In March, when Ed Sheeran announced the on-sale dates for his Divided World Tour, Ticketmaster formally introduced its Verified Fan program to keep tickets out of the hands of scalpers. Over the last few weeks, the ticketing giant has announced that more major events have put aside Verified Fan tickets: Bruce Springsteen’s shows at the Walter Kerr Theatre, Hamilton and, today, Taylor Swift.
The idea behind the Verified Fan program is to not only keep out bots — the computer programs that clog major ticket sales — but as many people as possible who intend to sell tickets for a profit. Instead of simply going to a web site when a sale begins, fans register in advance, then receive a code that will let them buy tickets. But not anyone can register: Ticketmaster uses “proprietary data science technology” to try to determine whether potential buyers are likely to be scalpers or fans — which presumably means no Swift tickets for Phish heads unless an algorithm determines they’re probably parents — and only approves the latter. A couple of hours before tickets go on sale, Ticketmaster sends a text message with a code to some consumers — not everyone who qualifies gets one — who enter it to buy tickets much as they otherwise would.
Starting with the Taylor Swift concerts, fans can maximize their chances by doing different things: registering on TaylorSwift.com; buying tchotchkes; picking a city where they want to see the show. Presumably, this is also a great way to Swift to sell merchandise and collect data on consumers.
For fans, though, the big question is whether it works. Based on my own experience, the idea is fantastic and the execution is coming along.
Over the last couple of weeks, I registered for two Verified Fan events — Springsteen’s shows and Hamilton — and while I haven’t heard about the former, I found out over the weekend that I was approved for the latter. Presumably, my ticket purchase history made it easy to identify me as a Springsteen fan, but the algorithm must allow some flexibility, since I haven’t previously purchased tickets for any musicals about the Founding Fathers. Unlike Swift, neither event offered any kind of bonus for buying anything.
Ticketmaster refined the program late last year, when it was used for concerts by Dead & Company, The 1975, and others. Artists determine how many verified fans will be able to buy tickets, and the company can send out text messages with codes in batches, to reduce the load on its servers. So far, based on looking at secondary market sites, Ticketmaster says that 95 percent of tickets purchased through the program have gone to fans — about twice the number that sometimes sell directly to consumers who want to go to some of the biggest shows.
In practice, the process is pretty simple. Monday, a couple of hours before Hamilton tickets for spring and summer 2018 went on sale, I got a text message with the code I needed to enter. At the announced time of 10 a.m., I went to the site, entered the code and saw the spinning wheel icon that shows Ticketmaster’s web site is in the process of allocating tickets. After about five minutes, I got six fantastic tickets, toward the back of the Orchestra section. Could it really be that easy? Alas, no. When I tried to pay for them, I got a message saying that the server couldn’t handle my request.
By the time I tried again it was 10:10 — and before 10:20 I had six decent seats in the front mezzanine. Still pretty great. When I tried to pay for them, however, I got the same error message. This was starting to feel familiar. By 10:25, I had six seats again — in the back of the front mezzanine. The same thing happened again. This was starting to feel like an emotional roller coaster — I have great tickets! I have an error message! Rinse and repeat — so I gave up in frustration. Was the Verified Fan program just fake news?
I tried again at 12:30, figuring that the good seats would be gone but the site might run better. The show I wanted was sold out, and I couldn’t find six tickets for any of the shows I looked at in April. So I looked for three tickets, on a Tuesday night in June. And there they were.
Sure, I would have rather purchased the six great seats I had found at 10:10. But at a time when the only thing millions of Americans agree on is wanting to see Hamilton, finding any tickets at all is no small accomplishment. Presumably, at some point, scalpers will find a way to infiltrate Verified Fan sales, too. Until then, though, getting concert tickets just got a little easier.