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Translated by Nadia Sol Scheneider 

 

In 2022, American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift once again positioned herself as one of its main protagonists. With the surprise announcement and publication of her tenth studio album “Midnights” (2022), the artist once again reaffirmed her powerful influence and relevance, breaking historical records in the streaming era. But not everything was rosy.

With the announcement of “The Eras Tour”, her sixth musical tour, the artist proposes to cover all the “eras” that make up her career through her different discographic works. In mid-November, the advance purchase of tickets was made possible, which covers only her native country next year. The result: a generalized headache.

While the sale was a resounding commercial success – the artist alone in the pre-sale exceeded the record of revenues with respect to musical tours marked by the Queen of Pop Madonna in the wake of the “Sticky and Sweet Tour” (2008/2009) – reaching almost 600 million dollars. But the sale was chaotic, with unexpected but by no means surprising consequences for those who have been observing the degradation of the state of the live music industry for some time.

In just two hours, Swift exhausted the pre-sale with around two million tickets sold, the largest number of tickets sold by Ticketmaster in its history. Those who were able to get their ticket can consider themselves lucky: Ticketmaster’s website crashed, leaving thousands of fans with empty hands, many of them expelled from the waiting line without explanation. And as was also predictable, many of those tickets bought almost instantly were found in resale on sites like Stubhub and Seatgeek at exorbitant prices.
Social networks were filled with fans with the hashtag #WeLoveYouTaylor, showing solidarity with the artist for what happened, placing the total responsibility for what happened on Ticketmaster and Live Nation (the world’s leading concert organizing company).

After this cyber earthquake, Ticketmaster canceled the subsequent pre-sale for Friday, November 18th, after 90% of the advance tickets were sold. Such was the magnitude of what happened, that the United States Department of Justice opened an antitrust investigation against Live Nation.

The obvious howl that emerges from this issue: a grotesque and full demonstration of the abuses and intrinsic failures of the capitalist system in its market logic.

The ABC of market functioning: supply and demand. Demand is immense, which explains the high value of the tickets. Given how problematic the sale was, Ticketmaster poured out some impressions on what happened, analyzing that “Taylor would need to perform 900 stadium shows – almost twenty times the number she currently performs. This represents a stadium show every night from now until the next two and a half years”. Unsustainable.

In recent years, secondary market ticket sales sites such as those mentioned – Stubhub and Seatgeek – have made it clear to managers and record label agents linked to the promotion of tours of major artists that the following: the drop in ticket prices, taking into account…The lowering of ticket prices taking into account the standards of the “free market.” This means, if the artist (in this case Swift) puts a nominal value of 200 dollars on a ticket, and it is almost immediately resold on Stubhub for thousands of dollars, this latter value is the real value of said ticket. This is due to the “dynamic pricing” strategy implemented by Ticketmaster that reflects market demand (bingo! The invisible hand of the market). This was explained by a spokesperson for the company: “Promoters and artists’ representatives define pricing strategies, parameters, and ranges around all tickets, including dynamic pricing and fixed prices. When there are many more people wanting to attend an event than the number of available tickets, prices go up.”

But the fact is that the total responsibility of what happened, although it can be extrapolated to any artist of worldwide appeal, is not reduced only to the organizing companies or sales platforms, but also lies with the artists themselves. If the price of an admission is not very accessible, it is precisely because that artist also decides that it should be. Control is not unilateral. And this was demonstrated by the mode dispensed by Pearl Jam – for over three decades one of the most beloved bands and with loyal fans around the world. The group took the initiative to make accessible tickets and stop the parallel markets.

With the sale of tickets for their latest “Gigatour” tour, they used a combination of Ticketmaster verification technology and the band’s own fan club (the “Ten Club”) for the sale of tickets that would limit resales, and were primarily directed to those fans who were members of the club with the most years of membership. If some fans decided to resell, they could only do so at the nominal price and only to other band fans from the Ticketmaster platform called “Ticket exchange at nominal price.” The results? Highly positive: scalping (a financial strategy of exchanging assets in a very short period of time to make a profit) was virtually reduced to zero. Pearl Jam decided to obstruct the abuses of opportunists and sell tickets at the price they set. The same band that in the 90s maintained a intense conflict with TicketMaster due to the value of their tickets, today they work together for the benefit of their followers.

Five full dates for “The Eras Tour” were sold in their entirety through SeatGeek. The problem is not minor: even SeatGeek suffered problems of long virtual waiting time for purchase, buyers being expelled from the line without any reason, and unprecedented bot traffic (and also fans). It was clearly unsustainable to sell 52 dates without division among them to get a place. But this depends on the artist. Swift stated via Instagram: “I’m not going to excuse anyone because we have asked (Ticketmaster) how many times if they could handle such demand and they have told us yes.” Although the artist has been recommended to make an incremental sales mode, she preferred the imminent crash.

Particularly SeatGeek is not worried about its competition, as many customers have chosen them for the sale of large-scale sports events and musical shows.

Particularly, SeatGeek is not concerned about its competition, given that many customers have chosen them for the sale of large-scale sports events and musical shows. However, it collapsed with the sale of five shows. Naturally, many decide not to choose Ticketmaster, whose dominance and impact on the market is in slow decline. The company, which has merged with Live Nation, declared that what it deduces from these operations is 30%. But there are those who claim that Ticketmaster controls 70% of the ticket sales business. Together, Ticketmaster and Live Nation control 83% of the market. A clear monopoly is in the sights of the US Department of Justice.

Paradoxically, the US Congress has tried to pass legislation to prevent artists from preventing reselling. One of the main drivers of this idea is Bill Prascell, the main promoter of “The Boss” Bruce Springsteen. In August 2022, a controversy arose around the price of his tickets. But a short time after they went on sale, fans found that the expected prices were not remotely close to what was imagined. Suddenly, they were faced with a demand-based pricing dynamic and in a flash some tickets reached five thousand dollars.
But no “scalper” was involved in this case, but a new nominal pricing arrangement was put into effect, to the confusion of their followers. In the face of widespread complaints, Bill Werde, former editorial director of Billboard magazine, tweeted: “Hard to believe that Bruce Springsteen is the one who makes fans miss scalpers”. Representatives of the renowned artist expressed: “Beyond comments about some tickets with a value of one thousand dollars or more, our true average price is in the two hundred dollars range.” And they continued: “For the current state of things, it is a fair price (one thousand dollars or more) to see someone universally recognized as one of the greatest artists of his generation.”

However, dissenting voices continued to resonate. Pete Maimone, a New Jersey agent responsible for coordinating nominal prices for veteran fans, lamented: “It broke our hearts. We didn’t want to participate in this scheme to take money from fans”.

Given the power of artists to set low or high prices, this helps tickets increase in value in real time, leaving resellers with less money. But it operates in the same resale market, to compete with resellers in their own territory. In other words: Ticketmaster becomes Ticketmaster.

A deafening silence was the first response from the Springsteen environment that disappointed and surprised many of his followers. The Boss himself told Rolling Stone: “There are those tickets that will increase in price anyway somewhere. Who cuts the tickets or someone will take that money. I say ‘Hey, why shouldn’t that money go to those who work three hours sweating meters above?’ An opportunity was created for that to happen. And at that point, we went for it. I know it was unpopular with some fans, but if there is any complaint about it, you can have your money back”, he said without hesitation. Let it be clear that it is the Boss.

t is true that we do not get indignant when we buy tickets, for example, to go on vacation during high season accepting the market value. Why is it then odious when our favorite artist does it? And the answer does not admit rationality, but rather the emotional. Both artists and their audience forge a bond (which even leads to devotion and loyalty), and the latter organize their lives (time, spaces, money) to be able to see their idols. Nobody wants to think about that bond coldly, but quite the opposite. And that’s where an exogenous factor intrudes into the chilly capitalist logic. In the end, Springsteen’s words endorse an unbearable inequality between those who have the money to enjoy his show and those who don’t.

It is also true that ticket prices – in the United States, at least – are generally defined by the establishments where the concerts take place, keeping 80% of the agreed amount. Not only in the North, but in any jurisdiction, users should enjoy greater transparency when buying their tickets, having the total cost of the ticket at first sight, as well as a clear discrimination of the recipients of such fees.

This happening is not minor given that the United States has the largest record market on the planet (along with England and Japan). Possible regulatory solutions could be to set a strict cap on reseller prices (something that England has done with the Fan Fair Alliance organization – born precisely to prevent the escalation of ticket prices unexpectedly). To make the fees transparent, that is, to exhibit the corresponding percentage that the artists, establishments or sellers of these transactions receive. That the price of these tickets figures exactly its value, and that fans are not left with the bitter taste of a sudden increase and – above all – not depriving artists of the definition of the price they consider convenient for their fans.

Unfortunately, the audience does not have enough information to know that artists have more decision-making power over this issue and to redirect their complaints so that the problem is addressed from a fairer perspective and thus improve the experience and the bond between the two, which is after all the most important thing. Nevertheless, Springsteen set a precedent in which these considerations are discarded. It remains to wait for an awakening of fans’ consciousness so that this situation can be radically modified.

 


 

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