The Ticketmaster-Taylor Swift sale was a real mess but whose fault is it?

The Ticketmaster-Taylor Swift sale was a real mess but whose fault is it?

Updated: 4 months, 3 days, 16 hours, 27 minutes, 31 seconds ago

You may have noticed a lot of headlines this week about Ticketmaster. People are extremely angry at the ticket seller. If you happen to be a Taylor Swift fan then you probably already know why. For those who aren’t Swifties, I’ll explain. At the start of the month Swift announced a new tour set to take place next year. She would be playing major stadiums around the country.

I’m enchanted to announce my next tour: Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour, a journey through the musical eras of my career (past & present!) The first leg of the tour will be in stadiums across the US, with international dates to be announced as soon as we can!

— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) November 1, 2022

This tour comes on the heels of a new album (“Midnight”) which set all kinds of records when it was released. For instance:

.@taylorswift13 scores one of the most historic weeks in @billboardcharts history, as she becomes the first artist to claim the #Hot100’s entire top 10 in a single week.

— billboard (@billboard) October 31, 2022

Back in 1964 the Beatles claimed the top five spots on the chart. They had seven other songs in the Top 100 at the time. Granted the music business is a bit different than it was in the 1960s or even the 1990s but claiming all ten spots on the chart is unprecedented. The same album also set streaming service records within the first 24-hours it was released.

Released last Friday (October 21), the singer-songwriter’s 10th studio effort smashed Spotify’s record for the most-streamed album in a single day – a feat Swift said was “mind blowing”.

Additionally, ‘Midnights’ broke the record for the biggest pop album of all time on Apple Music by first-day streams…

On Amazon Music, Swift achieved the most first-day album streams globally of any act as well as the most Alexa requests ever.

I say all of this to make a point which is obvious but also very relevant to what happened next: Taylor Swift is the biggest act in music right now. Just days after announcing her tour, she announced the tour was adding more dates. Clearly, word had gotten back to someone that demand was going to be off the charts.

UM. Looks like I’ll get to see more of your beautiful faces than previously expected… we’re adding 8 shows to the tour 😆

— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) November 4, 2022

This week the tickets were set to go on sale in a staggered approach. First, anyone who signed up as a “verified fan” through Ticketmaster/Taylor Swift’s own site would get the first crack at the available tickets on Tuesday. To get those you had to receive an email with a special code to buy tickets for a specific night. That would be followed by a presale for certain credit card holders. Finally there would be a general on sale which was open to everyone.

The verified fan presale turned into chaos. When the sale started some users reported the site had crashed. Ticketmaster put out a statement about “unprecedented demand” which asked people to be patient.

Initially all the fan tickets for the tour were set to go on sale at the same time but because of the problems, Ticketmaster called an audible and moved the presale for fans on the west coast to a later time Tuesday afternoon, presumably so their servers could attempt to deal with the remaining crush of fans on the east coast. It was enough of a mess for enough people that even the NY Times covered it.

“It was nauseating, because we were going around on this laggy website, you know, like trying to select all these seats, and none of them were working,” Ms. Pontillo said, adding, “I did end up getting tickets, but it took four hours and a lot of a lot of pain.”

The tickets are not as close to the stage as those Ms. Pontillo had initially hoped to purchase, but after hearing about the experiences of Swifties — as Ms. Swift’s fans are known — around the world on Tuesday, she’s grateful to have secured any tickets at all…

For many of those lucky enough to make it through the Ticketmaster culling, the problems were just beginning. On Tuesday morning, potential buyers were encouraged by Ticketmaster to sign in 30 minutes before the sale and enter a virtual waiting room. For some users, the site crashed immediately. Then the real chaos began.

I have personal experience with what it was like. No, this is not the part of the post where I confess to having a Taylor Swift tattoo. What I have instead is a daughter in college who is a huge fan who asked if I could get her tickets as a Christmas gift. So after jumping through the pre-sale hoops, there’s a “waiting room” with a clock counting down and at some point that is supposed to place you into the queue, which in reality is just another waiting room. In my case, when the site tried to put me into the queue I got a “500 internal server” error and had to launch the page two more times to get myself into the queue.

The queue page tells you there are 2000+ people in front of you. In fact, there are probably 10,000 people in front of you but you don’t know. You just have to keep checking the little bar to see if it has moved at all. In my case, the queue didn’t move even slightly for about 40 minutes. Finally, after nearly an hour I was let in and could try to buy tickets.

The site shows you a live map on which available tickets are blue dots. You have to select the ones you want and then buy them in a certain amount of time. The problem is there are lots of other people doing the same thing at the same time. And unlike the waiting room and queue which you can ignore in the background, this is a race. Find seats, click them and click a button that you want to buy them. Then a banner comes up and tells you Ticketmaster is checking to see if the seats you just clicked are actually available. Over and over it would pause and then tell me other fans had beat me to it.

After 20 minutes I finally got three tickets into my cart and went to pay. On the first pass I forget to click some radio button. When I tried again, the site just failed to process and a message came up saying “try again later.” I was dumped back into the page with the map. My selected tickets were gone even though a clock said I still had about 5 minutes to buy them.

So I started over and after many more attempts finally got a few tickets. Meanwhile, I could see that the entire stadium (SoFi) was selling out, right up to the nosebleed seats and the ones behind the stage. How are they going to have anything left for a general on sale I wondered? It turns out they do not.

Anyone looking to buy a ticket to Taylor Swift’s new tour may be out of luck.

Ticketmaster said on Thursday that “due to extraordinarily high demands on ticketing systems and insufficient remaining ticket inventory to meet that demand,” Friday’s public ticket sales for Swift’s Eras Tour has been canceled.

The sudden cancellation comes after Ticketmaster said Thursday that more than two million tickets were sold Tuesday for her upcoming tour — the most ever sold for an artist in a single day. It caused a near meltdown of its website.

I don’t think this came as a surprise. Clearly Ticketmaster had so many pre-sale fans buying tickets Tuesday that it decided to just sell everything rather than cutting off sales and leaving the rest for today. I don’t know if that made the situation better or worse but a lot of people are angry, including some socialist lawmakers:

Somebody couldn't get Taylor Swift tickets.

— John Sexton (@verumserum) November 15, 2022

The blowback is serious enough that Ticketmaster’s largest shareholder is defending the site at CNBC:

The CEO of Liberty Media, Live Nation’s largest shareholder, defended the event promoter against calls that it should be broken up following a storm of glitches and site failures during Ticketmaster presales this week for Taylor Swift’s upcoming tour.

Live Nation is sympathetic to fans who couldn’t get tickets, Greg Maffei said on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” Thursday. “It’s a function of Taylor Swift. The site was supposed to open up for 1.5 million verified Taylor Swift fans. We had 14 million people hit the site, including bots, which are not supposed to be there.”

Maffei said Ticketmaster sold more than 2 million tickets on Tuesday and demand for Swift “could have filled 900 stadiums.”

So what to say about all of this? Well, I can confirm that the process was awful. The 45 minutes I spent trying to buy tickets were the most frustrating I’ve ever spent on Ticketmaster’s site. On the other hand I think Greg Maffei has a point. If you’re prepared for 1.5 million people and 14 million show up demanding tickets, it’s not going to go well. If there had been twice as many dates at stadiums holding 50,000 people each, maybe that would have helped but there weren’t. There were only so many million tickets and way more people who wanted them.

My daughter’s friend also tried to get tickets and succeeded. However, the ones I got were a little better so she decided to sell hers. And because she felt bad for people who got shut out, she announced on social media she was selling them at cost. She was contacted by 15 separate people within the first hour.

Was it awful? Yes. Could Ticketmaster have made it less awful? Maybe. Ultimately there just weren’t enough tickets to meet the insane demand. I don’t know that there’s any technological solution for that problem with the one exception that I’d love to see the bots and professional resellers pushed to the back of the line. But scalpers are a problem that has been around since I started going to concerts in the early 80s. They will always be with us I suspect.