Where were you during the Great Ticketmaster Taylor Swift Meltdown of 2022?
This question looms large ten days after the infamous crashing of Ticketmaster’s site during the fan pre-sale for Taylor Swift’s 2023 Eras tour. It is not the first time Ticketmaster angered fans with a terrible customer experience (CX). But this time, could a CX disaster result in real change at Ticketmaster? After all, the incident has opened the door for Congress to investigate the Ticketmaster monopoly.
There was great gnashing of teeth among Taylor Swift’s fans, known Swifties, as they were locked out a pre-sale scheduled for November 15. Tears were shed. Laptops were surely slammed shut furiously, and even a few were probably kicked across the room. And, by God, the Swifties vented on Twitter with some of the most hilarious corporate trolling I’ve ever seen, such as these:
I can relate to all that. Because my wife has purchased Taylor Swift merchandise from her website, we were granted access to the pre-sale via a special link texted to us the night before the sale. The text also contained a special code to use in order to get into the presale.
In fact, using the link through the text was the only way to even get on to Ticketmaster at all the morning of November 15. One half hour before the sale was to begin, the site was crashing. You could not even log on to Ticketmaster to buy tickets for anyone else. But, hey, I got in!
After that, Ticketmaster notified me that there were 2,000+ customers in line in front me as I hung out in the verified fan waiting room . . . where I waited, and waited, and waited for hours for the queue to move. I felt like a sucker feeding coins into a slot machine — except in this case, I wasted time, not money.
I will say I had one of my most productive work days of the month as I sat beside a perpetually frozen Ticketmaster screen hoping for an opportunity to buy tickets for one of three shows scheduled in Chicago next June. (I also attended to a problem with our furnace that needed fixing. So there is a silver lining here: when you are chained to your laptop at home waiting in an interminable queue, you notice things. So, thank you Ticketmaster.)
What else was there to do while my life was put on hold? During the multiple crashes, I checked out secondary ticket sites to amuse myself and fantasize about actually snatching up field-level seats (not a chance). Indeed, some lucky ticket buyers were quickly reselling their tickets on the secondary market, surely capitalizing on the growing panic as would-be ticketholders were denied by Ticketmaster. I saw two tickets on StubHub on sale for as high as $65,000. Yup. You read that right. It was fun to pretend that those seats could be mine.
Eventually Ticketmaster got its fan presales back on track after hours of agonizing delays and blowback from news media (here is just one example). But not before incurring the wrath of none other than legislator Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who tweeted, “Daily reminder that Ticketmaster is a monopoly, it’s merger with LiveNation should never have been approved, and they need to be reigned in. Break them up.”
That proved to be an ominous message. President Joe Biden had already stated that the White House was taking on excessive fees charged by businesses such as Ticketmaster. The stage was set for the Senate investigation that is going to happen with Senator Amy Klobuchar and Mike Lee leading the effort.
In announcing the investigation, Klobuchar said “The high fees, site disruptions and cancellations that customers experienced shows how Ticketmaster’s dominant market position means the company does not face any pressure to continually innovate and improve. We will hold a hearing on how consolidation in the live entertainment and ticketing industry harms customers and artists alike.”
Ticketmaster blamed “unprecedented demand” and an onslaught of bots for the service interruption, but Taylor Swift was not buying Ticketmaster’s excuse. She issued this statement on her Instagram days after the fiasco:
Well. It goes without saying that l’m extremely protective of my fans. We’ve been doing this for decades together and over the years, l’ve brought so many elements of my career in house. I’ve done this SPECIFICALLY to improve the quality of my fans’ experience by doing it myself with my team who care as much about my fans as I do. It’s really difficult for me to trust an outside entity with these relationships and loyalties, and excruciating for me to just watch mistakes happen with no recourse.
There are a multitude of reasons why people had such a hard time trying to get tickets and I’m trying to figure out how this situation can be improved moving forward. 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. 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.
And to those who didn’t get tickets, all I can say is that my hope is to provide more opportunities for us to all get together and sing these songs.
Thank you for wanting to be there. You have no idea how much that means.
Indeed, the Eras was one of the most highly anticipated tours of this young decade — arguably of the 21st Century. Everyone knew demand would be off-the-charts strong. Everyone but Ticketmaster.
Frankly, I was not surprised by the meltdown. It is not the first time I have personally had an exasperating experience on Ticketmaster. Most recently, I endured multiple site crashes when I tried to buy tickets for a Harry Styles concert. Same experience: long waits in a queue and then a dysfunctional purchasing process. (I ended up buying Harry Styles tickets on StubHub. Fortunately he had scheduled so many concerts in Chicago that tickets were more plentiful and reasonably priced on the secondary market. And no I did not pay $65,000 per ticket.)
The Taylor Swift fiasco was one more black eye for one of the most despised brands in America, notorious for exploitative pricing practices and terrible customer service.
Whether Ticketmaster actually makes any improvements as a result of this remains to be seen, and I have low expectations for the Senate investigation. We have have been down this path before. Remember when Pearl Jam took on Ticketmaster’s exploitative practices? The ensuing Justice Department investigation went nowhere.
That said, I think there are a few lessons to be learned:
- We are eager to shed our lives spent in isolation and lockdown caused by the pandemic. The entire touring industry was shut down in 2020 and 2021. Pent-up demand for the human experience has been unleashed with power. And this is good. People are not ready to trade in the joy of live music for the impersonality of a digital concert.
- Twitter reminded us of the power of social at a time when the app’s future is being questioned. The anger erupting across the Twitterverse was the first and most prominent sign that something was going wrong and that Ticketmaster needed to respond. And the company did take action, but not until after fans unleashed their fury. Twitter acted as a white-hot social listening platform.
- Brands are fragile. Ever get angry at Netflix when you experience a service interruption only to discover the problem wasn’t Netflix but your Internet provider? That’s the problem when brands are interconnected: when one brand has a lapse, everyone suffers. In this case, Ticketmaster has a chokehold on the music industry. Musicians, even the mighty Taylor Swift, have to bend to Ticketmaster’s will. As a result, when Ticketmaster suffers an outage, Taylor Swift risks reputational damage and lost income, too. Taylor Swift, a master storyteller, managed her reputation well by speaking out via the statement shared above. By contrast, recently Bruce Springsteen came across as hopelessly tone deaf when he shrugged his shoulders at Ticketmaster’s “surge pricing” practices for his 2023 tour. From a financial standpoint, Taylor Swift is going to be fine. She is operating at another level of superstardom. But what about lesser known performers who are trying to break through during a bruising touring season marked by inflationary operational costs? They don’t have the resources and muscle that she has.
I don’t think there are any lessons to be learned about Ticketmaster itself. The company has been down this path before. Maybe invest those excessive ticketing fees into a better website? Oh, and about those tickets: by some remarkable stroke of luck, I scored two for me and my wife and three for a family. The seats are not that great, but they will have to do. Similar tickets are already selling for about $1,000 on StubHub (well beyond what we paid). But we are holding on to ours. It’s all about the music for us.