When Taylor Swift announced her 2023 US tour fans knew that securing tickets would cost them – not just financially but emotionally. Speculation began immediately about how Ticketmaster would handle the “unprecedented” demand for tickets that would inevitably come with Swift’s popularity.
At the time the tour was announced, Ticketmaster opened up registration for their ‘Verified Fan’ programme; by signing up for this, fans could register to get a pre-sale code for the show of their choice. However, even by signing up for Verified Fan, you were not guaranteed a pre-sale code.
Fans could also earn “boosts”, which made them more likely to receive a code, by purchasing merchandise, or having bought tickets to the “Loverfest” Tour that was canceled in 2020. However, even with all of the options available to help fans secure tickets, many were left empty-handed.
According to a statement released by Ticketmaster, “over 3.5 million people pre-registered for TaylorSwiftTix Presale powered by Verified Fan, which is the largest registration in history.” Out of the 3.5 million people who registered, only 1.5 million actually received pre-sale codes.
The other two million Verified Fans left without a code were put on a waiting list “on the small chance that tickets might still be available after those who received codes had shopped,” Ticketmaster said.
The second option available was the Capital One cardholder pre-sale, which was open to all eligible Capital One cardholders. This took place the day after Verified Fan one, and around 400,000 tickets were sold at that time.
After 2.4 million tickets were sold over two days during the Verified Fan and Capital One sales, the general sale was canceled due to a lack of ticket availability.
In the Ticketmaster Trenches
Long-time Taylor Swift fan Abigail Berglund was one of the lucky 1.5 million people to receive a pre-sale code for her first choice shows: “I registered for pre-sale for the two Denver shows on November 1st, and received my pre-sale code on November 14th,” she told us.
Unlike most people hoping to secure tickets, Abigail was unable to join the queue when it opened at 10:00am local time, and instead got in line at 11:00. She explained that “the queue was already paused when I joined, and there were 2,000-plus people in front of me. It didn’t unpause until around 11:40.”
According to Ticketmaster, the queue was paused because “it usually takes us about an hour to sell through a stadium show, but we slowed down some sales and pushed back others to stabilise the systems. The trade-off was longer wait times in queue for some fans.”
Abigail was in line for over four hours, at one point even leaving her laptop open while she went to class in hopes that the line would progress while she was gone. When she returned “it said that it was my turn to pick my seats, but it was frozen there for 20 minutes before I could get my seats.”
In the end, she was able to secure three tickets to each night in Denver: “For Saturday, they were $109 each with a service fee of $23.80 each and a facility charge of $4 each, and an order processing fee of $4. The total for that night was $414.45 (£341.49). They are nosebleeds on like the side of the arena, and nosebleeds were expected to be around $50,” she said.
“For Friday I got 3 tickets again, and they were $99 each, with a service fee of $21.60 each, a facility charge of $4 each, and an order processing fee of $4 total. The total was $377.85 (£311.33). They were nosebleeds as well, but closer to the back so technically worse seats.”
Ali Lamberson was another fan attempting to get tickets for the Denver shows, but she faced more challenges in her attempt. She also signed up for Verified Fan when it opened on November 1st and received her code on the 14th. She joined the waiting rooms for both shows when they opened at 9:30am.
“For Friday I realised I wasn’t gonna be getting tickets when my position went from around 900 to zero in maybe five minutes. I had spent four hours moving around 900 spaces, so I knew there was a glitch and something was wrong when I got in so quickly,” she said, and lamented that for Saturday’s show, “I knew I didn’t stand a chance from the start.”
However, due to her status as a Capital One card holder, Ali had a chance the next day to secure her tickets.
“Capital One was easy, I only spent around 30 minutes getting them, and 10 minutes was just battling trying to get seats due to everyone else buying them as I was selecting them,” she said.
She ran into one issue when “it did freeze on me for a bit when adding them to the cart, and I probably spent five minutes panicking as it buffered while adding to my cart. It did work though, and I got through the queue very quickly.”
Similar to Abigail’s experience, Ali was only able to purchase nosebleed seats.
This was Abigail’s first time buying tickets for an arena venue as she noted that “all the tickets I usually buy are for small venues. I didn’t really know what I was walking into, and I’d say I went in with low expectations,” she said.
“All of the social media posts I’ve seen about people getting Verified Fan tickets in the past warned me that it wouldn’t be a good experience for anyone, but to be honest it went worse than I planned.”
Despite the turmoil, she felt lucky to be someone who got tickets at all, even though at one point she “lost hope about getting tickets because social media posts were saying that the queue was glitching, and I was worried that would happen to me too because it was stuck for hours.”
Ali had similar feelings, saying that “the experience was miserable,” and that she loves Taylor “but I don’t know if I love her enough to try and do that again.”
To Ali, the experience of buying tickets “felt kind of defeating.” She knew that it would be difficult, but she “didn’t think it would be bad, or that Colorado had a large enough fanbase to make this day hell.”
Although she was grateful to have gotten tickets, she also felt somewhat guilty that “there’s probably some kids or more devoted swifties who wanted to go but couldn’t” and “felt physically ill” when she found out that the general sale was cancelled. “I am heartbroken for the people who never had a chance in the beginning,” Ali said.
Both Ali and Abigail resent Ticketmaster’s so-called monopoly on ticket purchases, with Ali saying “thank God I live in Colorado where most ticket sales are through AXS, I hope I never have to use Ticketmaster again.”
Taylor Swift and her fans are far from the first to take issue with Ticketmaster, The rock band Pearl Jam went up against the ticket company in court to protest the monopoly and refused to use the company for their 1995 summer tour. Ultimately they were unsuccessful in court, and although their discontent was clear, that incident had no lasting impact on Ticketmaster and their practices immediately after.
Legal action may be on the table again with more than two dozen of Swift’s fans actually suing Ticketmaster’s parent company Live Nation Entertainment. Fans are claiming that the company is abusing its power as essentially the only ticket seller on the market and engaging in “anti-competitive” practices.
An Attempt at Reparations
Swift was very open about her discontent on social media, posting a long piece in which she explained the situation from her point of view, and even openly condemned Ticketmaster, saying that “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.”
Ticketmaster responded by apologising to Swift and her fans, releasing a statement: “We want to apologize to Taylor and all of her fans — especially those who had a terrible experience trying to purchase tickets.”
The company said that it is working to “shore up our tech for the new bar that has been set by demand” for her tour. “Once we get through that, if there are any next steps, updates will be shared accordingly,” it wrote.
A few weeks after the initial pre-sale fiasco Ticketmaster appeared to start making amends, with a select number of fans who received a “boost” but no code getting a second chance at tickets. The email stated: “You have been identified as a fan who received a boost during the Verified Fan presale but did not purchase tickets. We apologize for the difficulties you may have experienced, and have been asked by Taylor’s team to create this additional opportunity for you to purchase tickets.”
After receiving this email fans had the chance to purchase two tickets without waiting in line, they simply chose a price range and the tickets appeared in their account a few days later. Seats that were allocated during this process ranged from nosebleeds to front-row pit tickets, and many of the pit seats sold went for hundreds of dollars less than what other fans paid during the original pre-sale.
Although most fans who got pre-sale tickets were excited for those who were able to secure them via the second chance method, others felt like they had been robbed as they paid significantly more for the same or worse seats.
In their statement, the company did acknowledge that lessons would be learned, saying that they are working to “shore up our tech for the new bar that has been set by demand,“ adding: “Once we get through that, if there are any next steps, updates will be shared accordingly.”
However, since the emails began enabling more fans to purchase tickets, discourse around the ticket sale debacle has calmed down and fans seem content once again, although it remains to be seen whether the episode has any lasting damage on Ticketmaster’s long-term corporate reputation.
All images by Sophie Patrick