Ticketmaster Sucks, Happy Black Friday
The Middlebrow sides with the Swifties...
Any of us who buy tickets to shows and events knows that Ticketmaster shows up, time and time again, when we go to purchase. The ticketing service has exclusive deals with major, middle and minor venues around the world, and has huge influence over how shows and concerts are priced and sold. These exclusive arrangements also enable Ticketmaster to name its price, as a middleman, when adding fees to ticket purchases. It also allows Ticketmaster to make deals with other corporations to pre-sell events to employees of specific companies, holders of certain credit cards or status-bearers from this or that airline.
Recently, Ticketmaster canceled the public sale of tickets for Taylor Swift’s “Eras” tour, after its presale, which was meant for 1.5 million designated VIPs, was hit by demand from more than 14 million buyers, including online bots. Ticketmaster claims to be the victim here, accusing Swift’s fans and scalpers of cutting into the presale. This is a nonsense defense. Ticketmaster, owned by Liberty Media (NASDAQ: LSXMA) created and profits from access hierarchies like walled-off presages and now wants to pretend to be the victim of overly-enthusiastic fans and the clever leaders of online bot armies.
The Middlebrow doesn’t buy it. Ticketmaster has been the villain of every event ticket sale story for decades and nothing about this story kicks the organization out of its traditional role. One of the reasons that Ticketmaster can effectively hold resales in the first place is that regulators have done nothing, over the years, to create competition among primary ticket brokers. If you want to attend an event at one of the many venues owned by Madison Square Garden Entertainment, you will buy your tickets from Ticketmaster.
Imagine this in any other context — that if you wanted to buy an air ticket to Cleveland you could only buy through Priceline and could only fly “Cleveland Air.” Or, imagine you wanted to buy Microsoft stock but the Nasdaq had struck up a deal with Fidelity so that you could only buy that stock through a Fidelity brokerage account. Imagine if all of your groceries could only come from one store in town, owned by the distributors. This is what regulators have allowed Ticketmaster to do with concerts.
Swift’s representatives say that they had no choice but to use Ticketmaster to sell tickets for her first tour in five years because of those relationships with venues. If Swift wants to play arenas large enough to meet the demand her fans will create, everybody knows that all of those venues have long been Ticketmaster partners.
100% of your zero subscription fee goes to Ticketmaster.
The U.S. Senate is now holding antitrust hearings, but we’ve been through this before and Ticketmaster has always emerged unscathed. The hope here is that Swift’s crowd, who have grown up from young fandom to young, influential professionals. They might be in a position to hold their politicians to account.
Swift also has a voice in this and can’t be cowed into silence. Ticketmaster needs her as much as she needs them, after all. If she really had to, she could cut Ticketmaster out by holding a streamed show, which would probably generate another fortune.
Ticketmaster has largely evaded regulatory scrutiny because entertainment is considered something of a frivolity and people will wonder, often loudly, why some people missing a concert merits federal attention while so many other problems go unsolved. The image of Swift fans as a collection of entitled white women won’t help in that regard. That’s cynical, but true. It’s also unfair. If the Swifties can expose Ticketmaster and effectively demand change, creating real competition in the industry that will lower bogus fees and help make early access available to the biggest fans rather than the holders of this or that credit card, they would do a lot of good for society.
We all, artists and fans alike, deserve better than Ticketmaster and have for a very long time.
Happy Black Friday!