Taylor Swift is an extremely successful and talented artist, and has earned and deserves all of the accolades, recognition, and wealth that comes with it. It’s important that I first make this clear.
Because it is not my intention to offend Taylor personally when I agree with and explain why so many industry observers and journalists are 100% correct in describing the rollout and on-sale of her Reputation Tour a total disaster.
It is the current best example of how not to sell tickets to a large tour. No one wants to be this case study, especially an artist who otherwise is poised and sets such an excellent example to her young fans.
The ticket ecosystem is complicated, multi-layered, and involves many players. Because touring and sold-out concerts have unseated the sale of albums as the biggest piece of the pie, selling tickets is now what it’s all about. In stumbling hard to grab the entire pie — initial sales and all resale of tickets — the Reputation Tour was doomed from the start.
Hopefully, as time goes by, some of the restrictions will be relaxed so that all of the tickets can sell and all the seats at shows will be full. Because, arguably, that’s what matters – full seats at shows.
Since the dawn of tickets to live events there has always been a vibrant secondary resale market.
It’s become a place where even original sellers — the primary market — sell off ticket inventory that they may have held back earlier. Or, a place where they try to quickly sell tickets as the show approaches, at a price they are willing to accept (but that might be less than the price printed on the ticket itself).
I’ve grown tired of calling this the ‘face value’ because it’s really nothing more than a made-up number that has absolutely nothing to do with the supply and demand of tickets. That’s what really informs true market value. Think of home prices and how they fluctuate. When you sell your house, there is no ‘face value,’ but instead a list price that considers a variety of factors, and it can go up or down based on the market.
But let’s get back to Taylor Swift.
She, or more likely her management, was sold on an experiment. This experiment could either rake in tons of money in high-priced tickets, album sales, clothing sales, viral Facebook and Twitter marketing, and sold out shows — or become a total PR nightmare and bust.
Taylor’s 1989 Tour was a huge success by all accounts. It sold out virtually every show in a matter of hours. Tickets were reasonably priced at the on-sale, there were no major headaches for fans to make their purchase. And there was a good supply of tickets on the secondary market for others to buy later in time.
It worked. Not so much with the Reputation Tour. In the press and on social media, fans are generally accusing Taylor of being greedy. While there is a lesson in this for Taylor’s team to learn, fans should point their ire at Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan Program.
The National Association of Ticket Brokers and many others in the industry supported the passage of the federal BOTS Act last year. It’s a law that bans the use of software that basically cuts in line and buys up all the tickets before any of us have a chance to buy tickets.
Ticketmaster was chomping at the bit to roll out its new BOT-fighting program called Verified Fan. It made sense at the time, but really we now all clearly see this was a ploy. As Ticketmaster executives openly brag, Verified Fan isn’t only about keeping the BOTS out. It’s also about commandeering all ticket sales – primary and secondary.
A total chokehold and massive cut of the action with every “swipe” of a credit card.
Verified Fan requires people who want tickets to sign up in advance to receive a code to verify they are a fan and not a software program, and if they are alerted on a certain date, at a certain time, they can use that code to gain entry into Ticketmaster’s walled garden to buy their tickets. But, with Taylor Swift, they were then encouraged to “boost” their chances of getting tickets if they also bought merchandise. Buy an album, maybe we’ll offer you better tickets. Buy a t-shirt, now you have a real shot! Many fans describe doing this, only to then be offered $1,200 tickets. Many others are crying foul saying they waited hours and hours to get a Verified Fan code, only to be shut out online.
Not a single show on the tour sold out when tickets went on sale.
Sales are sluggish. And it’s not because Taylor Swift isn’t hugely popular. She remains a smash hit despite the horrible PR she is suffering because of all of this. The failed on-sale of the Reputation Tour is entirely because of the Verified Fan scheme.
So now what?
Ticketmaster’s PR spin machine enters. Audaciously, they suggest everything is fine, nothing to see here, please move along. They say everything is going exactly as planned, that slow sales are part of how Verified Fan is supposed to work in order to keep BOTS and resellers out.
Ticketmaster, do you really think it’s working?
Sure, even without a sold-out show and sluggish sales, the dollars of all that merchandise boosting and high-priced tickets sales may equal the same as a normal sell-out or even exceed it. But at what expense? What will this short-term greed mean for the long-term? What about the mom or dad who stayed home to buy some tickets for their child’s first Taylor Swift show, waiting to buy tickets, who spent an additional $150 “boost” that they might not be able to afford in order to get a better shot at tickets, only to be offered nothing, or even more painful, offered a $4,000 set of four tickets?
Coming back full circle, the ticketing ecosystem has a lot of players in it, and they are all capitalists aiming to make money. And with the number of live events increasing, there is more money being spent and therefore more to be made. Capturing the spend is okay, but at what cost and how much of it should be captured by one company?
By the sheer fact that there are more tours and more stops on tours, Ticketmaster as the world’s largest ticketing company will already reap more profits for its shareholders even if it changes nothing at all.
But the temptation to use the new federal bot law as trojan horse to foreclose competition in the entirely legal secondary resale market has bred a new form a greed, disguised in a nefarious program called Verified Fan.
Perhaps Ticketmaster has nothing to lose with this experience. They aren’t the artist putting it all on the line or suffering the PR nightmare. T icketmaster is so big and so powerful in this industry that even by causing this mess, they won’t likely suffer much if at all.
For her next tour, Taylor’s management will more than likely be right back at Ticketmaster’s office to discuss dates, access to LiveNation venues, use of Ticketmaster Resale program, and more. All will be forgiven, because Ticketmaster has a monopoly and chokehold on artists.
So there you have it. The explanation for why despite Taylor Swift herself being a monumental success, the on-sale of her Reputation Tour is a failure.
Blame Mr. Monopoly and his experiment, not Taylor.
Gary Adler is Executive Director and Counsel of the National Association of Ticket Brokers, and an attorney with Clark Hill PLC in Washington, DC