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Taylor Swift’s Ticket Sale Slump Highlights A Number Of Industry Challenges

The efforts to spin Taylor Swift’s Verified Fan sales has been spun a number of different ways, but yesterday’s effort to boost sales by offering seats with “no fees” attached highlighted a number of issues with the program that should draw a lot of attention from artists, their management, and anyone that touches the entertainment or ticketing industry.

Let’s take a quick look at a few of them.

Discounts will kill you:

Discounts have often been the go-to move for the lazy marketer or the marketer that is bankrupt of other ideas.


Any number of reasons come to mind like, but in most cases, the discounter is assuming that the only objection to spending money on a show, a product, or a service is the price.

This goes right to the heart of not understanding your market very well.

Which draws us back to this week’s “no fees” promotion from Ticketmaster and Taylor Swift.

In the buildup and throughout the sales process, everyone involved in selling the shows has made it very clear that they wanted to reward fans for their loyalty, which you showed by taking actions like sharing on social media, buying albums or merchandise, or some other action to share your devotion to Taylor Swift.

This idea is pretty good. You reward people for taking actions that you desire.

It is great. Pearl Jam has been doing that with their fan club for decades.

The problem here is that in conjunction with the no fees promotion, it appears that new seats were released that were considered better and cheaper than the ones that were offered to the people that bought early.

Which gave the people that previously bought tickets the impression that they were getting screwed on both location and price. Which if you bought the line of reasoning behind the boosts, was meant to reward Taylor Swift’s most devoted fans.

As we called that in marketing, a double whammy.

This is obviously a bad look for everyone.

A much better idea would have been to find some way to increase the perceived value of the tickets and the sale.

Off the top of my head, maybe you could have created an incentive program that offered fans that previously bought tickets and people that bought tickets this week a chance to find themselves in the front row. You could also have offered some free tax day t-shirt as part of buying tickets this week. Maybe packaged several tickets together and created a bundle. Or even some valid presale codes for the tickets too!

Whatever…once again, discounts are destroying. This time, it is Taylor Swift’s reputation as a hot act.

Taking your fans or customers for granted or treating them like rubes is always a bad idea:

I get the grand American tradition of the svengali salesman that can sell ice to Eskimos and such.

This idea often masks or is used in conjunction with talking about someone that is willing to spin, dupe, or cajole in any manner necessary to make the sale.

The underlying concept here is that customers are just dummies to be taken for their money and moved on their way.

Taylor Swift’s ticket program has the feeling of a similar view of her own fans by everyone involved.

About 2 or 3 weeks ago, Seth Godin did a podcast where he described a conversation he had with the concert promoter Bill Graham about the price of Bruce Springsteen tickets. In the story, Bill Graham shared his view of entertainment as cultivating a community and that if you look to squeeze every possible penny out of your customers at every turn you can do it, but at what cost?

As Seth pointed out, this is the definition of the “infinite game.” Not taking every penny from your customers and treating them with the respect and dignity that you want them not to just spend money today, but for many more days to come.

That’s the challenge with the combination of strategies employed to help Taylor Swift sell her tickets.

The boost system felt a little sleazy to me from the start. Not because I have any problem with rewarding people for taking the right actions, nor because I want people to buy less merch; it felt sleazy because it felt like a blind money grab that was likely to leave her most loyal fans feeling disgruntled.

From the looks of it, that is exactly what happened.

As with the discounts, there is likely any number of creative ways to achieve the same thing.

Again, not to belabor a point I make regularly, but look at the way that Pearl Jam sells tickets to their tour through their fan club.

That’s one way that could have been employed to show fans you care, reward them for taking your preferred actions, and, likely, ensuring that tickets went to people that you wanted to get them to.

If those were your true intentions.

Trying to play both sides of the ticket market is a bad idea:

The premise behind “slow ticketing” is that Ticketmaster wants to eliminate the need for the secondary market.

Anyone who offers up that idea as an explanation is lying to you…full stop!

The reasons for this are so many that it would likely require a piece all its own.

The real reason that this “slow ticketing” program is being offered up is that it seems like the best way to maximize revenue. Which I am all for…look at my brand, I love revenue!

The problem with maximizing revenue in a manner like this is that it tries to break Wakeman’s Law of Tickets, which says:

If you pay $500 for a ticket on the secondary market to a hot show, you almost always feel like you won something and are exhilirated by the experience of getting into a hot show. If you pay the same $500 for a ticket on the primary side, you feel like the artist and the ticketing company are abusing you and treating you like a mark. Even if the price remains the same.

This feeling is unfair, but it is real.

I saw it constantly when I was working with American Express and their Centurion Card concierge program on the project that helped Centurion Cardmembers have access to tickets anywhere in the world.

The reason this happens is simple: it is all based on the stories we tell ourselves.

Look at the seminal study that Robert Cialdini did with the United Way where they went out to see how they could boost donations to the United Way.

The messaging they used was “anything you give will help, even a penny.”

This did something crazy. It doubled the money they received and increased the number of people that gave.

When they went back to study why this happened they found out two things:

  1. Lots of people couldn’t see themselves as the kind of people that wouldn’t give a penny to the United Way.
  2. When you had decided that you weren’t the kind of person that would give anything to the United Way, you also decided that you needed to give an amount that was consistent with how you saw yourself.

Stories shape the actions we take.

This is why trying to play both sides of the market is bad news.

Because everyone comes to the world with a worldview and trying to change it is often impossible. For most people, paying the same amount on the primary side as they would on the secondary side is as much about the story they want to tell themselves as it is about the price or the ticket.

It is as simple as, “If I pay Taylor Swift $500, she’s greedy.”

If I pay a broker the same $500, “How lucky am I? I got a first-row ticket to see Taylor Swift.”

Unfair, but reality.

Verified Fan, despite the hype, has dinged every artist’s brand that has come in contact with it:

Some of the criticism is warranted, some of it is not. Isn’t that true of almost everything?

But in the case of Verified Fan, I’ve yet to see any performer come out in a better position with their fans than they came in.

Pearl Jam had the fiasco with tickets to the Montana show where you were forced to buy 4.

Taylor Swift is dealing with her challenges now.

After Justin Timberlake’s Verified Fan on-sale, consumers were scratching their head, asking “Is Justin Timberlake big enough that brokers would even buy up his tickets?”

On and on this seems to go.

Partly, there is always going to be fans complaining that they didn’t get tickets and/or the tickets were too expensive.

But the justification for the program has always been to keep tickets out of the hands of the secondary market…as far as the success of that goes, let’s call that debatable.

If I check StubHub for Pearl Jam tickets, there are hundreds at each of the stops in Missoula, Chicago, and Boston. As a pretty avid Pearl Jam fan, I can say that’s a lot higher number than I typically see on the secondary market for them.

For Springsteen on Broadway, every show there is seemingly an ample supply of tickets available.

Taylor Swift shows a moderate amount of inventory, but she’s having issues selling out at all…so I’m not sure this is indicative of much.

I point these things out because they fly in the face of the justification of limiting the secondary markets’ ability to get inventory to these shows.

If anything, looking at StubHub, even quickly, seems to prove just the opposite.

This becomes a big deal because of a few things:

  1. As far as justifications go, it is pretty ham-handed to talk about shutting down brokers while generating so much revenue from the secondary market resale arm of the business. It comes off as hypocritical and customers aren’t stupid.
  2. While not empirical evidence, a quick look at StubHub says brokers are doing just fine. And, by looking at social media and the news reports, the consumers that are being “protected” are complaining much more than they are talking about being satisfied. Might be just the nature of customers, but, also, not a good look.
  3. Almost everyone I have talked to about Verified Fan has had a bad experience with the program and that dings Ticketmaster and the artist. Take me for example, I’ve gone through the process of trying to get my lady a pair of Springsteen tickets on a presale, used my code, picked tickets, and tried to buy them only to have me receive an error several times that my code is no good for this presale. That’s me…and that’s a lot of other people too.

The biggest reason all of these issues are a problem is because as customers and fans have more and more options for their entertainment dollar, they are going to ask for more and expect more.

If you try to be deceitful, you will be found out.

If you lie, you will be found out.

If customers feel like you are toying with their loyalty, they will turn their back on you.

These are challenges that anyone that is involved in entertainment needs to be thinking about…because as much as we might feel that we have a monopoly on the tickets and entertainment, we don’t have a monopoly on people’s attention or their mindshare.

Once we lose their attention, we’ve lost everything.


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