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  1. The Weekend Report
22 July 2023

Inside the “psychopathic” battle for Taylor Swift tour tickets

Buying new SIM cards, taking time off work, and spending hours on hold: UK Swifties explain the all-consuming experience of getting in to her 2024 gigs.

By Ellen Peirson-Hagger

If you think you’ve been busy recently, try being a Taylor Swift fan. 

Alfie, a 20-year-old student, was “kind of psychopathic” about his approach to getting tickets for the American pop star’s 2024 UK tour, he told me. It all started last autumn, when it became clear that fans who pre-ordered Swift’s most recent album, Midnights, would receive pre-sale access to tickets for future UK live dates. It is unlawful for an artist to insist you buy a product in order to receive access to a sale, so Alfie went for the “no purchase necessary” option of signing up with an email address instead. He used two addresses, and asked his mother and sister to sign up too.

Ahead of the pre-sale this month, he began to get “paranoid” that AEG – the tour promoter – would realise he was behind all four accounts. He bought “a bunch of 75p SIMs” so that the verification code for each account could be sent to a different phone number. He made a spreadsheet to keep track of the different details for each of these accounts. The pre-sale took place over three days from 10 July, with tickets available from 11am, 1pm and 3pm every day. When the time came, Alfie juggled his personal laptop, his work laptop, his phone and his mum’s phone.

Helen, a 38-year-old Swift fan – a “Swiftie” – from Bath, also became eligible for the pre-sale when she pre-ordered Midnights. When the UK dates were confirmed in June (Swift will play 13 stadium dates between June and August 2024), it was announced that anyone else hoping to buy tickets had to register in advance as a “verified fan”. “So I got everybody I knew to register for tickets for the general sale, just in case I couldn’t get anything on the pre-sale,” she said.

Tickets for the concerts she was interested in attending – in London and Cardiff – were due to be sold on two different dates, Monday and Wednesday, so Helen booked those days off work to devote her energy to ticket-nabbing. But five days before the pre-sale was due to begin Swift added three more UK dates, and an email from AEG to all registered users announced changes to the dates each venue’s tickets would go on sale. Helen promptly booked Tuesday off too.

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If all this seems like an awful lot of effort, Helen said, “I knew it was going to be worth it for Taylor.” This sentiment was shared among all the Swift fans I have spoken to over the past week. The 33-year-old singer-songwriter, who started her career in country music, is an international pop superstar. Her previous tour, in 2018, was the highest-grossing ever in North America. And her followers are devoted.

“She’s one of the best performers I’ve ever seen in concert,” said Sam, 27, from Hertfordshire, who has seen Swift live four times, and was set on seeing her again in 2024.

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It was a live experience that made Helen fall in love with Swift, when she accompanied a friend to a London date on the Red tour in 2014. “I was absolutely blown away by how theatrical it was,” she said. “So much had gone into storytelling and presentation.” She ended up getting tickets for another concert a few days later and has since seen Swift twice more, including on the Reputation tour in 2018. It’s that tour that a “general Swiftie” will say is “the pinnacle of everything”, Helen said. “However, unfortunately for me, I have a massive phobia of snakes.” Snakes featured heavily in Swift’s aesthetic for that record and the live shows. “My enjoyment of the Rep tour was slightly impacted by that.”

Swift’s current outing, the Eras tour, is significant. It is the first time she has toured since 2018, after the tour for her album Lover was cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Eras tour is currently in the US, where Swift will play 53 stadium dates. In total, the tour will include 131 concerts over five continents. The show lasts for over three hours and features 44 songs from all ten of Swift’s studio albums. “This feels very much like a one-of-a-kind tour,” Helen said.

That the US tour has been running concurrently to the UK sale period – the pre-sale began on 10 July, while the general sale took place from 17-19 July – has been crucial to the hype that has built up. American audiences live-stream their concert experiences on TikTok and Instagram to hundreds of thousands of viewers, getting UK audiences excited for what awaits them, and increasing demand. “Some people watch every single night,” Alfie said. “It is obsessive.” A Swiftie easily becomes a voluntary part of Swift’s marketing machine.

[See also: Corporate culture is ruining live music]

But the American Eras story also had UK audiences on guard. The tour made international news for its disastrous ticket sales process, when a Ticketmaster system supposedly designed to defeat bots instead locked out millions of fans. Ticketmaster blamed “extraordinarily high demands on ticketing systems”, reporting that while 3.5 million people registered for the verified fan ticket access, with 1.5 million of those given an access code, the site received 3.5 billion system requests in a single day. A record-breaking two million tickets were sold that day. When she first pre-ordered Midnights, Helen was confident she would get tickets. “And then I saw what happened in America, and I’ve been stressed ever since.”

Alfie expected the ticket-buying process for the UK to be just as “brutal”, he said. “I was expecting a giant battle.” No wonder he was so thoroughly prepared. In the end he was able to buy tickets for three different London dates, including the closing date of the whole tour. “I got my dream tickets.” His highest priced ticket – for a front standing spot – cost £150 at face value.

Sam also has tickets for three different dates, paying a top price of £172. A report published this month by the entertainment analytics platform Luminate said that the high price of concert tickets now out-ranks Covid-19 as the primary concern among American music fans when considering attending a live music event. But this did not deter hardcore British Swifties. While prices for the tour were not made public before the first day of the pre-sale, Sam was “surprised with the pricing. I expected them to be a lot more.” He has been to other stadium concerts this summer, to see Harry Styles, Beyoncé and the Weeknd, and is used to paying in excess of £100. “Concert tickets have definitely gone up in cost since the pandemic, but I feel like that’s the case with everything.”

Alfie and Sam both described the process for buying tickets as “easy”. All of the organisation required by fans – the pre-ordering, the pre-registering – was designed to ensure that Swifties, and not bots or scalpers hoping to resell tickets for a profit, had the best chance of buying tickets. Other elements of this elaborate set-up – such as the different dates and times tickets went on sale, and the fact that tickets were sold via both Ticketmaster and AXS – were designed to reduce traffic to avoid a technical meltdown like there was in the US.

But the process wasn’t easy for everyone. Adam, 35, a regular gig-goer, was hoping to buy tickets to see Swift in Edinburgh with his fiancée, but ran into glitches on the AXS website. When he finally did get through, the only available tickets were “the extortionate VIP packages”, which go up to £600. Adam had hoped to spend about £80 a ticket, and as he tried to see if there were any left at that price, the site “kicked us out” because it suspected him of being a bot. He tried again later that day and experienced the same thing. “I’ve bought tickets for numerous gigs and festivals,” Adam said, “and I’ve never encountered anything so disorganised and poorly thought out. It was my first time trying to see Taylor live and if this is how it is trying to get tickets, then I don’t think I’ll be trying again in the future.”

Helen also had an arduous time over her three dedicated ticket-buying days. She is eligible for easy access, for people with disabilities or limited mobility, but these tickets weren’t available to buy online. She instead spent several hours dialling and redialling a Wembley Stadium phone number, using both her and her partner’s phone, until she was put on hold, where she waited for three hours. When she got through she bought a £130 ticket for a seat at the back of the stadium.

The next day she “treated herself” to VIP seats for the tour’s closing night at Wembley Stadium, “to get the seats that I wanted, and to have the merch for my collection”. (VIP packages include Taylor Swift prints, a commemorative tote bag, a collectable pin, sticker and postcard set, a souvenir concert ticket, and a “special” VIP tour laminate and matching lanyard.) “They were an absolute fortune,” Helen admitted. At face value each ticket was £599. The total for two tickets was £1,327.65, including more than £125 in fees.

Each of the Swifties I spoke to for this article acknowledged the expense of the tickets they had bought, but knew too of the huge cost of putting on a Taylor Swift concert and the many people involved in such a production. At least dynamic or surge pricing – where prices increase according to demand – was not in play here as it has been for previous Swift tours, said Sam. It shows that the artist cares about her fans, as does the sheer length of the show she puts on.

Every fan I spoke to agreed that the biggest problem with the ticket sales for this tour, and the concert industry in general, is touting. “Even though Taylor’s got more money than she needs, I would rather Taylor have my money than a tout have my money,” said Helen. “That offends me far more than the cost of VIP tickets or anything else.”

When I browsed the secondary ticketing website StubHub on Monday 17 July – on the first day of the Eras tour general sale – I found a front standing ticket, face value £172, being sold for £7,988. This was just one of countless tickets available to buy from touts for many multiples of the original cost. The Eras ticket sale was designed to prioritise fans, but when some Swifties weren’t able to find tickets and tickets are being resold at inflated prices, the system cannot have served its purpose. Ticketmaster did not respond to the New Statesman’s request for a comment about its measures to prevent touts purchasing tickets.

Sam Fletcher, 49, a father of three from London, felt “tempted” by the secondary market. While his nine-year-old daughter managed to get a Swift ticket through friends, his older daughters, aged 16 and 18, were unsuccessful. He observed “palpable frustration and jealousy” from the older two. “I felt so sorry for them,” he said. “I was looking at tickets on resale sites, and had to talk myself down: ‘Should I really spend £600 on a ticket?’ I was torn between making their year by spending an awful lot of money, and then having this reality check.”

Last week Kevin Brennan, the Labour MP for Cardiff West and a self-described “father of a Swiftie”, raised the issue of touts profiteering from secondary ticket sales in parliament. He told me that he believes “there’s a strong case to outlaw secondary ticketing for vast profit altogether. Having a proper, functioning secondary market, where tickets are not resold to make massive profits, is what’s needed, and that’s where regulation comes in.”

Brennan pointed to Ireland, where a law banning ticket touting came into force in 2021. “It shows that you can do something about it and it does change things.” I couldn’t find any tickets for Swift’s 2024 Dublin dates on resale sites. Meanwhile, the secondary ticket market has such a hold over the UK music industry that the NME has published an article advising readers on how to score Eras tickets that is a “paid for ad feature for Viagogo”, the resale website.

The Eras tour is already on track to be the most profitable in concert history, with the Wall Street Journal predicting its gross potential at over $1bn. According to Forbes, Swift is the second richest “self-made” woman in the music industry. She is a savvy businesswoman, whose 2023 earnings will come not only from her Eras profits, but her re-recordings of her old albums, through which she is (incredibly successfully) reclaiming the narrative over her music rights. 

It is Swift and her management team, not Ticketmaster, who decide the amounts fans must fork out for her concerts. But the Swifties I spoke to were more than willing to pay. “As much as I love her,” said Alfie, “she is a money-making business. If you’re gonna be successful, you have to be hyper-capitalist.” 

“I don’t begrudge her for wanting to be successful,” said Helen. “At the end of the day, we’ve got a choice. You don’t have to spend money on merch. You don’t have to go to her concerts. It is a privilege rather than a right.” And when you’re as devoted to an artist as Helen is to Taylor Swift, there’s no question about whether it’s worth it. “I will do whatever it takes, because you never know if you’re going to get the opportunity again.” 

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