Taylor, Ticketmaster, and Ticked-Off Fans

Taylor, Ticketmaster, and Ticked-Off Fans


  • Critical Risks are the issues that could permanently kill a project or idea.
  • Identify your Critical Risks and mitigate them using PDSA cycles before you’re in too deep.
  • Ticketmaster and Taylor Swift failed to do this, damaging their brands and disappointing thousands of customers.


Taylor Swift’s name is synonymous with success. Her most recent album release shattered records and put her name (deeper) into the history books as one of the most successful artists in history. Her recent tour announcement was met with excitement, yet days after tickets went on sale via Ticketmaster, her fans were left with a bitter taste in their mouths — not the euphoric excitement expected from snagging tickets to the most talked about concert of the year.

So what went wrong, and how could Swift and Ticketmaster have avoided making these mistakes?

The Build Up

Swift recently announced a new US tour, her first since 2018. Riding the high of her newest album release, this announcement was met by her fans with a frenzy. In the time since her last tour, she’s released four studio albums and rerecorded two of her previous works, so it was a given that her fans would be beyond excited to see her perform these new works live.

Traffic Overload

The first red flag happened with the presale code. In order to streamline things, Ticketmaster had fans sign up through their site for a chance to receive an access code, to use for the ticket presale happening at a later date. Eager for an opportunity to get first dibs on the best seats, fans overloaded the site, waiting in a queue for up to 12 hours in some cases. During this time, Ticketmaster struggled to keep up with the online traffic, crashing often. 

Unfortunately, the situation only got worse.

The day of the ticket presale arrived, and fans were looking for any way they could to get their hands on a pair of tickets. 

Fans waited in the presale queue for hours, only to have the site crash or reject their code at the last possible moment, forcing the user to get back in the queue and start the process all over again.

Soaring Prices

Those that did get through were shocked at the prices. What was supposed to be reasonably priced tickets were now skyrocketing, thanks to the dynamic pricing option that Swift chose to leave on. Many fans still sitting in the queue were also able to watch as tickets were added to StubHub, a ticket reselling platform, listed for far beyond their actual value. One reseller was selling two tickets, each at a whopping $51,000.

The internet flooded with upset fans, with many claiming they were no longer excited about the concert. Criticisms and accusations started flying — why was Ticketmaster not prepared for an event of this scale? And why had Swift and Ticketmaster left dynamic pricing on, when similar artists turned it off to give a fair chance to everyone, not just those with deeper pockets? Also, why wasn’t she taking a stand against ticket resellers, by cancelling the tickets being resold at ridiculous prices? Artists like Ed Sheeran have done this in the past, so why wouldn’t she? This price gouging also drew significant attention to a DOJ investigation into Ticketmaster’s parent company, Live Nation, and whether they are operating a monopoly.

Better Luck Next Time

Ticketmaster finally released a statement: The general sale was cancelled. Ticketmaster had oversold and now there were no tickets left, for any venue. If you didn’t get tickets during the presale, you were now officially out of luck. Swift also released a statement that did little to appease her livid fanbase. 

So what happened? How did two industry giants make such a massive miscalculation? What could they have done to foresee and minimize or avoid the mistakes that took place?

Mitigating Critical Risks

Risk Mitigation is something that can help you Fail Fast and Fail Cheap. It helps you identify the most significant issues before you begin throwing resources at the solution. We call these issues Critical Risks — the issues that could permanently kill a project or idea.

Not all Critical Risks mean the death of a project. Many can be evaluated and resolved using Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycles of learning. While some Critical Risks may not be resolvable, having that knowledge early on gives you the opportunity to adjust your approach and re-scope a project when necessary. 

In the situation with Swift and Ticketmaster, there were at least three Critical Risks that should have been addressed beforehand:

  1. Could Ticketmaster’s website handle the influx of traffic both events (release of access codes and ticket presale) were sure to bring?
  2. Is it possible to oversell tickets during the presale, when other sales are planned and have been publicly announced?
  3. Would leaving dynamic pricing on during the ticket presale have a negative impact on Ticketmaster’s long-term market dominance? 

For the sake of brevity, let’s look at Critical Risks #1 and #2.

In order to mitigate the potential of the first Critical Risk, Ticketmaster could have used a PDSA cycle to look at previous peak traffic periods, modelled how much traffic they were expecting for this particular sale and compared the two. If they found a need for the ability to host greater numbers, they then could have entered a second PDSA cycle by simulating the maximum-anticipated traffic load to see if the site would still function well. If it failed, a third PDSA cycle could have focused on building the necessary capacity. By doing this, they would have resolved the problem before disappointing hundreds of thousands of customers. 

They also could have leveraged this approach to evaluate the risk of ticket demand out-running supply. The first PDSA cycle could have focused on comparing the anticipated demand with the known supply of tickets. If there was an imbalance, a second PDSA cycle could have developed mitigation strategies to shift the Supply/Demand equation, and communication plans could have been put into place to prepare fans for the reality of the situation. 

Essentially, every part of this debacle could have been avoided by identifying, evaluating, and resolving critical risks ahead of time.

Wrapping Up

Ticketmaster and Swift’s team clearly didn’t identify and mitigate Critical Risks ahead of their event. If they had done so, they could have avoided all of the problems outlined above. Consequently, they failed fast, but did not fail cheap, as the damage to their respective brands has been significant. 

Want help identifying and mitigating the Critical Risks facing your key project? Chat with us here.

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