Taylor Swift’s Reputation Tour Victory Lap

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Taylor Swift has been in the news a lot lately.

First, she signed a new record deal.

Second, she negotiated, what seems like, a really great deal for other artists around Universal Music’s Spotify shares.

Finally, her team announced that her 2018 tour set the record for the highest grossing concert tour of all-time.

This brings up some ideas that I offered up at the beginning of the year in a couple of pieces on “slow ticketing” and one on the bad press that was flying around at the start of the tour.

To save you the trouble of going back and rereading the pieces, my hypothesis throughout this was that:

  • “Slow Ticketing” was a bunch of marketing jargon to hide the fact that Ticketmaster is just trying to, rightly, maximize the number of tickets they sell.
  • The “Swift Tix” model of boosts and pressurized engagement was ripe for malpractice and abuse.

Now we have a lot of people running out to tell you, I told you so.

But how much has really changed from my initial thoughts on the tour?

The big thing is that she reportedly made a lot of money and “sold” a lot of tickets. Reports say that she sold over 2 million tickets and grossed over $265 million dollars.

Great! I hope she did make money. I think 1989 is one of the most perfect pop albums ever put together and it spawned the greatest cover album ever, Ryan Adam’s version of 1989. 

My challenge with the numbers is that when you look at them, something doesn’t add up. The average ticket price comes out to around $125 which is pretty great except for we know that a lot of tickets were priced and sold at 4x, 5x, and 10x that average.

We know this because we saw lots of people on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media calling out the fact that they had rushed into the “Swift Tix” program, purchased tickets early on, believing that they were getting the best tickets at the best prices only to find that this wasn’t the case.

When you look at the average dollar amounts of all the tickets sold, that would lead me to believe that my initial concern about the danger involved in poorly executing a program like this happened to some extent.

The other thing that these numbers point to is that she played to about 55,000 people a night on her tour.

That’s a phenomenal number.

The only problem with this is that most of the venues she was playing could hold many more people than that.

I’ll paraphrase Bob Lefsetz here, “perception is everything in the music business.”

And, even when you are playing to 55,000 people, if the stadium holds 75,000, you have a problem.

All of this argument on both sides boils down to perception.

Jesse Cole, the owner of the Savannah Bananas, asked me recently about what the motivation for my work in sports and entertainment was and I listed a whole bunch of things that came back to the idea of “putting people first.”

For me, this whole debate about whether or not Taylor Swift did the right thing or the wrong thing with her tour and the way she runs her business comes down to how are you treating people.

Take the premise that she is trying to beat the secondary market, cool.

I’m all for anyone maximizing their ability to market and sell their own goods and services to the greatest extent possible.

My challenge with what Taylor Swift did in partnership with Ticketmaster and their Verified Fan program was that they acted in a way that could easily be seen as manipulative and disingenuous.

Has the announced revenue and ticket sales of the tour changed that?

Absolutely not.

As I’ve often said, it is likely we won’t know the true impact of whether or not her fans tune her out until the next tour.

But in many places, the Swift Tix program and the way that after her most fervent fans were rewarded for their dedication by having comparable tickets offered to less dedicated fans at cheaper prices, has had the effect of training people that you should wait because a better deal is on its way.

Which if we are looking at the state of the ticket market in the States currently, is something that dominates almost every event.

Here’s the thing, if you found yourself having trouble moving premium tickets, instead of discounting, you could have used the same Swift Tix program and data to offer even greater rewards to those fans that participated in the boost process.

Possibly you could have offered fans that had high boost totals and bad seats the chance to upgrade for an additional fee.

You might have opened up a social media contest of some nature similar to the way that the Starbucks app offers “races” for bonus stars.

I could go on, but the point is that you could have easily maintained the integrity of the program and rewarded the best fans for doing things that you want them to do.

Just as much as you have begun to train your customers to wait, you’ve also broken the trust between Taylor Swift and her fans.

Sure, this won’t be true in 100% of the cases, but the thing is when you trick and pressurize your best customers to take action only to reward less dedicated customers, it is unlikely that your fans will ever trust you 100% again.

Don’t believe me?

Maybe you will believe Seth Godin, he just published a new book that is all about how marketers can do better than trick, pressure, and disrespect their customers. It is a fabulous book and would make a great gift for anyone this holiday season.

To me, the huge sales numbers are great, but the question still remains did these sales numbers come at an even bigger price over the long term?

Truthfully, we won’t know that for a little while.

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