Last July, fans fumed over the high cost of Ticketmaster’s dynamic pricing — the model that responds in real time to consumer demand and can cause prices to skyrocket, especially at on-sale — for Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band’s 2023 tour.
Then, in November, Ticketmaster’s presale for Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour sold over 90% of the trek’s inventory — breaking the record for the most tickets sold in a single day by a touring artist — but online traffic stranded millions of infuriated fans in digital queues and caused website outages. Ticketmaster canceled the general on-sale for the remaining inventory, and Swift lambasted the company in a statement: “We asked them, multiple times, if they could handle this kind of demand, and we were assured they could. It’s truly amazing that 2.4 million people got tickets, but it really pisses me off that a lot of them feel like they went through several bear attacks to get them.”
Soon, politicians were calling for accountability, and in January, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on competition within the ticketing industry, including whether the 2010 consent decree governing the merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster has worked — or if the company has monopolized the sector.
Ticketmaster effectively controls major live-music events in many North American arenas and stadiums: It’s the primary ticketing system for 27 out of 32 NFL stadiums and Live Nation-promoted arena shows across the continent. But since its merger with Live Nation, viable alternatives have emerged.
“With ticketing systems, you may not know who they are, and that’s a good thing. Frankly, when a ticketing system makes the news, usually something went wrong,” says International Ticketing Association president/CEO Maureen Andersen, who adds that millions of tickets for music, sports and other live entertainment are sold every day on various platforms in North America without a hitch.
“There is a lot of ticketing technology available,” says Andersen. “A lot of ticketing companies [are] coming to the U.S. to test the waters and see what kind of market share they can get. That rings to me as healthy competition.”
Artists looking for ticketing alternatives in 2023 will fare better than Pearl Jam did nearly 30 years ago when the band tried — and failed — to route a tour without using Ticketmaster in protest of the company’s service fees. In December, country singer Zach Bryan released his album All My Homies Hate Ticketmaster (Live at Red Rocks) — the Denver-area amphitheater is ticketed by AXS, the Ticketmaster rival owned by the second-biggest North American promoter, AEG Presents — and took to social media: “I am so so tired of people saying things can’t be done about this massive issue while huge monopolies sit there stealing money from working class people.” Within weeks, he announced and sold out a 28-date tour, exclusively ticketed by AXS. “We sold all the tickets in 3 waves to actual fans, we hired teams to limit bots, and we sacrificed a lot of personal things to give real people, real seats,” Bryan posted afterward.
And in March, when fees for some dates on The Cure’s Ticketmaster-ticketed arena tour exceeded face-value prices, frontman Robert Smith called on the company to correct the matter — which it did in short order, issuing $10 credits to many purchasers.
Ticketing platforms in both the primary and secondary markets — which facilitate sales from rights holders and resale from other consumers, respectively — are experimenting with new features and working to keep prices in check. Billboard highlights some of the notable companies increasing competition in the sector.
AXS (primary and secondary markets)
The Gist: Ticketmaster’s most significant U.S. competitor duplicates many of Ticketmaster’s strengths, including its ability to handle high-volume on-sales and a lottery system called Fair AXS. (AEG previously licensed Ticketmaster technology as a condition set by the U.S. Department of Justice in its approval of the 2010 Live Nation-Ticketmaster merger, but used other software to build AXS.) Following the 2019 merger of AEG Facilities and SMG, AEG now owns, manages or operates more than 350 venues, many of which use AXS for ticketing.
The Gist: With roots in the jam-band community, CashorTrade eschews a first-come, first-served model, instead allowing buyers to plead their case to sellers, who are required to upload receipts to prove they’re selling at face value. Buyers can’t offer more than face value for tickets but can “creatively barter,” most often by pitching trades of other concert tickets or artist merchandise, in order to be selected. After The Cure’s tour went on sale, the band publicly endorsed CashorTrade and Twickets, a U.K.-based resale platform operating in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States, for resale of its tickets.
The Gist: DICE entered the U.S. market in 2019 with a bold promise: to help eradicate scalping. Digital tickets are locked to a buyer’s smartphone, and back-end technology prevents the resale of tickets above face value. DICE also blocks tickets from the secondary market by allowing fans to return them to sold-out shows, which are then redistributed to customers on waitlists.
The Gist: Lyte works with primary ticketing platforms to eliminate scalping and get in-demand tickets to actual fans. Partners like See Tickets integrate Lyte’s technology to field ticket requests and credit card information prior to on-sales, allowing fans to return tickets that are then offered to preregistered fans at fair market price (which can exceed face value).
SeatGeek (primary, secondary)
The Gist: SeatGeek established itself as a secondary ticketer similar to resale giant StubHub — and continues to expand its reach in that market, including through new resale deals with MLB and college-athletics ticketing giant Paciolan — but has since become the primary ticketer for a handful of NFL and NBA teams, Broadway theaters and other venues. (Major League Soccer and Brooklyn’s Barclays Center recently ended partnerships with SeatGeek in favor of Ticketmaster.) The ticketer also introduced SeatGeek Swap in 2021, which allows the return of eligible tickets, no questions asked, for credit at 100% of the purchase price.
See Tickets (primary, secondary)
The Gist: Since opening a Los Angeles office in 2014, the U.K.-based ticketer has steadily grown, including working with boutique North American festivals and independent clubs and theaters. After becoming a National Independent Venue Association sponsor in 2020, See signed deals with 100 new indie venues and promoters in a 12-month period. The platform’s tools include fan-to-fan resale technology.