Opinion: A concert mom's take on Taylor Swift and Ticketmaster
Opinion by Amy BassUpdated: Fri, 18 Nov 2022 04:01:33 GMTSource: CNNEditor's Note: Amy Bass (@bassab1) is professor of sport studies at Manhattanville College and the author of "One Goal: A CoachOpinion by Amy Bass
Updated: Fri, 18 Nov 2022 04:01:33 GMT
Editor's Note: Amy Bass (@bassab1) is professor of sport studies at Manhattanville College and the author of "One Goal: A Coach, a Team, and the Game That Brought a Divided Town Together" and "Not the Triumph but the Struggle: The 1968 Olympics and the Making of the Black Athlete," among other titles. The views expressed here are solely hers. Read more opinion on CNN.
In the midst of the Taylor Swift ticket mania that has dominated my life -- and the lives of millions of others -- for the past week or so, I keep thinking about how my mother, when I was just 15 years old, lied to get me into a Ramones show at a theater in Albany, New York, so many years ago.
She drove me and my friend to the show with the intention of reading a good book in the parking lot, but ended up coming in with us when we got stopped at the door for being underage and without ID. After we finally got in, a lovely bouncer took one look at us and said to my mother, "You can go back there and hang out -- I'll keep my eye on them."
While I remember every detail of that epic show, perhaps especially the moment when Joey Ramone handed me a guitar pick, more important to me now is the heroic example of parenting set by my mom.
Now, flash forward more decades than I am willing to admit, I'm the mom of the 15-year-old concert-goer, navigating the world of tickets, transportation, and "merch," and advising on how best to spend hard-won babysitting money. I am lucky that I am not alone in this endeavor, as my lifetime bestie, the one I've seen more shows with than anyone, has her own high school girl. The four of us, together, are now concert buddies.
It has been an amazing experience. I loved every second of watching our girls battle for position in the pit at Harry Styles' show while we watched from the bar (pro tip: there is no line at the Madison Square Garden bar at a Harry Styles concert). Eventually we, too, joined the cacophony of feather boas and sequins that comprise Harry's House, marveling at his connection with his audience and the diversity and strong community that is his fan base.
Indeed, just as we once joined the thousands of voices walking out of a U2 show singing "40" long after the band had left the building, our girls are part of a generation of fans that seems to look out for one another, with special shout outs to the young woman who entered the MSG bathroom and announced that she was at "Harry's House" by herself and the legion of folks who instantly yelled, "Hang with us!" -- no questions asked.
While all of it feels worth it, none of it is easy, exemplified by the legions of parents and fans who are unable to get tickets to these shows, whether because of exorbitant pricing strategies or limited and unfair access.
When Taylor Swift dropped "Midnights" on October 21 at, well, midnight, and then provided another version, "Midnights (3am Edition)," three hours later, I knew that school was not going to be easy for millions of kids the next day. Indeed, midnight album drops -- especially when there is a test the next day -- are a virtual party for our kids, making me hope that Swift's next album might be entitled "Saturday Afternoon," or something to that effect.
When Swift announced the Eras Tour on November 1, a pit of apprehension grew in my stomach. Her first tour since 2018, her oeuvre now includes so much material that she has never played live, with so many fans who have never really had a chance to see her. My one experience with Ticketmaster's "verified fan" process, designed, allegedly, to keep out scalpers, had gone badly; I got the email telling me I was chosen, but I never got the text with the code.
My experience the week before Taylor Tuesday furthered my doubt in the system: Ticketmaster crashed twice in my attempt to get tickets to Louis Tomlinson, a star with nowhere near the kind of fanbase to rival "Swifties." Each time I threw "general admission" tickets into my cart -- no seat assigned -- it told me that another fan had "grabbed" them and I needed to try again. How could that be, I wondered, if the tickets were general admission?
Alas, it didn't matter: for Taylor Swift, I got waitlisted, whatever that means. My sister got waitlisted. My niece got waitlisted. But, lo and behold, my bestie came through.
"I got a code," she texted. "I got a code."
We knew it would still be hard. Really, really hard. But we have been doing this, together, for so long. Back in the day, it wasn't online codes -- we slept out in front of record stores and in parking lots, getting precious wristbands to keep our place in line while hoping for the best seats we could grab for Prince, U2, and Def Leppard. Once, on a particularly cold morning, my social studies teacher showed up with doughnuts for all of us; he cheered once we had tickets in hand.
Getting tickets today is a far more solitary experience that revolves around laptops and phones -- computerized and mechanized with virtual waiting rooms and queues, and the so-called dynamic pricing system that Ticketmaster uses to vary ticket prices according to demand. We combed Tik Tok and Twitter for tips and hacks, appreciating the posts by those who expressed stress over being the only member of a friend group who got a code. We had already cleared our Tuesday morning calendars, and we were prepared to battle, knowing that an online bookie site had estimated approximately 2.8 million Eras tickets would be sold, which gave us a marginally better but still miniscule shot at getting tickets.
"Good luck -- don't hesitate but also take ur time but also be super quick. I believe in you," her daughter texted a few minutes before the presale went live.
No pressure there. No pressure at all.
In short, she got them. They aren't great seats, they aren't on the night we wanted, and she had to deal with a "sit tight, we're securing your Verified Tickets" message uncountable times before finally getting an email confirmation in her inbox. But as news emerged at what transpired across the day, we felt as lucky as mothers could feel, especially as heartbroken fans and their parents began to share their experiences -- tickets snatched out of their carts, the website crashing, and error code after error code flashing on people's screens.
"I'm officially done telling anyone I have tickets to Taylor Swift," a neighbor -- the only other person I know who got tickets -- texted me. "I feel like I might get mugged in the street."
While Ticketmaster shrugged off initial outrage on Tuesday by declaring "unprecedented historic demand" and thanking fans for their "patience," people began to ask questions. Why issue more codes than tickets? Why create more entry points than capacity?
So as I plan on staying in the trenches with my kid, trying to support her love for music the way my mother did for me, change has to be on the horizon for the unrestrained monopoly that sells concert tickets to teenagers. With "Swifties" getting increasingly angry at the star herself -- a generational artist, indeed, who has already had such an impact on the industry as a whole -- on Tik Tok, often quoting "I've never heard silence quite this loud" from the song, "The Story of Us," some legislators, from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, are getting loud about the problem.
"Ticketmaster's power in the primary ticket market insulates it from the competitive pressures that typically push companies to innovate and improve their services," Klobuchar, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, wrote in an open letter to Michael Rapino, CEO of Live Nation Entertainment (which oversees Ticketmaster). "That can result in the types of dramatic service failures we saw this week, where consumers are the ones that pay the price."
That price just went up, way up. When Ticketmaster announced the cancellation of the scheduled public sale for the Eras Tour on Thursday, claiming "insufficient inventory" after a "staggering number of bot attacks" during the presale, my heart broke for the thousands upon thousands of fans now officially left empty-handed, and the parents and grandparents and friends who tried so hard to get them there.
I had those days, too -- returning home because spending a night in a parking lot wasn't enough to get me a ticket to the show.
We have to do better.