Taylor Swift’s Ticketmaster Debacle Was a Fait Accompli

Earlier this week, increasingly angry Taylor Swift fans dominated Twitter, and videos of young women radicalizing against capitalism became a trend on TikTok. You might have even seen in real time a mass Swiftie meltdown as the Ticketmaster website crashed Tuesday morning, overloaded with demand for the pop star’s 52-date Eras tour launching in March. Despite hours-long waits and bugs in the system forcing customers to the end of the line right as they were selecting seats, ultimately 2.4 million tickets were sold. By Thursday, Ticketmaster had canceled plans to open sales to the general public due to “extraordinarily high demands on ticketing systems and insufficient remaining ticket inventory to meet that demand,” as the company explained in a tweet

For some artists, these events would represent a success, as selling out more than 50 stadium shows is no small feat. Still, the confusion, technical failures, and lack of transparency were disappointing to Swift’s devoted fan base, and the artist herself has built a reputation for nurturing her relationship with the groups of people who have made her one of the few musicians who can still move physical units. So it wasn’t a surprise when Swift responded with an uncharacteristically pointed note to her 232 million Instagram followers. “It goes without saying that I’m extremely protective of my fans,” she wrote. “It’s really difficult for me to trust an outside entity with these relationships and loyalties, and excruciating for me to just watch mistakes happen with no recourse.”

She didn’t mention Ticketmaster by name, but did say that her team had discussed the possibility of high demand with the company in advance. “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,” she wrote. “It’s truly amazing that 2.4 million people got tickets, but it pisses me off that a lot of them feel like they went through several bear attacks to get them.” 

On Friday, The New York Times reported that the affair has also led to an Justice Department investigation into Ticketmaster’s parent company Live Nation. (Vanity Fair has reached out to Live Nation for comment.) For decades, Ticketmaster has been derided by music fans, and difficulty queuing for and purchasing tickets is nothing new. The unusual thing about Tuesday’s event was the fact that it was technically still a presale event intended for fans who had registered in advance. So while the general practices of Ticketmaster will be under the microscope because of this week, the collapse on Tuesday was the end result of a perfect storm that had been brewing for years, and a few momentary bad decisions.

First, as Ticketmaster pointed out, the demand for tickets was extraordinary. The Eras tour will be Swift’s first since she spent several months on the road promoting her 2018 album Reputation. In 2020, tickets had already been sold for four US dates of the Lover tour when COVID-19 forced her to scrap her plans. Unlike many artists who went dormant during the pandemic, Swift surprise-released two new records in 2020, won a Grammy for album of the year, rereleased two records of old material, and shot a short film that is getting awards buzz. 

When Swift announced the tour earlier this month, it was obvious that competition for tickets would be fierce, and early on there were signs that a historic amount of interest was brewing. When Ticketmaster launched the registration for the Verified Fan program in early November, there was already a long queue just to sign up, and soon Swift added eight more dates, and then 17 more, to the schedule. 

Verified Fan was launched in 2017, and in a press release at the time, Live Nation said that the program would “utilize unique fan-first technology to level the playing field and ensure fans compete against other fans for tickets—not software.” The idea behind the program is that various online interactions, activities, and purchases give a fan “a boost,” which ensures them a better place in the ticket. In 2017, the presale for Swift’s Reputation tour used the program and she garnered criticism for the perception that it seemed somewhat exploitative for previous purchases to translate to better ticketing options.

This time around, the press release for Swift’s tour mentioned that Verified Fans who bought a ticket to Lover Fest would “receive preferred access to participate” in the new presale, and a select number of fans were told in an email from Taylor Nation, her fanclub platform, that they did receive “boosts” for their place in line. Whether or not that actually happened is difficult to say, but on Twitter, multiple users complained that they were given boosts, but didn’t actually get a presale code. 

Tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. local venue time Tuesday, amounting to dozens of shows going on sale over the course of two hours, and almost immediately the site began to struggle. Putting so many events live at the same time might have been the most consequential decision in terms of stressing their system. So far, Ticketmaster hasn’t gone into detail about the outages and their causes, but in a Thursday interview on CNBC, Live Nation’s chairman, Greg Maffei, mentioned an onslaught of traffic that outstripped their expectations. “The Live Nation team is sympathetic to the long wait times and fans who couldn’t get what they wanted,” he said. “Reality is, it’s a function of the massive demand that Taylor Swift has. The site was supposed to be opened up for 1.5 million verified Taylor Swift fans. We had 14 million people hit the site, including bots—another story—which are not supposed to be there.”

Soon after the presale, tickets began to appear on secondary resale sites. That doesn’t always mean that those tickets exist—some sellers post tickets with the hope of acquiring them later. But ultimately it was a sign that the Ticketmaster plan for eliminating bots hadn’t succeeded in ensuring that the tickets only went to customers who planned to use them. There is still plenty of uncertainty around tickets for the tour, and other than mentioning “insufficient” inventory, Ticketmaster hasn’t commented on whether any tickets remain.