By Avani Vasudevan, Presciant
Ticketmaster’s poor pre-sale preparation nearly tarnished what is arguably the strongest musical brand: the Taylor Swift brand. If you’ve turned on the radio since 2006, then you’ve heard a song by or know of the 32-year-old singer-songwriter. Taylor Swift’s brand awareness is one of the industry’s strongest as she is the most streamed artist globally and was crowned the American Music Awards “Artist of the Decade.” Yet, her loyal fan base was shaken up when Ticketmaster fumbled the presale of her upcoming “Eras” tour.
Given her enormous fan base and people’s eagerness to return to live music after Covid, it was predictable that the demand for a Taylor Swift ticket would be very large. There is something undoubtedly unique about a live concert. It is essentially impossible to replicate the live experience remotely. The energy of watching, dancing, and singing while surrounded by hundreds of people who also share love for live music is irreplaceable. Now that people can go back to concerts in-person, the value of the live music industry, which plunged by 75% to $7.3 billion in 2020, has shot back up to $26 billion in 2022. Pressure is building up for the industry as demand is overtaking supply. What no fan wants is eagerly to go online for tickets, only to be met with website crashes, bugs, processing failures, and long wait times. However, this was exactly the experience of over 3 million Taylor Swift fans who signed up for presale codes from Ticketmaster.
Ticketmaster gave presale codes to 1.5 million people, and the unlucky rest were placed on a waitlist. When the concerts rapidly sold out, Ticketmaster responded to the backlash from fans with, “never before has a Verified Fan on-sale sparked so much attention – or traffic. This disrupted the predictability and reliability that is the hallmark of our Verified Fan platform.” However, it is clear from the current trends in the concert industry and the simple fact that Taylor Swift has not been on tour since before the pandemic that the presale would attract a huge amount of traffic. There was no surprise, and the numbers don’t lie.
Ticketmaster’s 2010 acquisition of Live Nation, one of the largest concert management groups and the world’s largest concert promoter, should have given the vendor further insight into Taylor Swift’s ticket demand. In 2019, 27 million people attended Live Nation shows in the second quarter of the year, versus 33.5 million in the second quarter of 2022, a 20% increase. Similarly, Live Nation sold 100 million tickets during July of this year, up from 74 million in 2019. Overall, concert ticket sales were up 45% in February 2020 compared to 2019. Ticketmaster—a brand that prides itself on user experience—should be able to comprehend this data, adjust the sales process, and hire more servers to keep up with demand. Its claim of “unprecedented demand” despite all signs hinting at this very thing occurring indicates that Ticketmaster lacks the motivation to do what is right.
Celebrities are brands, and any company that they partner with is, in turn, an extension of fans’ experience with the artist’s core brand. The “SKIMS” website is an extension of experiencing the Kim Kardashian brand, “Fentybeauty.com” is an accessible touchpoint to Rihanna herself as a brand. In this case, the Ticketmaster experience was tied to Taylor’s name and ran the risk of hurting Taylor’s brand. However, Taylor Swift is a master at creating space from disorder to defend her own brand. She’s had to defend her brand against all kinds of pop culture drama, from feuds with Kanye West and the Kardashians to media attacks on her love life. This has enabled Taylor to swiftly, skillfully, and seamlessly respond after learning about her fans’ ticket difficulties: “it goes without saying that I’m extremely protective of my fans…It’s really difficult for me to trust an outside entity with these relationships and loyalties and excruciating for me just to watch mistakes happen with no recourse.” She also took action and is making Ticketmaster hold an additional sale option for each verified fan who was unable to purchase during the initial presale window.
Taylor Swift remains loyal to her fans and makes genuine efforts to express her own frustrations with the situation. She didn’t escape any criticism, as she has been accused by fans of using dynamic pricing (pricing that increases when demand increases). But overall, Swift was able to retain her image.
The Ticketmaster and Taylor story holds vital lessons for all brands. From Taylor Swift:
- Be ceaselessly vigilant of your brand
- Choose your partners carefully and realize that their reputation can affect yours
- Take accountability and rally for fans
- Don’t shy away from the conversation.
- Watch the trends
- Anticipate what they will mean for your business.
- Take action fast
- Recognize that your ultimate customers are the consumers who buy the tickets.
- Don’t sacrifice the consumer’s interest for the sake of extra margin points.