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Beyoncé tour sales are off to a smoother start. What does that mean for Ticketmaster?

An illustration of the Ticketmaster website from 2022. The ticketing giant has come under renewed scrutiny from music fans and lawmakers in recent months.
Joe Raedle
/
Getty Images
An illustration of the Ticketmaster website from 2022. The ticketing giant has come under renewed scrutiny from music fans and lawmakers in recent months.

All eyes are on Ticketmaster as the first tickets for the North American leg of Beyoncé's Renaissance tour go on sale. And the ticketing giant appears to be feeling the heat — and making some changes — after its widely panned Taylor Swift presale in November.

Ticketmaster announced last week that it would be dividing cities into three groups, each with its own staggered registration deadlines and presale dates, in addition to using its Verified Fan system to try to minimize bots. (It ended up closing registration for the last two groups on Sunday, citing outsize demand.)

There was much buzz within and beyond the BeyHive ahead of the first round of presale on Monday. Fans flooded Twitter with prayers and memes, while the Senate Judiciary Committee — which held a hearing into competition in the ticketing industry last month — tweeted a warning: "We're watching."

Ticketmaster itself sought to temper fans' expectations, explaining in advance how the ticketing process would work and warning that many would likely end up empty-handed because demand exceeded the number of available tickets by more than 800% for Group A cities alone.

"It is expected that many interested fans may not be able to get tickets because demand drastically exceeds supply," it cautioned on Friday.

And the company kept communication going as the first round of tickets for Group A — with cities including Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Las Vegas, Toronto and Washington, D.C. — went on sale on Monday.

It tweeted out schedule reminders, status updates and waitlist announcements throughout the afternoon, periodically reassuring fans that "queues remain secure." It also responded to some users' questions ("Verified Fan does not measure how big a fan you are") and retweeted several triumphant posts of fans who had managed to snag tickets.

Ticketmaster also published a blog post detailing steps it is taking in the "arms race against abusive ticket scalping." Among them, it said, it had "already built new defenses that are working against past tactics" and would have engineers "standing by in real time to monitor attempted attacks and build new defenses if needed."

Monday's sales appeared to go relatively smoothly, or at least without reports of any major crashes. Still, it remains to be seen how the sales planned for the rest of the month will turn out, or whether these changes are enough to appease critics who accuse Ticketmaster of acting as a monopoly and want to see it broken up.

Carolyn Sloane, a labor economist at the University of California, Riverside — whose "Rockonomics" class is currently studying the Ticketmaster drama — says while Ticketmaster's approach to the Renaissance tour is a step in the right direction, these changes alone won't solve the problems we're seeing.

Sloane tells NPR that external pressures like political oversight and the threat of enforcement are mirroring the kind of pressure that Ticketmaster (which controls more than 70% of the market for ticketing and live events) would face in a more competitive landscape, and that's forcing it to invest more in things like communication with customers.

But she says it's not realistic to think that there will be much change in the market without some sort of structural remedy (in the form of something like forced divestment or an updated consent decree from the U.S. Justice Department).

"Absent enforcement activity, you're probably just going to see some kind of status quo with how the ticketing market looks right now," Sloane says — adding that in a perfect world there would be less consolidation in all parts of the music industry, including streaming.

Beyoncé accepts the Best Dance/Electronic Music Album award for <em>Renaissance</em> during the Grammys on Sunday.
Kevin Winter / Getty Images for The Recording Academy
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Getty Images for The Recording Academy
Beyoncé accepts the Best Dance/Electronic Music Album award for Renaissance during the Grammys on Sunday.

Lucky fans say tickets were worth the stress

The opening day of ticket sales seemed to go more smoothly for Renaissance than Swift's The Eras Tour, though it wasn't without complaints.

Some Twitter users accused Ticketmaster of using dynamic pricing (though the company tweeted that prices hadn't fluctuated during the sale and were instead showing up as ranges for available tickets), and there were reports of fans having issues getting companion tickets for accessibility purposes.

Still, there didn't appear to be tech issues or traffic peaks big enough to force Ticketmaster to pause or postpone sales, as was the case in November.

Fans who were able to get tickets on Monday told NPR that the experience was stressful but not as harrowing as they had feared.

Jared Moses, a 28-year-old based in Memphis, prepared by reading Ticketmaster's instructions and tips from Beyoncé fan pages on social media.

He wasn't actually too worried before his presale opened, because he saw posts from lots of people who had been waitlisted and figured he was one of a relatively manageable number of people with access — plus he hoped that Ticketmaster had learned from its past mistakes.

"A lot of the Beyoncé fans ... were joking, like, 'Yeah let's just let the Swifties figure this out, so it'll be better by the time Beyoncé tickets come out,' " he said, referring to the Eras tour debacle.

James Barringer, a college senior, said he set the mood by listening to what he described Beyoncé's most iconic live performances, like those at the Super Bowl and the Video Music Awards. He entered the virtual waiting room at 2 p.m. around number 1,600 in line, and was able to get his tickets (for a New York show in July) by 2:20 p.m.

"So it only took 20 minutes, which was pretty amazing," he said. "But I had logged on quite early and was just sort of waiting around all afternoon, anxious to get tickets."

Barringer was cognizant of the pressure on Ticketmaster to deliver, calling Monday a big day both for Beyoncé fans and the company. And he hopes "the good times keep rolling for Ticketmaster," for everyone's sake.

"The BeyHive will rip the site down, like the BeyHive will get Congress to finally take action if action needs to be taken," he added.

Destinie Brooks, who is based in Chicago, says she's been researching social media threads by people who have managed to get high-demand concert tickets in the past, but she's also keeping her expectations low ahead of her presale date this weekend.

That said, she acknowledges that presale is a lottery — with no regard for how much Beyoncé merch or music she's bought in the past — and there's only so much she can do.

"So at this point I'm just remembering the tips, I'm mentally preparing to be in a certain headspace on Saturday like an hour before the tickets drop, and it's just nothing but prayers," she said. "Just prayers."

Live Nation Entertainment President and Chief Financial Officer Joe Berchtold was among the witnesses who testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January about the ticketing industry.
Andrew Harnik / AP
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AP
Live Nation Entertainment President and Chief Financial Officer Joe Berchtold was among the witnesses who testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January about the ticketing industry.

The case for why non-Bey fans should care

Sloane, the economics professor, says it's worth looking at the music industry through an economic lens even though it's relatively small in terms of its revenue and political influence. She cites two main reasons:

"One, kind of for the emotional presence that it has in our lives, it makes sense to explore it," she says. "But beyond that, a lot of what we see happening in the music industry does reflect what is happening in the economy writ large and also kind of leads the trends of what we're seeing in the greater economy."

Sloane says Ticketmaster has done good things for the industry, like creating the modern infrastructure for computerized ticketing and being the connector between fans and venues. But, like many, she says it lacks competitive incentives that would push it to improve things like technology and communications.

Now — after botched sales, public pushback, reputational challenges and the threat of antitrust enforcement — she sees Ticketmaster taking action in real time, whether that's through staggering its presales or sending an executive to testify in front of Congress. Still, she says that's no substitute for competitive pressure.

"In the absence of that competitive pressure, you know, we might see some other unsavory activity in the future or not kind of fully efficient activity in the future," she says. "And so that's always going to kind of be a question. But this is not just hanging over Ticketmaster. And it's not just hanging over the live event space of the music industry. It's over every part of the music industry."

Sloane says every part of the music industry is "extremely consolidated," with the exception of music publishing, and she thinks that will continue to be an issue regardless of what happens with Ticketmaster.

Plus there's only so much Ticketmaster can do to meet the outrageous demand for certain concerts, which she says can be explained in part by years of demand pent up during the pandemic and the fact that younger consumers are increasingly experience-driven.

But even if getting tickets for big-name performances continues to be high stakes and high stress, Sloane says there's reason for hope.

"People should get out there and see shows that are not just stadium shows," she says. "There's a lot of great theater shows and local venue shows that you can get tickets for and have that experience of going to a great show and maybe discovering some new music. So in that sense, there's always going to be stuff to go to. It might just be more expensive to go to the top 1% of performer shows."

Juma Sei contributed reporting.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.