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This could have been a quiet victory for the company. Instead, it was the beginning of a week filled with mass vitriol as “Swifties” took to the internet against Ticketmaster and its parent company, Live Nation.
Angry tweets started early in the day as Ticketmaster began glitching and booting fans out of online ticket queues. Fans had to jump through loopholes to prove they weren’t bots trying to scalp tickets for resale.
But perhaps the worst was reserved for fans who waited more than six hours for their chance to buy, only to meet an error screen while entering their payment information—kicking them back to the start of the queue. Ticketmaster paused multiple queues for hours to try and get the situation under control and postponed West Coast presales for five hours.
The situation was so dire that a presale for Capital One card holders, scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. local time on Tuesday, was pushed to Wednesday. Ticketmaster’s website again crashed that day.
But that was just the presale for verified fans, which required a code sent by Ticketmaster. Many fans held out hope for the possibility that these glitches might be fixed by Friday, when general tickets were scheduled to be sold.
Yesterday, Ticketmaster revealed that the entire situation was worse than anticipated. During the glitchy Tuesday presale event, Ticketmaster had effectively sold the entire inventory of The Eras Tour. Friday’s ticket sales event was canceled, meaning only verified fans or Capital One cardholders had the opportunity to try and buy tickets.
As the anger boiled over, politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez publicly named the source of the whole disaster: 12 years ago, two of the biggest event companies in America, Live Nation and Ticketmaster, became one.
Today, Live Nation Entertainment has a reputation for holding a monopoly on online ticket sales. Its secret? A chokehold on access to top venues across the country.
“Ticketmaster controlled over 80% of the market before the merger,” wrote David Dayen earlier this year, “and that holds true of Live Nation today, buttressed by its role as the nation’s largest concert promoter and owner of over 200 venues.” With exclusive access to most of the largest venues in the country, there’s no reason Ticketmaster should prioritize the ticket-buyer experience.
Over the years, Ticketmaster has been fined millions for monopoly-like behavior by multiple governments including the U.S. and Canada. It’s been scrutinized by journalists and politicians since before the merger. But they have a long history of dodging these accusations.
If Ticketmaster is indeed a monopoly, then by definition they have no reason to try to impress customers through an improved ticketing user experience. Monopolies can get away with meeting the bare minimum, such as not investing in better technology until absolutely necessary. After all, who’s going to make them?
The result is a company with no reason to care about whether you’re delighted, indifferent or angry towards them. People put up with a bad, glitchy user experience because it is their only real option.
You are not the real customer
Earlier this year, Ticketmaster was the subject of one of John Oliver’s famous corporate takedowns. During the episode, Oliver drew attention to Ticketmaster as a monopolistic company making the live event industry more expensive through dynamic pricing, enabling customer bidding wars and tacking on exorbitant fees.
Oliver showed a clip featuring Ticketmaster’s former CEO Irving Azoff. Azoff explained Ticketmaster’s business model to members of Congress: “Ticketmaster was set up as a system that took the heat for everybody” in the event industry.
Put another way, Ticketmaster exists to handle sides of the event industry that most artists and venues don’t like: ticketing, digital operations and logistics. Ticketmaster’s primary customers are artists and venues, not ticket shoppers.
Ticketmaster performs a hard and unglamorous job on behalf of the venues. It requires some serious technological heft to create a ticketing system that handles the sort of web traffic generated by major events. The problem is that these major event centers arguably only have one real option for outsourced ticketing: Ticketmaster.
So, if venues and artists are Ticketmaster’s customers, what does that make Swifties?
One way to understand Swifties in all this is to compare Ticketmaster to another company that people love to hate: Facebook.
Facebook’s customers are advertisers. Facebook users are the product. As long as Facebook delivers the bare minimum effort to keep users on their platform, then advertisers will keep buying. Advertisers are mostly apathetic to how delighted, indifferent or angry users are against Facebook—as long as users stay on the platform.
This week, all Ticketmaster had to do was make sure everyone was satisfied enough to keep their ticketing frustrations to themselves. That’s where this ticketing fiasco may actually hold power to affect change.
The good news: Swifties pulled the alarm
Ticketmaster may not usually care that you hate them. But they do care about their business staying under the radar. Ticketmaster wins when we all simply put up with them in quiet disdain. They can go on silently making their millions without serious opposition.
But after this week, Ticketmaster, now up against the wall, will face deeper investigations from the Justice Department. At the very least, the fear of the Justice Department may push them to invest in better tech to get themselves off the hook.
Both outcomes would be a win for Swifties and ticket buyers everywhere.
Swifties are some of the most vocal and loyal fans in music—Ticketmaster may have finally met its match.