Image: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Blink-182 Tickets Are So Expensive Because Ticketmaster Is a Disastrous Monopoly and Now Everyone Pays Ticket Broker Prices

Or: Why you are not ever getting an inexpensive ticket to a popular concert ever again.

Blink-182 fans are furious at Ticketmaster, the band, and society in general over the astronomical ticket prices to the band’s reunion tour—Billboard has cited ticket prices as high as $600 in some cities. This is, unfortunately, the logical outcome of the entertainment monopoly Ticketmaster has built since it merged with Live Nation, creating a live events behemoth in which a huge portion of ticketing, venues, and the artists themselves are owned or controlled by a single company. 


It is arguably also the case that, in trying to “fight” ticket brokers (called “scalpers” by many), Ticketmaster has done something that is very lucrative for itself and for artists, but also worse for the average fan: It has simply jacked up ticket prices for certain high-profile events to a level where all tickets are more-or-less priced at the maximum level that the secondary market would normally bear. More on this in a minute.

To understand how we got here, it’s useful to go back to 2009, when Bruce Springsteen wrote an open letter apologizing to his fans for the experience they had trying to buy his tickets on Ticketmaster. At the time, his tickets had gone on sale, sold out almost instantly, and Ticketmaster began automatically redirecting fans to a ticket resale site called TicketsNow, which Ticketmaster also owned. Fans were confused, thinking they were still buying “face value” tickets from Ticketmaster, only now the prices for the best tickets—with a face value that maxed out at $98 in New Jersey, for example—were selling for hundreds of dollars.

In the blistering letter, Springsteen said that redirecting fans to ticket resellers was an “abuse of our fans and our trust by Ticketmaster [which] has made us as furious as it has made many of you. We will continue to do our utmost now and in the future to make sure that these practices are permanently curtailed on our tours.”


“The one thing that would make the current ticket situation even worse for the fan than it is now would be Ticketmaster and Live Nation coming up with a single system, thereby returning us to a near monopoly situation in music ticketing,” Springsteen added.

Soon after that fiasco, Ticketmaster and Live Nation did merge and became a single company. Thirteen years later, the current ticket situation is, indeed, even worse. 

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In 2009, Springsteen was mad that Ticketmaster was redirecting customers to ticket resellers. Now, with Springsteen’s cooperation, Ticketmaster has to a large extent cut out ticket resellers by simply using a “dynamic pricing” algorithm to increase prices—for everyone—to such astronomical levels that ticket reselling is largely not worth the risk and the price of going to a popular show is so high that many people are simply priced out. 

The way that dynamic pricing works is that for many seats in a venue, there is no longer really a “face value” price of a ticket, and that prices for many events are now as high as people are willing to pay, as determined by an algorithm. This has been likened to Uber’s surge pricing, which fluctuates based on demand and a raft of other unclear metrics. 

Here is how Ticketmaster opaquely explains it: “In some instances, events on our platform may have tickets that are ‘market-priced,’ so ticket and fee prices may adjust over time based on demand. This is similar to how airline tickets and hotel rooms are sold and is commonly referred to as ‘Dynamic Pricing.’” 


Ticketmaster has not explained in detail how it determines the “market price” of any given show, but for many events, the Live Nation/Ticketmaster conglomerate controls the ticketing process, owns or operates the venues, and represents the artists (which often means that it is advising them on ticket prices and venue choice; Live Nation artists, for example, rarely play non-Live Nation venues). 

We can safely infer that ticket prices are calculated via some proprietary mix of: a band’s historical ticket sale performance in a specific venue (and nationwide), historical secondary market performance, ticket sales performance of similar artists, number of shows in a given market, performance during presales, etc., and can then be adjusted on the fly during an onsale based on the velocity of ticket searches and sell-through rates. All of this is data that Ticketmaster and Live Nation owns or can reasonably monitor given its position as a music industry behemoth and monopoly. 

Bands were systematically pricing their tickets at prices that were objectively too low, given that people were able to take their tickets and then sell them at higher prices elsewhere

Here is what Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus had to say about the situation after fans reported wildly varying ticket prices, many of which were hundreds of dollars:


“I understand that the ticketing can be frustrating. I bought tickets for two of our shows myself just to see what the experience was like,” Hoppus said. “I had tickets yoinked from my cart and the whole thing crash out. Dynamic pricing. I’m not in charge of it. It’s meant to discourage scalpers. We’re trying to bring you the best possible show for the best price. This is a tour celebrating new music and the band getting back together. Thank you for your enthusiasm and I hope to see all of you at the shows.”

The Blink-182 tour, it should be noted, is “produced” by Live Nation, according to the Live Nation press release announcing the tour. In the U.S., they are playing almost exclusively Live Nation venues (in Blink-182’s hometown, San Diego, they are playing at the Pechanga Arena, a venue that is operated by AXS, which is a different company.) The tickets for all shows besides the San Diego one are being handled by Ticketmaster. The press release announcing the tour does not list any prices.

The question then is whether Dynamic Pricing is actually better for fans and whether it is actually a good thing for fans to get rid of ticket brokers, regardless of how you feel about them.

I know it is different now, because, in 2009, while I was in college, I bought and sold tickets for the Bruce Springsteen tour that pissed everyone off, as well as Blink-182’s tour at the time. I didn’t use bots or do anything special, I simply logged on when the tickets went on sale, typed in a captcha, and tried to get tickets with everyone else. When I got them, I bought them with a credit card, listed them on TicketsNow and StubHub at a price that seemed to be “market rate” for the concert based on other secondary market listings, and waited for them to sell. On some shows, I made a lot of money  in the order of a few hundred dollars per ticket. On many others, I speculated on tickets I shouldn’t have, had to lower the prices below what I had paid, and took a partial loss. On some shows, I wasn’t even able to give the tickets away and took a full loss. On the whole, I was not a very good ticket broker and stopped doing it after a year or two, having lost several thousand dollars overall. 

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A promotional email for Blink-182's 2009 tour

Here is how things worked for Blink-182’s 2009 tour, according to promotional emails I still have in my inbox and my experience of attempting this thousands of times for dozens of bands in dozens of cities:

  • Show is announced, along with standardized prices for each venue. At the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre (now the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre) in Orange County, California, ticket prices ranged between $20 for lawn tickets, which had no fees whatsoever, and $63 for general admission “pit” tickets in front of the stage.
  • Various presales are announced for fans of the band, certain credit card holders, etc.
  • General onsale happens. Generally, tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. local time. To get tickets, you refresh the page at exactly 10 a.m. using the website, which Ticketmaster was seemingly synced to, select how many tickets you want and in what section (clicking “Best Available” or searching for odd numbers of tickets (1 or 3, which are less searched for seemingly gave best results), and clicked “search.” You entered a captcha to prove you weren’t a bot (some brokers did have bots that circumvented captchas, however), and clicked proceed. You then waited, and, hopefully, Ticketmaster added tickets to your cart. You then had a few minutes to check out.
  • Show sells out. For a popular band, this can happen in seconds or minutes, depending on the venue and city.
  • Tickets are listed by brokers on StubHub and other secondary market websites. These individual brokers as well as, well, the “free market,” basically determine the price of what a ticket was “worth” to people who missed out in the initial onsale. 


This was not a perfect system. There were issues with bots, Ticketmaster being overwhelmed with traffic and breaking during onsales for the highest-profile events, and brokers ultimately charging a ton of money to fans of a band who were shut out during the original onsale. People have been mad at Ticketmaster, and the ticket-buying process, for a long time, and a lot of those concerns are valid. Lots of people would be mad that tickets were going to brokers and not “true fans,” for example. 

The other major issue with this system was that bands were systematically pricing their tickets at prices that were objectively too low, given that people were able to take their tickets and then sell them at higher prices elsewhere. The profits from tickets on the secondary market went to random ticket brokers who have nothing to do with making music or performing and producing a tour, and didn’t “do” anything other than take a risk by fronting some money to speculate on ticket prices. In theory, this meant less money for bands, less money for people who work on tours, at venues, and, very crucially, less money for Ticketmaster itself. In practice, there has been no real reporting done on whether dynamic pricing has led to roadies or bartenders or security guards getting more money, though bands almost certainly do (this is all compounded by the fact that the pandemic has threatened these people's livelihoods for years). Ticketmaster—which is solving the reseller problem both by making it unprofitable to do so as well as by letting people resell tickets on Ticketmaster itself—is also almost certainly making more money from this system than the old one, where its underpriced tickets were then being sold on StubHub, which charged its own fees. 


The major benefit of the old system before dynamic pricing, and the reason why it likely feels that buying tickets now is worse than ever, is that some percentage of the tickets—often a large number of them—were going to fans at prices that were below market value (by which I mean the price that the tickets were worth on a site like StubHub.) Fans who did not have hundreds of dollars laying around to buy tickets at “market price” still had a chance to buy tickets at affordable rates, and many of them did so and were happy about it. In this system, the people who failed to get tickets were unhappy, and they were unhappy that they often had to pay high prices on StubHub. The problem with the system used by Ticketmaster today—for fans at least—is that, now, everyone pays high prices, not just the people who weren’t able to get tickets from Ticketmaster. And no one is happy about it. 

Of course, ticket brokers do still exist and people do still resell tickets, the knock-on effect of this mechanism of pricing is that the break-even point for resellers is now so high that the only reason to expect prices to get lower at any point in the process is because speculators may have grossly miscalculated demand for a specific show and may have to eventually sell at a loss.

Again, it's important to remember that Ticketmaster/Live Nation is controlling every aspect of this situation and is making money from every single part of it. They represent the band, plan the tour, own and/or operate the venues, sell the tickets, and allow others to resell the tickets, on their site, for a fee. This vertical integration gives Ticketmaster unprecedented control over concerts in the United States and is the reason why groups like the American Economic Liberties Project have asked the Justice Department to break the company up. In 2009, when the Senate was scrutinizing the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger, consumer rights groups predicted that what has happened would happen

"By combining a ticketing monopolist with a dominant firm in marquee concert promotion the merged firm will be able to foreclose competition in both markets, leading to less choice and higher prices," David Balto, then-a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, testified at the time. "This merger of dominant firms raises serious competitive concerns and could potentially lead to significantly higher prices for the hundreds of thousands of consumers who purchase tickets every day."

I’ve written about tickets off-and-on for more than 10 years, and experts in the industry have always told me that the ticket issue is a simple one of supply and demand. Supply of tickets are inherently limited by the size of venues as well as the number of shows a band is willing to play in any given city. Ticket brokering exists and was profitable for many people for many years because, for some concerts, there are more people who want tickets than there are tickets available. When this happens, prices go up on the secondary market. The inverse is also true: there are many shows for which more tickets are sold or are available than there are people who actually want to go. When this happens, tickets can often be bought for less on the secondary market than they went on sale for in the first place. This is a reality that Ticketmaster has outlined as well: "The promoters and artist representatives determine the specific pricing for their shows," Ticketmaster told USA Today about a recent Springsteen dynamic pricing fiasco. "The biggest factor that drives pricing is supply and demand. When there are far more people who want to attend an event than there are tickets available, prices go up."

Country superstar Garth Brooks—who has called out dynamic pricing as well as suggested that the secondary market should be “illegal,” has more or less solved the problem for his fans with one simple trick: He adds shows until they no longer sell out. In recent years, on single tours, Brooks has done the following: He played nine concerts in a row in Edmonton, Canada. He played a dozen shows in Chicago. He played six in Kansas, nine in Tulsa, and eight in Denver. 

By flooding the market with tickets by playing an absurd number of shows in various cities, he has found a way to more-or-less meet demand. Not every artist is able, willing, or has enough clout to do this. In the last week, Blink-182 has added a few shows—a second one in San Diego, a second one in Los Angeles, for example. There are open dates on their tour calendar, and more are sure to come. But these, too, have dynamic pricing. And so it’s no longer really hard to get a Blink-182 ticket in Los Angeles, for example. The question is whether you’re willing to pay $250 per ticket to do it.