Ticketmaster and its business model: a major obstacle for music lovers everywhere

[Image courtesy of MEL Magazine]

By Grace Koennecke, Columns Editor

As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, musicians are eager to tour again after two years of practically no live music. While the excitement of touring seems to be manageable now as mask mandates disappear and venues are packing in fans again, there’s been an extreme concern over the most important part of being able to go to a concert: getting a ticket.

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Throughout 2022, many fan bases have experienced trouble obtaining tickets through ticket companies such as Ticketmaster and its sister company, Live Nation, seeing an increase in the cost of tickets and witnessing long waits during pre-sale time slots due to third-party vendors. Recently, this occurred after Taylor Swift announced her upcoming “Eras” tour, which caused fans to wait hours in line on Ticketmaster to sign up for a pre-sale code and, afterwards, to buy tickets. 

Because of historically unprecedented demand for tickets, Swift also had to cancel her general on-sale planned for Nov. 18, with Ticketmaster announcing: “Due to extraordinarily high demands on ticketing systems and insufficient remain ticket inventory to meet that demand, tomorrow’s public on-sale for Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour has been cancelled.”

Similarly, after Paramore announced their “This is Why” fall tour, a countless number of fans weren’t able to buy a ticket due to complications during and after the pre-sale time slot opened this past August.

For music lovers everywhere, this simply is catastrophic, as many have waited years to attend shows again. So, why is this happening? 

According to Relevant Magazine, inflation is a major cause of why ticket prices are increasing, while supply and demand is also another factor. Meanwhile, production costs have risen dramatically over the last two years to make up for the halt COVID-19 had on touring staff. When artists stopped touring at the start of 2020, crews and venues hit a financial wall, losing a lot of their income. Now that touring is beginning to make a comeback, production costs have thus risen to help adjust for this loss of income. 

Artists are also now taking a larger cut out of ticket prices than before due to the rise of streaming platforms. Ten years ago, artists made a vast amount of their profit off of album sales, but now, many artists rely on their tours to supplement their income because of the way streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music provide relatively free access to music. To ensure musicians earn a decent paycheck, many of them take 85% of the profits from their ticket sales, leaving the other 15% for promoters, Billboard said. Yet, this causes more problems as promoters want a decent paycheck as well, upping their fees and charges for fans, which, as a result, makes concert access financially harder for a majority of people.

Ticketmaster and Live Nation have also raised their ticket prices because of the generational shift live music has undergone. TIME said that average ticket prices have more than tripled since the mid-1990s, even before they hit the resale market, due to an increase in artists choosing to put on elaborate productions for major arena tours. Also, fees that are added on to each ticket by these vendors can be as high as 78% of the ticket price, which are then divided among the venues, promotors, artists and Ticketmaster and Live Nation. 

Yet, the biggest reason Ticketmaster has caused so many issues for fans to receive concert tickets is because the vendor holds back as much as 90% of the tickets for the secondary market, aka  credit card companies, promotors, radio stations or artist fan clubs. At the same time, other tickets are bought in bulk by third-party resale sites such as VividSeats, which use bots to resell them at a markup price. According to Variety, ticket prices “…usually [go] to professional brokers charging outlandish markups, which a 2018 government report said can range from an average of nearly 50% to an astonishing 7,000%.” For Swift’s upcoming Nashville performance on May 5, 2023, resale tickets on StubHub start at $450 each. For her Chicago performance on June 2, 2023, they start at $630.

Because of this, bands in the past such as Pearl Jam and Pixies have tried to cut Ticketmaster in particular out of the process, but its dominance as a major ticket vendor has made it very hard for artists to eliminate it completely. 

Now, the main agenda of all music fans is how to find cheaper tickets. TIME said that using reliable resale apps such as Gametime, Seat Geek, and Stubhub can provide fans with prices that are sometimes lower than Ticketmaster’s, but advised caution, as many of these vendors have also had issues with fees and markups.

Recently, a growing number of individuals and organizations have called for change regarding Ticketmaster and Live Nation’s predatory practices. Organizations such as the Future of Music Coalition and the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers have called for significant changes in the music industry for a long time, and concert-goers and elected representatives alike have made calls for investigation into Live Nation’s business practices. On Nov. 18, the New York Times reported that the Justice Department has opened an antitrust investigation into Live Nation Entertainment. 

It seems that this issue won’t be solved anytime soon, especially as inflation progresses and venues search for more staff members. Even the federal government is involved, with a group of lawmakers proposing legislation that would change how Ticketmaster does business. Overall, there’s so far no solution for this problem, causing music fans to worry about what the accessibility and future of live music holds. 

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