Post-Phish, Live Nation Ticketing Pledges Improvements

Phish Releases 13 Minute 'Elastic' Single
Talk of a proposed Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger is dominating music biz headlines today (Feb. 4), but last week's Phish onsales through Live Nation Ticketing are still very much on the minds of music fans.

Last weekend, no ticket on the planet was hotter than those to see the reunited Phish, resulting in a rabid fan onslaught that severely tested Live Nation's new ticketing system, which just launched last month.

Fans unable to get tickets posted blistering reports online, but Live Nation Ticketing executives point to overwhelming demand and the simple reality that exponentially more fans wanted tickets than were available.

"When you have 10 million requests from your ticketing system and only 20,000 seats, there's going to be a line," says Nathan Hubbard, CEO of Live Nation Ticketing. "But we can do a better job going forward of messaging to them and handling the experience they have once they finally get through it and the tickets are sold out."

Indeed, most of the frustration expressed online seemed to be from fans who made it through much of the ticket-buying process before crashing off the site without completing the transaction, or those who spent what they felt was too much time in the ticket "waiting room" only to come away empty-handed.

Of the 10 million requests, Live Nation Ticketing "sold more than 250,000 tickets over the weekend," Hubbard tells Billboard. "With that kind of volume, some people who couldn't get access to the tickets had a bad experience, and we're sorry for what they went through. We're fans too, and we never want fans to have that kind of experience."

Hubbard says he and the Live Nation Ticketing staff are "spending every waking hour putting in place fixes to improve it going forward. We understand exactly what the problem was and worked with our partners to put in place those fixes so we can do better next time."

Ticketing sites overwhelmed by demand for super-hot shows have bedeviled fans many times previously, most recently with Phish and the post Super Bowl super-demand for Bruce Springsteen tickets. The latter snafus came when fans in Long Island and New Jersey tried to purchase tickets via Ticketmaster, though the company maintains those issues were unrelated to the high demand.

The e-commerce challenges presented by online ticketing for high-demand shows aren't limited to Live Nation, but the nature of Phish fans and their sense of community makes for a robust Internet "town hall" on message boards. Clearly, complaints from dissatisfied Phish fans were heard loud and clear by Live Nation, which is sensitive to how it's ticketing efforts are perceived in this critical launch period.

"We work in an industry with the most passionate consumers in the world, so you bet we listen to them. And we've gone out and used all of their feedback to get better this week, to understand and diagnose the problems," says Hubbard. "That's why three days into it now we've got a handle on it and have put in place some system and configuration changes with our partners that are going to help us handle that traffic better in the future."

Based on today's speculation, one of those partners may be Ticketmaster. In any case, the way the Phish onsales played out in many ways validates the premise held by Hubbard and others that the concept of the 10 a.m. on-sale may be on its way out.