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Karma is breaking up Ticketmaster: Consequences of the Taylor Swift ticket sale crisis

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DECEMBER 17, 2022

On Nov. 1, Taylor Swift announced her Eras Tour: a concert tour dedicated to all the different “eras” of her nearly two-decade-long musical career. Millions of fans around the world, myself included, were frantic. Swifties — as fans of Swift are known — predicted that there would be a mad rush to get tickets, especially since Swift’s popularity has skyrocketed since her previous tour in 2018.

But no one could have anticipated just how heated the fight for the Eras Tour tickets would become.

Over a month later, the ensuing controversy has resulted in a class action lawsuit, government investigations and calls to break up Ticketmaster, the largest ticket sales company in the world. 

Tickets for all 52 shows of the Eras Tour were only sold online through Ticketmaster. The first round of ticket sales on Nov. 15 was exclusively for members of Ticketmaster’s “Verified Fan” program and people who had Capital One credit cards. This was supposed to be an initial presale before ticket sales opened to the general public on Nov. 18. But things did not go as planned. 

The presale shattered expectations. The Ticketmaster website crashed within minutes of the sale opening up, leaving fans frustrated. Social media was flooded with stories of Swifties experiencing issues such as hours-long wait times and technical glitches. 

Perhaps more than anything, fans were disappointed about the unprecedented ticket prices, since Swift did not opt out of Ticketmaster’s “dynamic pricing” feature, which adjusts ticket prices based on demand. This is a decision many have since criticized — some fans could not afford tickets at all, some purchased them for values higher than expected and others “panic-purchased” expensive tickets in the “nosebleeds” out of desperation. The demand for tickets was extremely high — more than 3.5 million people registered for the “Verified Fan” program alone — and the process of purchasing a ticket was so difficult that when the presale ended, millions of Swifties were deeply annoyed with Ticketmaster.

If you’ve tried to get tickets to see a mainstream artist live in recent years, you’ve probably had some frustrating experiences using Ticketmaster. The company has been criticized for having a monopoly over ticket sales in the United States. It’s pretty much impossible to avoid Ticketmaster when seeing a concert — thousands of diverse artists and music venues across the country must all rely on the same massive company to distribute their tickets. 

It’s pretty much impossible to avoid Ticketmaster when seeing a concert — thousands of diverse artists and music venues across the country must all rely on the same massive company to distribute their tickets. 

Ticketmaster sells over 500 million tickets worldwide each year, and eight out of every 10 ticket sales in the United States are through Ticketmaster. The company has faced widespread criticism in recent months for things like selling Bruce Springsteen tickets for upwards of $4,000 each and selling hundreds of fake tickets to Bad Bunny fans. This criticism against Ticketmaster has roots in a series of events that took place over a decade earlier. 

In 2010, Ticketmaster merged with event promoter Live Nation to create the nation’s leading live entertainment company. Critics argued that the merger would result in “less choice and higher prices” in the live entertainment industry, but the merger was approved anyway. After the merger, Live Nation would allegedly coerce venues into using Ticketmaster to distribute tickets and retaliate against venues that did not want to use Ticketmaster. 

Over the past few decades, the average price for a concert ticket has more than tripled. This is in large part because of the exorbitant hidden fees that Ticketmaster imposes onto its customers. The fees that are attached to each ticket can sometimes be more than 75% of the original ticket price. One fan paid more than $500 in fees for her and her friends’ tickets to one of Swift’s tour dates in Chicago. Ticketmaster has additionally been accused of not preventing tickets from being sold to bots, which are used to resell tickets on third-party websites for much higher than face value. 

However, because it has nearly absolute control over the ticketing industry with little to no competition, Ticketmaster has no incentives to lower its prices or improve its services. Unless alternatives emerge, customers will keep coming back to Ticketmaster despite the high prices and poor service, simply  because they have no other options. Ticketmaster’s unregulated power allows it to profit wildly at the expense of artists and fans. It’s important to note that ticket sales in the United States could look very different. What if independent venues could manage their own ticket sales instead of being locked into exclusive contracts with Ticketmaster? 

When the presale for the Eras Tour ended, many Swifties were left empty-handed, but still hopeful that they would be able to secure tickets in the general sale the following day. But then, Ticketmaster completely canceled the general sale for “Eras” tour tickets, citing “historically unprecedented demand.” At the same time, tickets were being resold on third-party websites for extraordinarily high amounts — sometimes over tens of thousands of dollars. For example, two tickets for Swift’s May 27 show in New Jersey were listed at $75,000 each. 

Fans were furious. Hashtags such as #CancelTicketmaster and #TicketMasterisOverParty made the rounds on Twitter and other social media sites. Swifties’ outrage extended beyond their personal anger at not being able to secure tickets — they began asking broader questions. Why does one company have nearly exclusive control over ticket sales for the entire live entertainment industry? What does this suggest about how unchecked corporate power can harm consumers? 

Why does one company have nearly exclusive control over ticket sales for the entire live entertainment industry? What does this suggest about how unchecked corporate power can harm consumers? 

Within hours of Ticketmaster’s announcement that the public sale had been canceled, Swifties took the Internet by storm. They sent thousands of letters, signed online petitions and organized via social media. Prominent politicians including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Amy Klobuchar responded to the controversy by advocating for the breakup of Ticketmaster and calling for congressional hearings on Ticketmaster’s monopoly. State attorneys general in Tennessee and North Carolina are investigating Ticketmaster for violating state consumer protection and antitrust laws. And on Nov. 18, it was reported that the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating Ticketmaster for abusing its power over the live entertainment industry. 

Aggrieved fans also turned to the legal system, filing a class action lawsuit against Ticketmaster for several offenses including fraud, predatory pricing and antitrust violations. However, it remains to be seen whether Swifties will be able to have their claims heard in court. Ticketmaster’s terms of service contain a mandatory arbitration agreement and class action waiver.  When users sign up to use Ticketmaster, they “agree” to not sue or join a class action lawsuit against the company — although they are probably not aware of this and have no choice but to accept the terms and conditions. Previous lawsuits against Ticketmaster have been dismissed because of these agreements, which add to Ticketmaster’s already-immense power by preventing the company from being held accountable in court. 

In response to the situation, Swift herself was fiercely protective of her fans. She issued a statement in an Instagram story that was critical of Ticketmaster and accused the company of misrepresenting its ability to handle the demand for tickets. 

One silver lining to fans’ inability to secure tickets is that Swifties’ collective outrage has helped bring awareness to Ticketmaster’s predatory practices. On social media, many Swifties described themselves as being “radicalized” by the experience. They recognized that while fans and artists suffer, Ticketmaster profits, and there’s no reason why one company should have such a chokehold over an entire industry. The Swifties have been unleashed — and with this development, the fight to break up Ticketmaster may finally succeed. 

Maybe it’s time to reconsider the way live entertainment ticket sales are conducted in the United States. Ticketmaster’s botched handling of the Eras Tour ticket sales hopefully represents a turning point in the debate over its uncontrolled power. If there’s one thing that is certain in all of this, it’s that while Swift may be the anti-hero, Ticketmaster certainly became the villain. 

Contact Sanjana Manjeshwar at 


DECEMBER 17, 2022