Why Everyone’s Mad at Ticketmaster Right Now

5 minute read

There’s no doubt that Harry Styles is one of the biggest pop stars on Earth—maybe even, as his Don’t Worry Darling co-star Florence Pugh called him earlier this week, “the most famous man in the world.” It tracks, then, that the moment Styles announced he would be bringing his “Love on Tour” shows back to the United States following international dates, tickets were tough to get. Styles announced the return following the May release of his latest album Harry’s House, with residencies in five cities. But the frustration over the inaccessibility of tickets didn’t just stem from rabid fans who spent an arm and a leg to get the whole experience. It also had to do with Ticketmaster.

In March, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver dedicated a 20-minute segment to explaining why tickets are so difficult to get these days. The crux of the episode’s argument is that Ticketmaster—the largest ticket broker—and its parent company Live Nation are to blame for the price gouging, astronomical fees, and withholding of tickets.

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Although Styles has already played two nights in Toronto and has 40 more shows lined up—15 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, five in Texas, five in Chicago, and a closing set of shows at the Kia Forum in Los Angeles—tickets are either incredibly expensive or just unavailable. As more videos of the first two performances in Toronto circulate online, tensions are rising as fans scramble to grab tickets for the first New York show on Aug. 20—and much of the ire is being directed at Ticketmaster.

Fan backlash

In keeping with One Direction fans—known to be some of the most overzealous internet users—Harry Styles fans have a similar intensity. Some concert-goers share TikToks of themselves creating their looks for the show. But another subset of videos feature fans complaining about how hard it is to get reasonably priced tickets (the hashtag #HarryStylesTickets has over 8.2 million views).

The price-gouging was highlighted in a TikTok of a fan who made a spreadsheet comparing the prices for a class of tickets Ticketmaster dubs “Official Platinum” for Styles’ Madison Square Garden residency. This user’s data showed that the average ticket price is over $600, and one seat goes for more than $3,000. There are also inexplicable inconsistencies with the prices, as one fan pointed out on Twitter.

Why Ticketmaster seats are so expensive

In the simplest terms: Ticketmaster and Live Nation. The Last Week Tonight segment reported three reasons why people are paying significantly more money for tickets these days. The first is that average ticket prices have more than tripled since the mid-‘90s, even before they hit the resale market, in part due to increasingly elaborate productions for major arena tours. Second, the fees that are tacked on to each ticket can be as high as 78% of the ticket price. Those fees are divided among the venues, promoters, artists, and Ticketmaster.

Finally, the biggest reason why it’s increasingly difficult to score tickets is because Ticketmaster holds back as many as 90% of the tickets for the secondary market—credit card companies, promoters, radio stations, or artists’ fan clubs. Meanwhile, others are bought in bulk by resellers, who use bots to resell them at a markup. They “usually [go] to professional brokers charging outlandish markups, which a 2018 government report said can range from an average of nearly 50% to an astonishing 7,000%,” according to Variety.

Criticism of Ticketmaster is far from new—and bands like Pearl Jam and the Pixies have experimented over the years with attempting to cut them out of the process. But their dominance in the industry has made them largely unassailable, and the fervor of fandoms like Styles’ continues to shed light on artists’ and fans’ ongoing frustrations.

How to score cheaper tickets

High demand equals high prices, so finding affordable tickets will be challenging, but there are some options for those looking to score last-minute seats. Gametime and Seat Geek are two reliable resale apps with tickets for every major show, and the prices are sometimes lower than those on Ticketmaster. Stubhub can be a great resource as well, but customers should err on the side of caution as that platform has also had issues with lofty fees and markups.

Even with these apps and websites, the issue is unlikely to improve in the immediate future. Inflation has caused costs to skyrocket, and venues have seen staffing shortages due to jobs that were hit hard by pandemic hiatuses from live concerts. The federal government is on the case, as well, with a group of lawmakers proposing legislation that would change how Ticketmaster does business. They argued that Live Nation has too much control over the industry and urged President Joe Biden and his administration to launch an investigation into the ticket broker’s “monopoly” more than a decade after the 2010 merger of Ticketmaster and Live Nation. For now, fans’ ability to enjoy their favorite artists live remains a challenge.

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Write to Moises Mendez II at moises.mendez@time.com