Ticketmaster gains attention after the events of Taylor Swift’s concert ticket sale

Josie Santiago, DN Illustration
Josie Santiago, DN Illustration

Anna-Lisse Lenard was disappointed.

She was disappointed she didn’t get tickets. She was disappointed she spent well over a day in the virtual queue, meaning a line of people waiting for their turn to purchase tickets. She was disappointed it felt like it was all for nothing. 

But above all, she was disappointed that a company this big allowed this to happen.

Lenard, like many other fans, tried and ultimately failed to get Taylor Swift’s concert tickets. 

“I was trying to hold on to hope because I [have] wanted to see her forever, since I was a little girl,” Lenard, second-year social work major at Ball State University, said. “I definitely was really frustrated. I felt like [the long queue] shouldn’t have been a mistake.” 

The Eras Tour, Taylor Swift’s return post-pandemic, was less than satisfactory for fans like Lenard. Swift announced on social media she was returning to tour Nov. 1, 2022.  She announced on social media 17 more shows to account for “unprecedented demand” ten days later.

In the days leading up to the sale, Ticketmaster and Taylor Swift’s team provided “line boosts” to select fans, and Ticketmaster used a lottery system to release presale codes. If one received the line boost, one would be moved to the front end of the online queue to get tickets. But, if one got a line boost without a presale, the line boost was made useless. Presale was set to take place Nov. 15, 2022. 

The first presale was supposed to take place for a smaller, select group of fans. On Nov. 15 at 2 p.m., users with a Capital One card were supposed to have their chance for tickets. General admission was to follow a few days later, Nov.18, according to Ticketmaster in a “what to expect” series of Tweets. During the 72-hour time frame, there was a 10 hour long wait time for select shows due to long virtual waiting lines, pushed-back pre-sales and the cancelation of the general sale

The long queue times fans like Lenard experienced happened for all of the shows in Taylor Swift’s the Eras Tour, including the show Lenard said she was trying to buy tickets for. The Ticketmaster site began to crash before the sale even started due to record-high web traffic, Ticketmaster said in a press release after the sale. Lenard shared she experienced the site crashing most of the day. Ticketmaster told fans already in the queue to remain there through a Twitter post. 

“I was in three different classes trying to buy them,” Lenard said. “I did not care if I got in trouble.” 

The Capital One presale that was originally scheduled for Nov. 15 at 2 p.m. was moved to the next day at the same time.

Nov. 17, Ticketmaster announced on Twitter it had “insufficient remaining ticket inventory” and could not hold the general ticket sale. 

Swift made a statement about the sale Nov. 18. 

“I’m not going to make excuses for anyone because we asked them multiple times if they could handle this kind of demand, and we were assured they could,” Swift wrote in an Instagram post. “It’s truly amazing that 2.4 million people got tickets, but it really pisses me off that a lot of them feel like they went through several bear attacks to get them.”

What is Ticketmaster? 

According to their website, Ticketmaster was founded in 1976 in Phoenix, Arizona, by college staffers Albert Leffler and Peter Gadwa, as well as businessman Gordon Gunn III. Today, the company is established in 31 countries. 

Ticketmaster and Live Nation merged into one company under the approval of the United States Department of Justice and FTC Jan. 25, 2010.

Since 1995, Ticketmaster has had 80 percent of the market share for concert primary ticketing, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. 

“Ticketmaster and Live Nation are a good example of what is likely a monopoly,” Erik Nesson, department chair of the Department of Economics and associate professor of economics at Ball State, said. “They control a large portion of ticket sales and sports sales.”

He said a monopoly is a market where one seller dominates the marketplace.

The government is able to play a role in monitoring the status of companies to ensure there isn’t an active monopoly. Nesson said the government will step in when two companies want to merge together, in an attempt to keep monopolies in check. 

The government will also monitor collusion, which is when companies start having non-competitive practices, Nesson said. 

An example of a past monopoly the government has interfered with is Microsoft Corp. 

On Nov. 5 1999, a federal judge declared that Microsoft is a monopoly. The government decided that Microsoft had a large portion of market power and was using that power to keep other companies from having a fair chance at participating in the market.

On Jan. 24, 2022, The ​​Senate Judiciary Committee had a hearing regarding Ticketmaster and its potential of being a monopoly. At the hearing, senators debated possible action, including making tickets non-transferable to cut down on scalping and requiring more transparency in ticket fees. 

Ticketmaster and The United States Government 

In 1994, Pearl Jam, a Seattle-based rock band, was set to go on tour. 

Ticketmaster was a quickly growing business, controlling the ticketing for some of the most popular venues and artists at the time, making most of its profit out of service fees.

Pearl Jam laid out their pricing guidelines for the tour, stating Ticketmaster charged $1.08 in service fees, creating an overall ticket cost of $18, according to the Associated Press.

At this time, Ticketmaster was operating on a sale system that had a $4-$15 service fee, according to the Associated Press.  

Pearl Jam canceled their touring plans and filed an antitrust complaint against Ticketmaster, which triggered a federal investigation into the company’s alleged monopoly.

Pearl Jam claimed Ticketmaster was abusing its marketplace dominance to charge what were extremely high service fees at the time, as well as sign exclusive deals with major concert venues, leaving performers and customers with few to no alternatives. 

Pearl Jam was supported by other acts of that era, including Garth Brooks, according to the Associated Press. 

The investigation was closed without action July 5, 1995 due to no lawsuit being filed, according to the Associated Press. However, the antitrust division said it would continue to monitor the situation. 

Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam performs during a concert at the Ohana Festival on Sept. 26, 2021, in Dana Point, California. (K.C. Alfred/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

Service Fees and Dynamic Pricing

Currently, Ticketmaster is earning its profits by using two different models of income: service fees and dynamic pricing. 

Ticketmaster shares on its site that fees are determined in partnership with their client, I.E. the artists or the sports team you are buying the ticket for. They cover things like the technology, equipment and handling fees of the tickets. 

“The classic service fee that everyone hates is the convenience fee for printing your tickets at home …,” Nesson said, “But that is just another form of price discrimination.” 

Price discrimination, Nesson said, is when a company assesses its client base and charges one consumer more than the other because the  consumer is willing to pay more. This is a commonly used practice for buying plane tickets or booking an Uber, Nesson said. 

In 2011, Ticketmaster introduced dynamic pricing – a way for artists and Ticketmaster to make a larger profit. 

According to the Cambridge Dictionary is, “a way of setting the price for a product or service in which the price changes according to how much demand there is for it at a particular time (how many people want to buy it or pay for it).”

It would work like hotels or airlines; the more people want to buy tickets, the more expensive the tickets become. This is to isolate the fans willing to pay thousands of dollars and get them to pay that, while fans who want cheaper tickets will wait to buy them on the day of the show. 

Nesson said  this dynamic pricing model is most likely a form of price discrimination, from an economist’s perspective. Sometimes, this dynamic pricing model is more hidden, being called a VIP package or a Platinum package.

“[Ticketmaster tries] to figure out how many people are trying to buy tickets for this show. If there’s a lot, [its]  going to change [to] a higher price, and if there’s fewer, [its] going to charge a lower price,” Nesson said. 

This dynamic pricing causes prices to go up during ticket sales. This is how the first person buying a ticket for their favorite artist may pay less than the person sitting next to them who got their ticket for much more.

“It isn’t fair. If you don’t have the money, nothing is fair,” Lenard said. “That’s just so stupid that it’s the same experience and people pay different prices for it … It closes off that experience from people.”

Nesson explained things people spend money on creates a question of value. 

“When you buy something, it makes sense you value that thing at more than the price you paid. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have bought it,” Nesson said. “It’s a complicated question about how people feel about other people getting a better deal than them.”

Josie Santiago, DN Design

The Lawsuit

26 plaintiffs, who live in 13 states across the U.S., are alleging Ticketmaster has a monopoly on primary and secondary markets and accuses it of engaging in fraudulent practices and various antitrust violations, including price discrimination and price fixing.

These plaintiffs are suing Ticketmaster and filed a complaint with the L.A. County Superior Court Dec. 5, 2022. 

"Ticketmaster's service is not superior or reliable; the massive disaster of the Taylor Swift presale is evidence enough of this," the lawsuit document read. "Ticketmaster does not charge high prices to give a better service, it charges higher prices because it has no real competition and wants to take every dollar it can from buyers."

A second suit is underway with the Dolam Legal Group related to refunds that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ticketmaster only promised to refund shows that were permanently canceled. They have not refunded groups that were indefinitely postponed. 

“Joe Berchtold, the president of Ticketmaster's parent company Live Nation Entertainment, stated that 90 percent of events were postponed rather than canceled,” Dolam Legal Group said on their website. “Derek Hansen, the lead plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit, claims to have tickets to see a rock band that cost him nearly $600. The concert has been indefinitely postponed, but he could not recover compensation for a show that he would likely not be able to see.”

Both of these suits are called class-action lawsuits. 

“A class action [lawsuit] is a legal device where one person or group of people can sue on behalf of themselves and others who are similarly situated,” Jay Tidmarsh, Judge James J. Clynes, Jr., professor of law at the Notre Dame Law School, said via email. “The entire group of people with similar claims is called the class. The individuals who bring the suit are called the class representatives.” 

Tidmarsh explained there are a few reasons why someone may enact a class action lawsuit. These reasons include: efficiency, so there aren’t multiples of the same lawsuit, money, since the case becomes attractive to a lawyer when money is involved according to Tidmarsh and the ability for plaintiffs to join in and make a case with a larger dollar amount than their individual cases would have permitted.

“If one million people are each cheated out of $1, no one will bother to sue, and the cheater gets away with cheating,” Tidmarsh said via email. “But if we can join all one million people into one class action, then we have a $1 million case, and it is worth suing.” 

Tidmarsh said via email the most important thing to know about the class action lawsuit is following up.

“If a student is a member of this Ticketmaster class, and if the case settles, the student will need to file a claim with the court to collect the student's share of the settlement,” Tidmarsh said via email. “I would urge students to do so because class actions work best when class members with valid claims submit their claims for payment. Otherwise, the leftover, unclaimed money may go elsewhere.”

Lenard, like many other students and fans, chose to not take legal action. She is simply observing from the outside. 

She said even though she felt defeated, she hopes that Ticketmaster uses this experience as a way to improve. 

“I wish that they would have tried to do something to make it right,” Lenard said. “I feel like the whole thing happened, and it got brushed under the rug, and nobody got anything out of it. I got screwed over. I hope that in the future this doesn’t happen again.”

 Contact Olivia Ground with comments at olivia.ground@bsu.edu or on Twitter @liv_ground_25.


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