Swifties aren’t dressing for the Eras Tour, they’re dressing for revenge.
On the morning of Monday, Nov. 14, Blake Barnett logged onto Ticketmaster, the largest ticketing platform in the world, to battle it out with millions of other Taylor Swift fans to purchase verified fan presale tickets to the Eras Tour. The demand was sure to be high. This is Swift’s first tour in over five years. But no one, not even Liberty Media CEO and Live Nation chairman Greg Maffei, expected an estimated 14 million people to hit the site that day.
Speaking to CNBC on Nov. 17, Maffei said, “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… Despite all the challenges, we did sell over 2 million tickets.”
For the millions of people in the queue for tickets, it was a nightmare. “When it came time for me to start buying tickets to my show, everything went to shit,” Barnett, a 30-year-old lawyer, told Mashable. “We were sitting in pre-waiting lines for two or three hours before it even unpaused. When it finally did, I got pushed up super quickly to the Denver show on the 15th. And right when I got ‘You’re the next in line,’ it gave me an error code and said rejoin the queue. I was shoved back behind 38,000 people. That happened three times.”
Barnett’s experience wasn’t unique. Ticketmaster’s website crashed half an hour before verified fan presale tickets were set to go on sale; fans waited in the queue for hours just to receive error messages; and Ticketmaster rescheduled the Capital One cardholder presale for the following day due to “historic demand” and full-on canceled the public ticket sale days later.
Swift took to Instagram to address the issue directly with her fans. On Nov. 18, the “Anti-Hero” singer said, “We asked [Ticketmaster] multiple times, if they could handle this kind of demand and we were assured they would.”
It was also announced that the Justice Department had opened an antitrust investigation into Ticketmaster’s parent company, Live Nation Entertainment.
On Nov. 19, Ticketmaster released its own statement. “We want to apologize to Taylor and all her fans, especially those who had a terrible experience trying to purchase tickets,” it read, before addressing some of the more logistical errors head-on. “We estimate about 15% of interactions across the site experienced issues, and that’s 15% too many, including passcode validation errors that caused fans to lose tickets they had carted.”
But for fans of Swift and other artists, the company’s detailed reasoning behind the debacle only merited more ire. Fans know just how painful long Ticketmaster queues and its “dynamic pricing” can be. The problem is that so much of the live music industry relies on Ticketmaster; it’s the biggest company in the ticket-selling game. That’s largely because of the 2010 merger between Ticketmaster, which operated roughly 70 percent of the concert ticket market in the U.S. at the time, and Live Nation, the world’s largest concert promoter.
Concert goers are often at the mercy of Ticketmaster’s crashing website, exorbitant fees (Barnett paid over $500 in fees for her and her friends’ tickets to one of Swift’s Chicago tour dates), and dynamic pricing, Ticketmaster’s very own version of surge pricing that’s intended to help artists maximize their profits from ticket sales. Bruce Springsteen tickets jumped up to as high as $4,000 thanks to Ticketmaster’s dynamic pricing, and the presale for Harry Styles’ Love on Tour UK dates crashed the site. But no incident has caused the kind of seismic response Swift’s Eras Tour has — and a huge part of that is the sheer number of people who tried, and failed, to get tickets.
Antitrust advocates and Swifties alike are taking advantage of this moment to try to break up the ticketing giant.
Barnett is one of 1.5 million Swifties who received presale codes that gave them access to the Verified Fan presale window. After hours of frustration, she, along with thousands of others, took to Twitter to complain about the miserable process. “By the time we got into the [ticketing for the] Denver show, all that was left was upper bowl and lower bowl — super expensive tickets. We wound up getting tickets for Denver in the lower bowl… and they were $355 each. Meanwhile, I have floor seats that were cheaper than that for Massachusetts,” she told Mashable.
Barnett then took her frustrations one step further. Two days after the presale descended into chaos, she tweeted, “calling all swiftie lawyers: lmk if you wanna be added to a GC to brainstorm if there’s anything we can do to take actions against @ticketmaster.” She called the group chat “Vigilante Legal,” a play on Swift’s song “Vigilante Shit.” In less than 24 hours, 35 Swifties, mostly lawyers, had joined it to strategize. Now it’s a full-fledged LLC. “Something needs to be done. They’re violating antitrust laws. The monopoly merger should have never been allowed to happen between Live Nation and Ticketmaster,” Barnett said.
Kat, who asked to be referred to by their first name for their privacy, is one of the Swifties who immediately joined Barnett’s chat. “I’m not a lawyer myself, but I wanted to lend my expertise in any way that I could,” Kat told Mashable. She works in regulatory compliance.
She is one of many fans who were promised “preferred access” to the Verified Fan presale, via an email from Ticketmaster, for being a ticket holder of Swift’s canceled 2019 tour, Lover Fest. But some Lover Fest ticket holders say they didn’t get access to the Verified Fan Presale. In screenshots provided to Mashable, Ticketmaster Fan Support on Twitter told Lover Fest ticket holders that they were misinformed and that they “did not have priority” for the new presale. “What I take issue with is contradictory statements, misleading claims, and confusion of the consumer base, a consumer base that has nowhere else to go for their ticket-buying needs,” Kat tells Mashable.
In her social media response, Swift said she and her team are “trying to figure out how this situation can be improved moving forward.” It’s been nearly 27 years since Pearl Jam took on Ticketmaster in court, but if any artist can swear off the corportation and bypass it altogether it might just be one of biggest pop stars in the world. “Over the years, I’ve brought so many elements of my career in house,” she said in her statement. “I’ve done this SPECIFICALLY to improve the quality of my fans’ experience by doing it myself with my team who care as much about my fans as I do. 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.”
Of course, this whole thing is bigger than Swift. It’s a pain point for fans of all artists. Barnett has received DMs from people who “clearly aren’t Swifties” giving her information on the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Federal Trade Commission. Her group chat is currently researching and reaching out to other Swifties to provide proof that will aid them in filing reports to the Federal Trade Commission. They’re also drafting an amicus brief to shop around to politicians.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was one of several who seized the opportunity to educate fans on the importance of antitrust law and the dangers of monopolies. During the presale, she tweeted, “Daily reminder that Ticketmaster is a monopoly, its merger with LiveNation should never have been approved, and they need to be reigned [sic] in.” Representative Ihan Omar, Senator Blumenthal, Senator Klobuchar also tweeted in support of antitrust enforcement.
Antitrust law wasn’t on 28-year-old Elizabeth Burg’s radar before Nov. 14, but now she’s all for its enforcement. “The way I got radicalized was through buying tickets,” Burg told Mashable. She urged her fellow Swifties to sign the Actionnetwork.org petition to “Tell the Department of Justice to Investigate Ticketmaster.”
Burg is a UX UI designer, and like Barnett, is bringing her expertise to the conversation. She believes the chaos of the Ticketmaster user experience is a “feature, not a bug” and that the company is “making more money when fans are stressed out.” (Ticketmaster did not reply to Mashable’s request for comment.)
“I know the power of Taylor Swift fans when we rally behind something. If we were going to make a change this was the time. I was trying to kind of gather that energy from the group to direct it towards something actionable,” Burg said.
Stephanie Aly, a 33-year-old who does digital communications for progressive candidates, also sees the potential of organizing fandom to effect real-life change.
On Wednesday (Nov. 16), Aly launched Vigilante Legal’s campaign on her Swift fan site The Swiftiest calling for direct civic action and digital organizing to take down Ticketmaster. “Vigilante Legal is uniting Swifties and fans of music everywhere to end the era of outrageous fees, hours-long queues to nowhere, glitchy processing and terrible customer service has to end,” the site reads. In less than 24 hours, Aly received over 400 sign-ups. The goal, they say, is to unite and mobilize a network of fans that not even Ticketmaster can ignore.
“From experience, deep in the trenches [of fandom], the most passionate fans also tend to turn out a lot of natural organizers. They just happen to stick to organizing to win voters’ choice awards,” Aly told Mashable. “What if we pointed them in a different direction?”