Are You A Real Fan? Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan Program

               “The Boss” had a problem. Bruce Springsteen, nicknamed “The Boss”, has probably faced several problems, but the one I am interested in happened in 2017. In 2017 he wanted to play a smaller house for a more intimate experience. He chose the Walter Kerr Theater for a Broadway debut. The issue is the Kerr seats 975 people.1 That is a lot of seats, but not for Springsteen. In 2016 during his The River Tour he packed MetLife Stadium with 163,30 people.2 It would be a safe forecast that these shows would sell out. Given demand is way outstripping supply, one could simply let the free market have resellers sell the tickets for incredibly high prices. However, maybe you would rather give a chance to dedicated fans that do not have thousands to spend on a ticket.3 To solve the problem, you would have to determine who is a likely reseller bot and who is a “real fan”. The program that tries to do this is Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan program.

Springsteen performs with the E Street Band in Libson May 20164

                The system works by getting users to register weeks before the actual ticket sales. While exact details are unknown Ticketmaster uses it user data along with publicly available data, like social media usage, to verify identity. The system apparently has some real traction to. Ticketmaster estimates 30% to 50% of tickets get taken by resellers or bots on high demand shows. The resale on verified fan tickets is less than 5%. At the time of Wall Street journal article discussing, it less than 3% of the Springsteen show had hit secondary market.4

                For the probably slightly younger fan base of Taylor Swift verified fans gets even more involved. Ticket prioritization is not simply that you are a person, but a true fan. Fans could get a “medium” boost from watching one of her videos or posting a photo on twitter showing her advertising on a UPS truck. They can get a “high” boost from purchasing merch. The idea is that ticket resellers will not have the time to engage in fan activity dissuading them from doing it.4 It also certainly is not accidental that all the activities that true “fans” have time to do directly benefit the artist.

                These requirements for obtaining  tickets can have a real time commitment for those trying to get tickets. For instance, one Springsteen fan took the day off work to be able to purchase tickets if they received a code. However, that seems minor compared to a Swift fan who is working to play her videos 40 times a day.4 While some of these fans may have to pay less monetarily, they can certainly have to pay for the tickets through the time spent.

                This is also not to say the system has been without issues. This verified fan system created a submarket of people instead of selling the tickets, selling the codes. Offers as high as $1,000 dollars for a code to purchase up to two tickets to Springsteen’s Broadway show. There were also reports of ticket resellers creating dozens of Ticketmaster accounts and trying to spoof the system into getting more tickets. 5

Springsteen’s sign for his show on Broadway5

Moving ahead to the present large live events have certainly felt like a world away. However, there is indications we are starting to get to the point where some people can begin to safely attend concerts and sporting events. Despite some information indicating otherwise Ticketmaster is not going set protocols to enforce vaccines and/or mandatory COVID tests, that will be up to each individual organizer.6 That will be up to each organizer which depending on local regulation will also need to comply with capacity limits.

                 To dig into this a bit further let us take the local Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox can host fans at 12% capacity beginning on March 22nd. This would mean that a maximum of around 4,500 fans can be allowed in. While the ticket sale plan is not known yet, there is indications of a preference for season ticket holders.7 While demand for these tickets is uncertain, there seems to be at least a good chance that demand will again outstrip supply. This could be an additional complication that a lot of live events will face as they begin to reopen.

Facial mask sign at Fenway Park7

                One ongoing conversation that I have noticed in the past year is the concept of fairness. In a lot of ways, are currently living in a situation where demand is outstripping supply. Whether it is a concert ticket, a new fridge, or even at some points toilet paper we all want distribution to go fairly. However, I think the verified fan program shows at practice this is a hard issue to resolve. Technology certainly can help alleviate some problems, but it can inadvertently cause others. I think the key thing to keep in mind is for fairness it is hard to get it exactly right. It is a destination that we might eventually go to. In the meantime, well, as Springsteen sang “we were born to run”.

Here it is, my moment of Zen. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxuThNgl3YA)

1 Riedel, M. (2017, June 16). Bruce Springsteen heads to Broadway this fall. Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://nypost.com/2017/06/16/bruce-springsteen-heads-to-broadway-this-fall/

2 The River Tour (2016). (2021, January 20). Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_River_Tour_(2016)

3 Jordan, C. (2017, August 30). Bruce Springsteen on BROADWAY: Tickets on secondary MARKET minutes AFTER ONSALE. Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://www.app.com/story/entertainment/music/2017/08/30/bruce-springsteen-broadway-tickets-secondary-market-minutes-after-onsale/616384001/

4 Steele, A. (2017, September 06). Ticketmaster asks: Are you a big enough fan? Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/ticketmaster-asks-are-you-a-big-enough-fan-1504636200

5 Steele, A. (2017, September 16). Ticketmaster tries to weed Out scalpers, and a new market is born. Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/ticketmaster-tries-to-weed-out-scalpers-and-a-new-market-is-born-1505563201

6 Savage, M. (2020, November 12). No, Ticketmaster won’t force you to have a Covid vaccine. Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-54920146

7 Ccotillo@MassLive.com, C. (2021, February 25). Red Sox will have limited capacity at Fenway park on OPENING Day; park will remain mass VACCINATION SITE. Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://www.masslive.com/redsox/2021/02/boston-red-sox-will-have-limited-capacity-at-fenway-park-on-opening-day-will-keep-stadium-open-as-vaccination-site-during-season.html

7 comments

  1. First, I am nostalgic about your Daily Show reference at the end. I do so miss Jon Stewart. Anyway, nice post otherwise. I actually think I got Verified Fan tickets to Harry Potter on Broadway when it opened. It makes perfect sense to use digital data to identify the most loyal fans (which can also generate hype for the artist as well).

  2. Scott Siegler · ·

    I bought tickets to see Ronny Chieng do stand up at the Wilbur back in March 2020 before the pandemic was declared, and after three postponements, the show is now scheduled for November this year and ticket prices are up 40%. I had no idea I would be making a savvy investment at the time, which after reading your post has proven to me that there will always be ways to game the system of ticketing. But in spite of that, I really like this idea of Verified Fan tickets. It makes a ton of sense to give the fans that engage the most the greatest opportunity. Even with the sub markets, I think it is worth the trouble, and this is a great example of using tech to solve problems productively. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. This is great, a solid way to leverage technology to reward loyalty. It’s also encouraging to hear that baseball will have in person attendance again. I don’t think I will meet the “verified fan” requirements but would really love to catch a game a Fenway.

  4. lisahersh · ·

    Thanks for sharing, William! I’d never heard of Ticketmaster’s only fans program (but maybe that’s because most of the shows I go to don’t usually sellout >_<). It makes a lot of sense to try to ensure the purchasers are true fans of the artist vs only looking to resell them to make a profit. I do have some questions about the program though that maybe you can answer? How would this effect people purchasing tickets for others? For example my dad took me to a Spice Girls concert when I was 7 (bless his soul it was probably the highlight of my young life). If this was taking place today, how could this only fans program know that he was purchasing it for his daughter given that he's not present on any social media (actually he actively avoids it) and (I hope) a 7 year old wouldn't have a large online presence either. I assume this is something this is a situation that would regularly occur with popular artists, like Taylor Swift. Another thing that occurred to me is how truly fair is this system? Not everyone has the time, access to resources (e.g., money, technology), etc., that would enable them to get some of those boosts like watching numerous videos, posting on social media, or buying merchandise. Do you happen to know if Ticketmaster is ensuring that true fans with limited means are not being excluded from events?

  5. shaneriley88 · ·

    Excellent post. I felt you did a great job playing both sides of the issue at hand. I see a great fit for a proof-of-stake type digital contract here. “We are the biggest ticket seller in the world. We have got a lot of insights about what fan behaviour looks like and what reseller behaviour looks like. The last point I want to make is; it is not a guarantee of a ticket. It is an invitation to purchase.” – Head of Music at Ticketmaster To me this seems like a seam primed for some disruption. I’m looking forward to seeing how post-covid habits will drive such instances and business processes.

    Quote from: https://entertainment.ie/music/ticketmasters-verified-fan-anti-touting-system-is-coming-to-ireland-252068/

  6. lourdessanfeliu · ·

    This is a great post! You did a great job explaining how the techonology works. I do believe this is a great use of data and technology to identify who the true fans are and to make sure they are prioritized to buy tickets. This is important as reselling companies are creating more ways to buy all the tickets once they are released. Funny you mentioned Taylor Swift, some of my friends did the whole process to get a better window to purchase tickets.. while it was a time commitment of clicking the videos each day it did pay off as they managed to get great seats at a lower price.

  7. kellywwbcedu · ·

    Very cool post about the possibilities that data and technology can offer now. I love the use of it too, as it really evens the playing field in regards to the financial status of every fan, and seems fair in a way… as the person who would most enjoy the front row seat will get that seat. I’m sure people are trying to game the system everyday but I like the idea that TicketMaster had and I hope that they are able to full proof it. I don’t believe that this technology should be used for every concert or event though, as just because someone isn’t the biggest fan in the world doesn’t mean they wouldn’t truly enjoy the experience of being front row at an event.

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