Narrative Spotlight: Ticketmaster and the Snowball Effect

In the 90s, the rock group Blink-182 started a movement, bringing pop-punk into the mainstream and gracing stereos everywhere with “All the Small Things.” While the band performed consistently throughout the 2000s, the group’s makeup was far from static. That’s why when, in October 2022, the group announced a reunion tour with the three original band members, fans around the world were eager to get their tickets—only to be sorely disappointed when tickets went on sale.

Ticket prices skyrocketed to upwards of $600, leaving them out of reach for a vast majority of fans and sparking widespread outrage. Vice went so far as to publish a piece titled, “Blink-182 Tickets Are So Expensive Because Ticketmaster Is a Disastrous Monopoly and Now Everyone Pays Ticket Broker Prices.”

This article was arguably the first spark in a discussion that’s since spiraled into a much larger debate about Ticketmaster, monopolies, and anti-trust laws—a debate that leaves the company’s future in question in the first few months of 2023. 

Some Background

Ticketmaster has been around for more than 50 years, since 1976. It gradually expanded in the 1990s and early 2000, and then, in 2010, the company merged with Live Nation Entertainment, a well-known concert promotion and ticketing company. Even before the merger, Ticketmaster had frequently faced criticism related to practices that suppress competition in the ticketing space. Back in 1995, Pearl Jam decided to take on the company for its North American tour, refusing to play at venues that worked with Ticketmaster. What they didn’t realize at the time was that Ticketmaster already had a deal with 90% of the country’s touring circuit, meaning their tour all but fizzled. While their efforts to take on Ticketmaster were unsuccessful, Pearl Jam did manage to get an audience with the U.S. Congress. However, the legislative body declared that Ticketmaster was not in breach of anti-trust laws. 

Fears of a monopoly reached a new apex in 2010 with the live merger. Organizations like the Competition Commission of the UK came out against the deal, as did prominent artists like Bruce Springsteen. Yet, as the government did back in 1995, the U.S. government refused to implement any anti-competition measure, and the U.S. Department of Justice approved the merger.  

Now, in 2022, soaring ticket prices for concerts for artists ranging from Harry Styles to Adele have thrust the company back into the spotlight with renewed scrutiny over its business practices. This time, however, public outrage and artist frustration have appeared to reach unprecedented levels.

From October 15th to 30th, the first weeks of the Blink-182 sales, PeakMetrics tracked 1,693 articles published in global media about Ticketmaster. This included 37 articles discussing Ticketmaster and anti-trust/monopolies, one of which was the well-known Vice article.

This latest frustration was fresh on the minds of music lovers when, on November 15th, presale tickets for Taylor Swift’s highly anticipated Eras tour went on sale. The Ticketmaster website was unable to handle unprecedented demand for tickets, causing the website to crash. Not only were fans left waiting for hours for tickets that never materialized, but, shortly after the presale, Ticketmaster announced it had no more tickets left for general sales. The only tickets currently available are in the hands of scalpers for thousands of dollars.

Now, not only are fans suing Ticketmaster for “fraud, misrepresentation and antitrust violations”, but the Senate held a hearing into the company’s practice where the company was publicly where, in a much belated victory for Pearl Jam, Ticketmaster was called a monopoly. 

Two Distinct Narratives Emerge

Ticketmaster has long denied that it prevented competition in the ticketing space, and despite the widespread criticism following the Taylor Swift presale event, the company’s official statement placed the blame on the overwhelming demand and a “staggering number of bot attacks.” 

But did this narrative gain any traction within the media?

PeakMetrics tracked news mentions of Ticketmaster in the weeks immediately following the Taylor Swift presale (Nov. 15-December 7th). In total, there were 9,677 global media mentions.

Of those mentions, 2,506 discussed Ticketmaster in combination with monopolies or antitrust laws, while only 852 mentioned Ticketmaster and bots, suggesting that the most prominent narrative within the media was related to Ticketmaster and a potential monopoly. It’s also important to note that some of the “bot” mentions may simply be the result of the publication including Ticketmaster’s official statement. 

However, the type of publication seems to have had an influence (albeit mild) on what “narrative” was discussed. For those mentions of Ticketmaster and monopolies, close to 2% were published in media with a left leaning bias, while only 1% were published in media with a right-leaning bias. The rest of the mentions were included in “neutral” publications.

The difference in the type of publication was more pronounced with the bot narrative. Of the 852 mentions involving Ticketmaster and bots, 2.5% were in right-leaning publications while only 1.2% were in left-leaning publications.

This division is not entirely surprising. More conservative publications tend to favor fewer restrictions on corporations, while more liberal publications favor stricter regulations. It’s worth noting that the recent hearing on Ticketmaster was held in the Democratically-controlled Senate.

When it comes to social media, however, there seems to have been far less balance in the narratives discussed. From December 1st-7th, the week that Taylor Swift fans announced they would be suing the company, there were 4,685 Tweets related to Ticketmaster and monopolies compared to just 53 related to bots.

A closer look at PeakMetrics’ data proved that for the months since the Taylor Swift presale, the most pervasive story in the media, by far, has been “Ticketmaster apologizes for Taylor Swift fiasco.” At its peak in November, there were over 1,000 articles dedicated to this topic, and there have still been mentions of this in the media into January of this year. Other popular narratives regarding Ticketmaster towards the end of 2022 involved the release of Zach Bryan’s album “All My Homies Hate Ticketmaster” and “What to do if your Ticketmaster ticket was cloned for the Bad Bunny concert”. While these narratives don’t specifically mention monopolies, none of them paint the company in a positive light—nor do they suggest sympathy from consumers for Ticketmaster. 

What Does This Mean for Ticketmaster?

Despite Ticketmaster’s explanation for the Taylor Swift presale fiasco, it doesn’t appear to have successfully overshadowed the larger discussion about the company’s anti-competition practices. By and large, the narrative taking center stage is that the conglomerate has, at best, instituted practices that are unfair to fans and, at worst, become a true monopoly. Concertgoers are angry, and other artists have begun following Taylor’s Swift’s example and publicly criticizing the company. 

Whether this public outrage will lead to any practical changes or whether it will be hushed as Pearl Jam’s was in 1995, remains to be seen. However, what is clear is that narratives have power. From October to December, negative stories about Ticketmaster built off each other. The Blink-182 fiasco added to the fury of the Taylor Swift fiasco, and both of these stories dug up past debacles and concerns about the company. Suddenly, Pearl Jam’s crusade was remembered as was the botched sale of Adele tickets back in July 2021. Ticketmaster is now back on the Senate docket—and the larger debate about the company is far from over.

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