Clouds gather for Ticketmaster despite apology to Taylor Swift fans


Could last week’s Taylor Swift ticketing on-sales become a pivotal point in the history of Ticketmaster and its parent company Live Nation? The clouds are certainly gathering in ominous fashion.

Having deleted its initial explanation of what went wrong with the verified-fans presale, Ticketmaster republished it on Friday, with the main addition being a direct apology at the start. “We want to apologize to Taylor and all of her fans – especially those who had a terrible experience trying to purchase tickets.”

Taylor Swift also commented publicly for the first time about last week’s events, with a statement published as an Instagram story. She noted that she has brought “so many elements of my career in house” with the aim of giving fans the best experience. Ticketing, however, is not one of them.

“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,” wrote 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.”

Swift also criticised Ticketmaster. “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,” she continued. “It’s truly amazing that 2.4 million people got tickets, but it really pisses me off that a lot of them feel like they went through several bear attacks to get them.”

About those clouds. On Friday, the New York Times reported that in recent months, the US Department of Justice has been canvassing opinions within the ticketing world on whether there might be antitrust concerns around Ticketmaster and Live Nation. The latter’s share price tumbled by nearly 8% on Friday, then on Saturday Live Nation posted a statement addressing the antitrust issue.

“The concert promotion business is highly competitive, with artist management in control of selecting their promoting team… there are more promoters than ever working with artists to help them connect with fans through live shows,” claimed the company, before adding that “Ticketmaster has a significant share of the primary ticketing services market because of the large gap that exists between the quality of the Ticketmaster system and the next best primary ticketing system”.

It also suggested that the secondary ticketing market is “extremely competitive, with Ticketmaster competing with StubHub, SeatGeek, Vivid and many others”, and stressed that “there never has been and is not now any evidence of systemic violations of the Consent Decree” that Live Nation and Ticketmaster have operated under for the last 12 years, which aims to prevent anticompetitive shenanigans.

There is certainly no shortage of public opinions in the wake of last week’s on-sales. Songkick co-founder Ian Hogarth published a series of tweets outlining his former company’s legal battles with Ticketmaster, and his belief that “the LiveNation / TicketMaster merger of 2010 was fundamentally bad for innovation in the concert industry… It is challenging to innovate in a market with this concentration of power.”

Activist Cory Doctorow came out swinging at the merged entity too. “The proposition that a company that had all that control would exercise it wisely is really, really stupid,” he wrote. “Ticketmaster/Live Nation have only made live entertainment worse, in every way, for every part of the industry, since its merger.”

Not every commentator is piling on, however. Former Billboard editor Bill Werde suggested that fans and regulators alike might do well to refocus their anger and/or investigations, including some criticism of Taylor Swift and her team’s decisions to put all 52 dates of her tour on sale at once, rather than staggering them to reduce the load on ticketing sites.

Werde suggested some alternative remedies for politicians: a bot act “with teeth”; caps on scalper pricing; make service fees transparent so fans know the split between artists, venues and ticket sellers; mandate all-in pricing so the fees don’t come as a nasty surprise at checkout; and enable artists to limit resales.

“It smacks of irony and groupthink that Taylor fans literally have #WeLoveYouTaylor trending on social media, post after post pointing fingers at Ticketmaster, when Taylor could have made different choices to create a better experience for fans,” he wrote.

“I’d like to think that if more fans were educated that their favorite artists can control almost every aspect of their ticket-buying experience, then artists might make better, more fan-friendly choices.”

The dust may be settling from the Taylor Swift on-sales, but these debates seem likely to intensify in the coming weeks and months, especially if the wheels start to move faster on any potential action from politicians and regulators.

Written by: Stuart Dredge