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How Taylor Swift Changed the Course of the Concert Ticketing Businesses

Swift has had a direct impact on cutting scalpers out of ticket sales, driving more money to artists.

Fans waiting to buy tickets to Taylor Swift’s Eras tour next week should expect two things: high demand and high prices. After all, it’s been five years and four albums since Swift toured, with her newest album, Midnights, on track to be the best-selling record of the year — earning Swift the title of first artist to ever have 10 songs dominate the top 10 of the Hot 100 chart.  

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That popularity means that Swift can set high prices for her tickets — most seats will be priced between $200 to $400, with floor tickets going for as much as $800 a piece. Platinum tickets will cost even more with some selling for thousands of dollars per ticket. 

If there’s any consolation for the impending sticker shock, though — which has caused outcry over recent Bruce Springsteen and Blink-182 tours as well — it’s that unlike with some of Swift’s past tours, most of that money will be going into her pocket, and not scalpers.  

Much like with album marketing and record-breaking sales, as well as revolutionary stances around artists owning their masters and streaming royalties, Swift has had a profound effect on the concert ticket market over the years. Throughout much of her early career, Swift was a master of pricing and marketing and distributing concert tickets to her growing fan base, who eagerly bought up tickets to tours arounds hit albums like Fearless and Red. Unfortunately, scalpers were buying up tickets too. By 2015, with her tour supporting Swift’s crossover pop album 1989, average prices on the secondary market were going for two to three times face value.  

In 2016, promoter Louis Messina — who has been working Swift since she was 17 — had been celebrating the mega-successful 1989 tour, which grossed a staggering $250 million worldwide, when a well-known entertainment executive and friend bragged that he had made more on the tour than Swift or Messina. The executive enjoyed a far more profitable haul from the tour thanks to his ownership in a ticket scalping business that was selling 1989 tickets at a four-to-five-times markup. Messina and Swift had priced the tickets so low, and fan demand was so high that anyone flipping tickets for the concert was bound to make a big return. 

The nexus between ticket prices at the box office and what ticket flippers can sell them for on sites like StubHub was also a problem that Live Nation chief executive Michael Rapino wanted to solve. Working with then Ticketmaster president Jared Smith, newly hired head of music David Marcus and company product engineers, the team developed an aggressive pricing strategy to make more money for artists by pricing tickets closer to what they would sell for on the secondary markets. 

After piloting the program with Jay-Z in early 2018, Ticketmaster began implementing its new pricing strategy for Swift’s Reputation Tour later that year. Compared to the 1989 tour, the Reputation Tour average ticket price was only about 10% more, but the best seats in the venue were priced significantly higher than in past years, thanks to new Ticketmaster tools that allowed it to optimize a venue’s seat map on a seat-by-seat basis. Ticketmaster also created a fan identification tool for Swift called SwiftTix, which had fans register in advance for an opportunity to buy tickets during the show’s presale, with their place in line partially boosted by purchasing fan merch and posting about the Reputation tour online. Today, the pricing strategy Swift used has become a staple of how most major tours are priced to capture more profit for artists, while advance registration has become a staple of most high-demand shows. For the Eras tour, for example, fans who register in advance get first crack at tickets while those held onto tickets for Swift’s canceled 2020 Lover Fest shows received even higher priority access for the Nov. 16 onsale.  

Swift initially faced massive backlash over higher-than-expected ticket prices for the Reputation Tour, as well as criticism that SwiftTix was a money grab at the expense of fans. She was excoriated in the press, bashed on Twitter and targeted by ticket brokers for allegedly ruining her career. Not long after tickets went on sale, Gary Adler, executive director of the North American Ticket Brokers association penned a piece called “Why Taylor Swift’s Reputation Tour Is a Total Disaster” saying Swift’s sales scheme was the “best example of how not to sell tickets to a large tour.” 

Adler could not have been more wrong. By avoiding the urge to price tickets so that they would immediately sell out, Swift’s long game, higher priced approach brought in $345.7 million, making it one of the highest grossing tours of all time.  

When Swift’s tickets go on sale next week, millions of fans will be waiting for a confirmation email to notify them when it is their turn to buy tickets and fans will collectively spend hundreds of millions of dollars buying up seats. Based on the size of the tour, the popularity of Swift and the five years since Reputation, some fans will not be able to get the seats they want or will not pay the asking price, either because they can’t afford it or because they do not think it’s worth the money. 

Again, angry fans will go on Twitter to complain about soaring prices, rage at Ticketmaster and lament about how things used to be, when tickets cost less — and, as they’re likely to forget, when scalpers bought them up in a frenzy. And they can thank their favorite “Anti-Hero,” Swift, for helping to develop a ticketing model that shifted more money into the pockets of artists, instead of scalpers — raising upfront prices for fans in the process. Whether that’s a solution or a new problem altogether, those who do buy tickets are likely to be applauding next year anyway when she sings, “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me.”