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It Shouldn’t Be This Hard To Buy Concert Tickets

Screenshot: Ticketmaster

Yesterday, I woke up and prepared for battle. Every few months, I am forced to wage the same war, and every time, I lose. It is not my fault, really. The odds are against me, and it is almost impossible to win. No amount of preparation or foresight or experience can prepare you to fight a monopoly. You can consume infinite TikTok advice videos from girlies who have succeeded in this war before. But even they may fail this time. Because to try and fight Ticketmaster in 2022 is to try and wage a war against God.

I was lucky in the first phase of the war yesterday. I was chosen as one of the fans who could try and participate in the Verified Fan Pre-Sale that began at 10:00 a.m. EDT. Ticketmaster, the company that is selling tickets to Taylor Swift's upcoming The Eras Tour, has a program called "Verified Fan." The Verified Fan program allows the company to ... well ... verify that you are a person before you buy tickets. It theoretically prevents tickets from being immediately resold, and allows actual fans to buy tickets instead of bots. I was allowed to do the Verified Fan Presale, to be clear, because I paid for it. Fans were entered into a lottery to be added to this presale if they purchased merch from Taylor Swift's store (in my case Midnights on vinyl). But it's all kind of a ruse. Not everyone who was a verified fan got a code, so not everyone could even try the pre-sale. But I was lucky. I got a code.

Now, I am no green ticket buyer. I know that the world is a cruel place and that often we are not given what we want. I know that sometimes you are a Verified Fan (as I was for the Harry Styles concerts earlier this year) and you still don't get tickets. But I prepared nonetheless, ready to enter the queue the minute the site allowed me. If there was another option, I would have taken it. But this is America. Another option would be less money in a corporation's pocket, and therefore, it cannot exist.

Ticketmaster has had a monopoly on the business of big concerts ever since merging with Live Nation to control both the venues which can handle the capacity of a major pop show and the system through which you can buy tickets to a major pop show. Ticketmaster is our God now. And God Ticketmaster received quite a lot of backlash in years past, because the enemy of the people buying tickets used to be The Bots.

As a veteran of many major pop show ticket-obtaining wars, I can tell you tales of the old days. In the old days, what used to happen is all of the tickets went on sale at once. There would be a designated time, and you would log on, and for one brief moment, every section of the stadium map would be aglow like a field of fireflies. You would click a few tickets and try and buy some. Some would already be sold. But this was, who can say, maybe 2013 or 2014. It was before every single person was alerted that a ticket was going on sale. You had to be a real fan to know. Even then, it was a war, because as you clicked the tickets to try and buy them, they would evaporate. Some of that happened because other fans would buy them. But as the years progressed, fewer and fewer actual fans were allowed to buy tickets. The tickets were being bought very quickly by bots.

People were mad about this! Rightfully so! And the backlash against Ticketmaster was swift and vocal. Ticketmaster tried to solve this by taking money from the only companies with more money than them: credit card companies. They created pre-sales for people with American Express Cards, and people with Capital One cards. This did not work. Most tickets still went to bots.

In 2017, Ticketmaster created the Verified Fan program, another way to try and solve this problem that exists because Ticketmaster is the only place to buy tickets to these mammoth shows. Verified Fan also does not work.

Here is what happened to me yesterday: I opened the tab where the tickets would be the minute I received the pre-sale code on Monday afternoon. I kept that tab open. It is still open as I type this, a full 36 hours later. At 9:00 a.m. EDT, I was en route to the train, which I needed to be on at 9:45. Because the tickets went on sale at 10:00 a.m., I could not risk it. I hot-spotted my phone to my laptop so that I could watch the countdown. At 9:40 a.m., I boarded the train, carrying my laptop like an idiot. At 10:00 a.m., I was added to the queue. I had, at this point, had the tab open and active for almost 24 hours. I was told I was behind "2,000+" people in the queue. I remained that far back until almost 3:00 p.m.

Because of the way Verified Fan works, you cannot close the tab. You have to check in constantly, because that is how you get tickets. You have to be ready to pull the trigger the minute you are let into the room. When I was finally admitted to the room, I understood immediately why they have created this false demand via the Verified Fan program. I was so frustrated over waiting so long to try and purchase tickets to this show, that I was desperate to try and get them.

Almost all of the tickets I was offered upon entering the ticket-buying section were priced at $499 or above. That's FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS for one ticket. I have been a Taylor Swift fan and listener since her first album. I have seen three of her tours. That is twice as much as I have ever paid to see her in a stadium. And the tickets were not even that good. Lower bowl, but not floor tickets.

What Ticketmaster is doing is creating artificial demand. They release a few ridiculously priced tickets and understand that because people are fighting for scraps—watching the tickets they added to their cart get snatched away from another fan before they can buy them—they will pay more than they originally intended. I didn't even get the opportunity to pay more than I wanted. There were no tickets for me to buy.

On top of artificial demand, Ticketmaster also has something called "dynamic pricing," which means that the "cost" of the ticket is related to the "demand." As you may imagine, requiring every super-fan to try and buy tickets at the same exact time creates artificial demand which would benefit the company. Here is a good video breaking all of that down:

What this means is that I spent hours trying to buy tickets for an artist who I love and want to support, only to be jerked around by a company that knows it can get away with it. Without any competition or government oversight, Ticketmaster is a monopoly with no accountability. My problem, to be clear, is not with the fact that I couldn't get tickets. There is always a scarcity of art, because artists are people with limited time and energy. My problem is that this company, which did a frankly awful and embarrassing job trying to implement this program, will not face a single consequence for it. In fact, they will make buckets of money.

Because not only are they charging more for tickets based on arbitrary demand, they are also charging fees for a product artists are forced to use:

After spending about an hour refreshing and trying to buy a ticket, clicking frantically on any section worth less than $500 that I could buy, Ticketmaster kicked me out. When the page reloaded, I was once again in line behind more than 2,000 people. For the second time this year, I gave up. I don't have a Capital One card, so I can't try for the presale tomorrow, and at this point, I'm exhausted. This system is not made for fans. Calling this a Verified Fan presale is a cute rebrand for basic price extortion by a monopoly.

At least if we had to stand in a literal line outside of a stadium, fans could talk to each other and make friends. At least then, the service fee would be paying for people to walk back and forth and talk to us. At least in that world, the sale would probably happen on a Saturday instead of the middle of a work day. Literally any form of ticket purchasing would be better than this. Even the bots were better. Now we have been boxed into this terrible future where the only way to consume live music from popular artists is to pay an inefficient, barely functioning middleman, and say thank you.

The problem with buying tickets is the same problem that plagues everything in America right now: The people in charge do not want to make the future better or easier or more enjoyable. They want to make more money, and they are. Ticketmaster need not provide a service or a plan or a product. They can phone it in, because they are the only ones left. Their failures do not affect them. The failures only affect us, just the way they planned it.

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