Taylor Swift's Ticket Strategy: Brilliant Business or Slowing Demand?

Superstars like Swift are increasingly using "dynamic pricing" that shifts ticket prices constantly like airline seats. But is it the future of the industry?

Taylor Swift performs at Z100's iHeartRadio Jingle Ball at Madison Square Garden, in New York in December 2017. Credit: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/REX Shutterstock

If you went on Ticketmaster in January and pulled up a third-row seat for Taylor Swift's June 2nd show at Chicago's Soldier Field, it would have cost you $995. But if you looked up the same seat three months later, the price would have been $595. That's because Swift has adopted "dynamic pricing," where concert tickets – like airline seats – shift prices constantly in adjusting to market demand. It's a move intended to squeeze out the secondary-ticket market – but it's also left many fans confused as they're asked to pay hundreds of dollars more than face value. "Basically, Ticketmaster is operating as StubHub," says one concert-business source.

Swift is not alone. This summer, U2, Kenny Chesney, Pink, the Eagles and Shania Twain will also embrace dynamic pricing (which Ticketmaster calls Official Platinum Seats). It's their latest attempt to battle resellers like StubHub, the eBay-owned site, which had sales of more than $1 billion in 2016. "You
 can go and buy tickets and then put them on StubHub and speculate for three to five times their face value – [that's] their entire industry," says Stuart Ross of Red Light Management, which reps Dave Matthews Band, Phish and more. Doc McGhee, who manages KISS, sees why Ticketmaster needed to take action: "If somebody's going to pay $500 for a $150 ticket, the band should receive the money."

Not everyone agrees. Some artists, like Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam, have opted out of using the dynamic-pricing model, as have smaller, indie artists like Father John Misty. "An artist like Father John Misty is very ticket-price-conscious," says his manager, Dan Fraser. "Just because more people are willing to pay for a ticket, he doesn't want to [charge it] … He'll leave money on the table."

"The industry is adopting a new mantra," says a concert-industry expert. "If you sell out quickly, you didn't price tickets properly."

The program has forced promoters to rethink what a successful concert means in 2018. While Swift's entire 2015 1989 tour sold out almost instantly, there are plenty of seats available for most of her Reputation shows. One veteran promoter says it's selling "terribly – the worst scaling and flexible pricing I have ever seen for a stadium tour." But others say she's just playing a long game. "Don't put too much emphasis on the fact she hasn't sold out yet," says Gary Bongiovanni, the editor-in-chief of concert trade publication Pollstar. "The industry is adopting a new mantra," says a concert-industry expert. "If you sell out quickly, you didn't price tickets properly." (Swift's representative declined to comment for the story.)

But the system can be confusing for fans. In addition to dynamic-priced tickets, Swift's tour is offering seats on an interactive map through a menagerie of dots – yellow for VIP ($500-$900), pink for approved fan resales (which can list for thousands of dollars), blue for standard face-value tickets ($50-$450). "It's kind of complicated," says Alex Hodges, CEO of Nederlander Concerts in Los Angeles, suggesting that the astronomical prices may cause fans to "get skittish and back off."

But experts see the plan as a necessary way to hold on to profits as the entire industry goes through a sea change. "Does the airline want to sell out all tickets and be done with that flight?" says one source. "Or do they want to sell them at $700 and [eventually] sell every seat? It's that kind of situation." Adds another expert, "[Concert tickets] just caught up to hotels, airfares and rental cars. It's a cultural change and an acceptance of resellers."

From teenaged country tracks to synth-pop anthems to little-known covers, a comprehensive assessment, celebration of Swift's one-of-a-kind songbook. Watch below.