The past several weeks have been excruciating for Swiftes and casual fans, haven’t they?
Hours-long waits to purchase tickets to see Taylor Swift’s first tour since 2019 only to find limited availability or nothing at all.
Musicians have railed against Ticketmaster for decades. Pearl Jam disowned the ticketing giant in the 1990s, only to run right back when they realized the logistics of finding a suitable venue and ticketing platform was impossible without Ticketmaster. Nine Inch Nails founder Trent Reznor has written in-depth about Ticketmaster’s monopoly. Yet even he continues to bow down to the Goliath it has become.
Despite the protests of major musicians, this one feels different.
Taylor Swift fans — aka Swifties — are a different audience. It is one that has grown up in a connected world, where pushing your opinion is a right not a luxury.
But before we rage against the machine, it is important to understand how we landed here, and what role does an artist like Taylor Swift play?
First, Ticketmaster is one-third of a massive entertainment engine, which also includes Live Nation and Liberty Media.
Live Nation should sound familiar. It owns or operates the vast majority of major performance venues across the United States.
Liberty Media is an American mass media company, which has stakes in record labels, streaming music providers, movie theaters, movie studios, and more.
This three-headed empire is enjoying record-breaking profits on the back of pent-up consumer demand for live entertainment after the 2020 pandemic and inflation.
The merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster was controversial. Many on the U.S. Subcommittee for Anti-Trust questioned the wisdom of allowing the world’s largest ticketing platform to merge with the world’s largest owner and operator of entertainment venues. Yet the merger passed with few contingencies, allowing a nefarious alliance to emerge.
Deceit + Misdirection
Since its merger in 2010 Ticketmaster and Live Nation, with the financial backing and support of Liberty Media, have slowly changed the business model which drives live performances.
You are probably familiar with its many “innovations” which are “designed to enhance the guest experience”:
- Aise Seat Offer
- Official Platinum Seat
- Verified Resell Ticket
- Dynamic Pricing
- Order Processing Fee
These terms have become commonplace in the American market. And they work in concert to extract as much money as possible from the consumer.
In many cases, Ticketmaster is double and even triple-dipping primary seats sold. First and secondary market tickets often have vaguely-described-but-extraordinary fees attached. Most of these practices toe the ethical line but are made several times worse by Live Nation’s control over most major entertainment venues.
In short: When your favorite performance venue plays host to your favorite artists, you will rarely have an option other than Ticketmaster.
It is anti-competitive, anti-consumer, and a wicked ruse.
Does Taylor Swift have any liability?
But how much liability is a debate you can’t win.
Swift does not exist in a vacuum; it takes a team of dozens of people to produce a tour of the scale of Taylor Swift. A year-long tour can take up to two years to organize. During this window, a great number of financial meetings are held to determine how to price tickets, whether platinum or aisle seats should be offered, etc.
Most artists play a moderate-to-significant role in this process — working to ensure that they strike a balance between profitability and satisfying their fans.
At the bare minimum Swift was aware that demand outstripped supply. This was mentioned in her PR response – a response loaded with deflection and deference at once.
Could Swift have prevented the chaos that was?
Yes, but not solely.
The same team driving ticketing decisions should have considered more broadly staggered sales, disabling re-sale for the first two weeks of on-sale (de-incentivizing scalpers), and most importantly putting the fans first. Fan club members — the men, women, and they — who have given the most, got the least from all of this.
Better input drives better outcomes.
Fans are right to be concerned. Demand, inflation, lackluster album sales, and opportunistic ticketing agents, venues, and promoters are working to drive the entertainment market to uncharted heights.
Swift fans have made their voices heard, and for one of the first times, political leadership is listening in on the issue.
The U.S. Justice Department is opening an investigation, and politicians across the political spectrum are calling for Live Nation and Ticketmaster to be broken up.
For an artist like Swift who specializes in break-up songs, this must be music to her fans’ ears.
By Mario Ochoa
Sammis|Ochoa is a Texas-based public relations and digital marketing firm. We believe transparency and accountability are hallmarks of smart business. Our firm serves San Antonio, Houston, and Austin. To connect with us visit www.sammisochoa.com or call 210.390.4284.