While I won't bore you with the academic research or the history of these issues dating back over 10 years, I did want to discuss a rather topical instance of Ticketmaster gone wrong that's played out on my Twitter feed this morning and over the past week. Fans were absolutely elated when Olivia Rodrigo finally announced her Sour World Tour (or North America and Europe tour at least). Everyone eagerly enrolled in the Verified Fan Program in the hopes of getting a presale code to have a better chance at tickets, and everything seemed to be going normally.
From the start, everyone knew this would be a hard ticket to get. Olivia has never toured before, but she's rocketed to immense fame with her first pop single going number 1 and wracking up several Grammy nominations for "Drivers License" and Sour. Not only were fans from her High School Musical the Musical the Series days and more recent fans vying for tickets, but casual listeners also want the chance to see one of the hottest tours of 2022.
To complicate it further, Olivia is playing mid-range venues on almost all of her stops like the 713 Music Hall in Houston which holds 5,000 people and is about average for the tour. On the upper end are venues of about 7,000 and on the lower there are stops with capacity around 3,500. While it's understandable that Olivia would want the chance to play more intimate rooms to gain experience playing live, in some cities, she definitely could've upgraded to arenas, or, at the very least, done an entirely amphitheater tour. This seemed like both a way to play it safe on selling out the entire tour in record time and create more of a first tour feeling. The age of her career and her level of popularity have been misaligned her entire career, and it was clear from the start that, though amazing, it would cause plenty of snags along the way.
The first major red flag came with the release of the Verified Fan codes, which are given out in limited number, usually for access to presale. Verified Fan is meant to get the tickets into the hands of actual fans, not bots or scalpers, but it doesn't do a very good job of it. The system randomly gives out codes to those who register that can only be used for a specific date and with the Ticketmaster account that was signed in at the time of registration so the codes are unique to each user. Despite what the name implies, there is nothing in the registration that would validate that you are a real fan and not someone looking to make a buck flipping a ticket.
Usually, the majority of people get a code either on their main account or with the help of friends and family. I've gotten one for every show I've ever submitted for, sometimes I'm even pre-approved like for Lover Fest. And while there are always a fans who don't get codes, there's always tickets in the general sale. Or there used to be...
Of the 15 or so people I knew who registered for verified fan, only one received a code. The stats on my Twitter timeline were even bleaker with tons of mutuals scrambling to find a way to buy tickets. Everyone knew it would be competitive, but seeing how hard it was to access the sale at all was troubling. Fans were bonding together with accounts like Handwritten Tickets helping coordinate a system so that fans with codes could buy extra tickets for fans without, but many were left without a way to get tickets.
This reality got more crushing when Ticketmaster publicized that, unlike any ticket sale I've ever seen, they were going to allow the shows to completely sell out during presale so there would be no second chance at a general sale. Even hours after the sale had first begun, you still had to have a Verified Fan approved account to even view available tickets, let along purchase them. This is a policy that I hope is not continued. One of the key elements of the ticket buying process is the fact that a certain number of tickets are reserved for the general public. This system requires essentially winning multiple lotteries to walk away with a ticket.
The nightmare didn't stop, even for fans lucky enough to score a code to their city's show. One Twitter user reported that there were 21,000 people in the queue for her show at a venue that held 3,500 fans. Olivia Rodrigo Charts reported that in Europe the number of people in the waiting room was 1,242.8% higher than the number of available tickets. Other Twitter users posted screenshots of being confronted with sky high prices for the few remaining standard tickets. Though the base prices were set generally between $40-$100 depending on the venue and the section, few actually got tickets for those prices. As the majority of tickets are earmarked for Ticketmaster's predatory Official Platinum program, the prices fluctuate based on demand, and clearly, with the number of people eager to get tickets, this spelled a major payday for the platform.
Pictures showed $850 general admission tickets before fees, and $1,078 lower bowl seats. One general admission ticket at checkout with fees included with totaled $1,959.60. No concert ticket should ever go for this price. Ever. I've had my own personal irritations with this system as it stood in the way of me seeing Harry Styles recently in LA as I watched a handful of new pit tickets get released for... $1,012 which was devastating to see after diligently watching the ticket page for months hoping new seats would get released. Nosebleeds at the Forum were listed for upwards of $600.
Ticketmaster claims this program will "give the most passionate fans fair and safe access to the best tickets," but wealth has nothing to do with your level of fandom, and this practice pressures, often, teenage girls into paying unbelievable sums of money when faced with the choice between paying or not being able to see their favorite artists. Even with diligent research and logging into presale the minute it goes live, truly face value tickets are nearly impossible to procure. There is truly no affordable way to purchase concert tickets anymore.
Theoretically, if no one purchased these outrageously priced tickets, the price would go back down to something closer to normal, but with such a sought-after show, many aren't willing to take that risk, and even these tickets go in the blink of an eye. Many who had a code finally got through the queue to be confronted with an apologetic message that there were no more tickets to be had. There's always the chance that more tickets will be quietly released in a few weeks or months, as they are. For those under AXS, this could work in patient fans favor. I wound up getting a face value ticket to Lorde's second night months after the show technically sold out due to these timed releases because AXS doesn't hyper-inflate their pricing with an Official Platinum-like program in my experience. For those stuck with Ticketmaster, though, there will probably only be more heartache.
Which sends the most desperate of the fans with the financial means to places like StubHub and SeatGeek where scalpers have already posted their insane mark-ups because, of course, there are always people who buy tickets for the wrong reasons. Ticketmaster offers a few techniques to try to discourage reselling, none of which are very effective, but it remains to be seen if any of those will be employed here, like not allowing in-platform resale. The LA tickets, sold through AXS have a release hold till 24 hours in advance for transfers, but it remains to be seen what in-house action Ticketmaster will take since all the ticketing pages are still locked for Verified Fan only.
Olivia Rodrigo is already the first show listed on StubHub's website landing page. In some cities, prices start around $300, which seems generous compared to the more frequent starting prices around $500/600 with listings well over $1,000 across reselling platforms. By the number of disappointed fans and active resale listings, it's safe to say that the scalpers have won yet agin.
It's incredibly disappointing to see so many fans lose the chance to see Olivia Rodrigo on her first tour. I hope after gathering experience on this outing she'll be back soon with an arena tour, much like Harry Style's first run back in 2018 when he launched his solo career. Some of this disaster does fall with Olivia Rodrigo's team choosing to give her the chance to play smaller venues and the mismatched supply and demand, but it doesn't take away from the fact that there were so many tickets that went into the hands of resellers, not fans, and the warped pricing would've been in effect regardless.
While there's really nothing to be learned from this experience, it continues to highlight the need for a ticketing company and ticketing policies that work in the favor of fans, not just maximizing profit. While that is the driver of all of businesses, in an industry as emotionally driven as music, artists need to realize that allowing things like Official Platinum to be used during their sales, inconsistent and baseless allotments of presale codes, and sky-high prices are hurting their relationships with their fans who would go through quite a bit, and do day in and day out, to support them. Artists are really the only force with the power to even begin to have a conversation about modifying or ending the ticketing nightmare as fan's frustrations have been blatantly ignored for years.
I hope they play a more active role in developing a better, more fair system in the future and one day fans will once again be a priority when it comes to the live music industry.
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