Tickets for Beyonce’s 2023 UK Renaissance tour went on general sale via Ticketmaster’s website at 10am on Tuesday 7 February. Throughout the day, social media were full of messages from fans complaining about technical issues, long online queues and rising prices. This is not the first time this has happened. Similar complaints were made in 2022 when tickets went on sale for tours by Bruce Springsteen, Harry Styles and Taylor Swift.
With the general sale of tickets for Beyonce’s tour, many fans complained they were waiting in online queues of over 500 000 people. Others reported their frustration with continually receiving ‘403 error’ messages.
In November 2022, Ticketmaster’s website in the USA constantly crashed during the pre-sale of tickets for Taylor Swift’s tour. This led to the general sale of tickets being cancelled.
In response to the public anger that followed this decision, the Senate’s antitrust subcommittee organised a hearing with the title – ‘That’s The Ticket: Promoting Competition and Protecting Competition and Protecting Consumers in Live Entertainment.’
Senator Amy Klobuchar, the Chair of this committee, stated that
The issues within America’s ticketing industry were made painfully obvious when Ticketmaster’s website failed hundreds of thousands of fans hoping to purchase tickets for Taylor Swift’s new tour, but these problems are not new. For too long, consumers have faced long waits and website failures, and Ticketmaster’s dominant market position means the company faces inadequate pressure to innovate and improve.
Ticketmaster merged with Live Nation in 2010 to become the largest business in the primary ticket market for live music events. Some people have accused the firm of abusing its dominant market position by failing to invest enough money in its website, so leading to poor customer service.
Fans have also been complaining about the system of dynamic pricing that Ticketmaster now uses for big live events. What exactly is dynamic pricing?
Firms with market power often adjust their prices in response to changing market conditions. For example, if a business experiences significant increases in demand for its products in one quarter/year it may respond by raising prices in the following quarter/year.
With dynamic pricing, these price changes take place over much shorter time periods: i.e. within minutes. For example, in one media report, a Harry Styles fan placed £155 tickets in their basket for a concert at Wembley stadium. When the same fan then tried to purchase the tickets, Ticketmaster’s website sent a message stating that they were no longer available. However, in reality they were still available but for £386 – the price had instantly jumped because of high demand. Continually monitoring market conditions and responding to changes so quickly requires the use of specialist software and sophisticated algorithms.
Arguments for dynamic pricing
With ticket sales taking place months/years in advance of most live events, it is difficult for artists/promotors to predict future levels of demand. Given this uncertainty and the importance for the artist of playing in front of a full venue, event organisers may err on the side of caution when pricing tickets.
If the demand for tickets proves to be much stronger than initially forecast, then resellers in the secondary market can take advantage of the situation and make significant amounts of money. Dynamic pricing enables sellers in the primary market, such as Ticketmaster, to adjust to market conditions and so limits the opportunities of resale for a profit.
Ticketmaster argues that without dynamic pricing, artists will miss out on large amounts of revenue that will go to re-sellers instead. A spokesperson for the company stated that
Over the past few years, artists have lost money to resellers who have no investment in the event going well. As such event organisers have looked to market-based pricing to recapture that lost revenue.
Critics have claimed that Ticketmaster’s use of dynamic pricing is simply an example of price gouging.
No doubt the controversy over the sale of tickets for live music events will continue in the future.
- Beyoncé tour: UK fans snap up tickets despite Ticketmaster glitches
- Beyoncé Fans Are Going to Extreme Lengths to Secure Renaissance Tour Tickets
- Live music: How buying concert tickets could be made better
- Ticketmaster demand-based pricing system criticised
- Did Ticketmaster’s Market Dominance Fuel the Chaos for Swifties?
- Taylor Swift ticket sale problems spark widespread criticism of Ticketmaster
- Springsteen tickets are going for a whopping $4,000 – what else are we paying dynamic prices for?
- Will the Taylor Swift-Ticketmaster Senate Hearing Actually Change Anything?
- Beyonce fans scramble for Renaissance tickets as sellers warn availability is already ‘extremely limited’
BBC News, Ian Youngs (7/2/23)
Time, Mariah Espada (10/2/23)
BBC News, Mark Savage (26/1/23)
BBC News, Annabel Rackham (10/10/22)
Yale Insights, Florian Ederer (23/11/22)
PBS NewsHour on YouTube, Diana Moss and John Yang (17/11/22)
The Guardian, Arwa Mahdawi (27/7/22)
Variety, Dean Budnick (1/2/23)
Sky News, Bethany Minelle (3/2/23)
- Explain the difference between the primary and secondary market for ticket sales for live events.
- Draw a demand and supply diagram to illustrate the primary market for tickets. Using this diagram explain how below market clearing prices in the primary market enable re-sellers to make money in the secondary market.
- What are the limitations of using demand and supply diagrams to analyse the primary market for tickets?
- Who has the greater market power – Ticketmaster or artists such as Taylor Swift and Beyonce?
- Try to provide a precise definition of the term ‘price gouging’.
- What other sectors commonly use dynamic pricing?