the Eras Tour fallout. “Break them up.” Similar outrage has been seen in the wake of recent major stadium tour ticket sales as fans, activists, and politicians continually become outraged at the power the company has over the industry and consumers.

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This hullaballoo does beg the question: Could Swift, someone with a huge following leverage her influence in the charge to find an alternative to Ticketmaster? Probably not. Ticketmaster’s agreements with stadiums means that Swift would have to find locations without a Ticketmaster foothold that are large enough to host her concerts. She would also have to find some other ticket provider that could handle her level of demand. Maybe it’s plausible, but Pearl Jam already tried to take on Ticketmaster in 1995, and failed miserably.

The Ticketmaster monopoly could be destroyed, but it would take a lot of work. The Ringer argues that it is not enough for a company to only be too big to warrant it broken up under the Sherman Antitrust Law, that company must be exerting their power in a way that destroys competition and abuses consumers—that’s hard to do. Likewise, capitalism moves faster than the government ever could, meaning that breaking up monopolies is probably a losing game as tech companies acquire assets faster than legislation can be passed.

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While breaking up the Ticketmaster monopoly is an uphill battle, Taylor Swift’s tour has brought the issue to what is probably its largest audience. The Swifties are feral, to be blunt, and the anger and distress they feel in the wake of being snubbed tickets to The Eras Tour could be the gateway into awareness and collective action against Ticketmaster as coalitions like Break Up Ticketmaster pop up and call for investigations into the behemoth.