"What we mean by pop music of the '90s is maybe not what everyone else thinks but it's pop to us."
-- Edge, on Pop
Sorting Through U2 Experience + Innocence Tour Ticket Presales
November 04, 2017
U2 fans might be feeling a bit overwhelmed by this week’s Live Nation announcement of the U2 Experience + Innocence Tour 2018. For folks interested in seeing U2 in North America, the Ticketmaster Verified Fan system requires several steps and sharing more personal information than previously required for ticket purchasing. U2 is using Verified Fan for the entire first leg of the E+I tour to attempt to cut out the majority of the external ticket resale market. However, this move may boost Ticketmaster’s Verified Resale business. The Verified Fan system does not mean that “scalping” won’t happen; it just means through Ticketmaster Verified Resale you’re guaranteed a valid ticket and that Ticketmaster is making money on all ends of the transaction. Tickets may (and most likely will) be found on other secondary markets, but you will take a risk on it being a valid ticket, as always. There’s a great deal to digest, so I hope this article helps break some of the issues as they pertain to North America.
I’ve been answering a lot of questions from fans confused about this new way of ticketing. To a degree, not much has changed for the U2.com fan club presale. Paid members still get first dibs on tickets through earlier presales. There are two tiers of presale: legacy members (experience group) and newbies (innocence group). The experience group’s presale is Nov. 14, followed by innocence group’s presale Nov. 15. It’s important to point out that tickets are not guaranteed and are sold on a first-come, first-served basis.
The fan club presale allows two tickets per account, which can be split as one ticket for two shows or two tickets for one show. This is similar to the 2015 Innocence + Experience tour. That’s where the similarities end. Now due to Verified Fan, fan club members must enter a cell phone number in their member profile and link their account to Ticketmaster through the member profile page. If you used a presale code for 2017’s The Joshua Tree Tour, you must also renew your U2.com subscription to qualify for fan club presale access. If you did not use a code, you do not need to renew at this time. Fans have until Nov. 12 to get their accounts “verified” through U2.com.
Continued Scalping Risks
Your presale access code will be sent to you via text two to four hours before the presale. It will not be available via email or through your member profile page as with previous tours. This added step is supposed to cut down on the amount of accounts resellers might have to score presale tickets. It’s still possible for scalpers to game the system by registering on a variety of “free SMS phone number” websites that, like Google Voice, allow you to receive text messages sent to an actual phone number on your PC (or by spinning up multiple accounts on scripted virtual machines via Amazon Web Services if scalpers were doing this in scale). For a band like U2, scalpers may feel it’s worth the hassle because the ticket markup more than pays for that.
Cell phones are one thing, but credit cards are also a part of the equation. Ticketmaster will check the billing address of a credit card against the address listed on the order and in the account. However, as fans and scalpers have known since the U2 360 Tour, this is easy to get around with prepaid credit cards. While Ticketmaster’s terms and conditions attempt to curtail the use of prepaid cards, it does not appear to use databases such as BinDB to screen for prepaid credit card use and abuse.
Fans shouldn’t be surprised to see U2 tickets on the secondary markets after the fan club presale; however, people behind the scenes might be scrutinizing every ticket sale for U2. Ed Sheeran, for example, canceled over 10,000 tickets for his recent tour when they showed up on reselling sites in the U.K. Country music star Eric Church canceled 25,000 tickets for the same reason.
For fans who need more detailed information, the U2.com help page answers a number of questions pretty clearly. The Zootopia moderators have been keeping up with specific questions too, so you can ask there.
Citi Card Presale
When the fan club presale concludes, fans have another chance at ticket presales through Citibank. With a Citi debit or credit card, you can register for the “Citi Presale powered by Verified Fan” for a chance at buying tickets. Citi’s website states: “Registering does NOT guarantee you will be verified, receive a code or have the ability to purchase tickets.” You must register for each city separately. If you are able to purchase tickets, Citi offers a four-ticket limit. While U2.com members might be upset that this presale offers more tickets, there may be fewer tickets available. It’s a trade-off of sorts. You also must pay using your Citi credit or debit card. The Citi presale runs from Nov. 16-18.
Verified Fan requires anyone interested in purchasing tickets to go through the verification process as well by Nov. 18 at 7 pm PST. Fans must register for each city they wish to purchase tickets in. As with the other sales, you will receive a code via text to enter the general onsale. All information can be found on the individual concert pages on Ticketmaster.
Why Is This Happening?
Ultimately, we have people like Ken Lowson to thank for where we are today with the Verified Fan system. He “broke” Ticketmaster through his BOT technology. Jason Koebler’s article on Vice.com goes into detail about how Lowson built the scalping market by buying blocks of tickets for artists. For the Vertigo tour, Lowson was able to buy 500 of the fan club GA tickets for each show on that tour.
Since then, U2 has taken steps with each tour to figure out a better solution for allocating fan club tickets as well as keeping fake tickets off the market. The compromise that Verified Fan offers seems like the best solution at this time. To a degree, however, it does feel like an invasion of privacy. I did not want to give up my cell phone number because I know that Ticketmaster will use it for marketing purposes. I did not want to link my U2.com account to Ticketmaster for the same reason. However, my love for U2 and seeing them live supersedes my desire for privacy. To an extent, U2 sort of warned us about this 20 years ago. The first episode of ZooTV was on surveillance. We learned about how companies are mining the public for data, and how music festivals were being used for marketing purposes. Who knew 20 years ago we’d be fully immersed in it now?
FanScore and Verified Fan
Many have asked, “What is FanScore?” It is a U.S. registered trademark held by Live Nation that is for the “collection, compilation and analysis in the nature of systematization of statistics, data and other sources of information for business purposes.”
As Matt McGee wrote on Oct. 25, U2.com removed the mention of FanScore from the terms and conditions of the fan club. It may have been removed from the fan club's terms and conditions; however, FanScore is still showing up on U2.com — it's a link from the member profile page regarding "Program Terms" with SMS messaging. Also, you'll find the same Verified Fan terms on Ticketmaster’s site.
For access to some artist ticket sales, fans had to first go through the Verified Fan process via Ticketmaster, and upon being verified were encouraged to tweet out links to get others to become verified. They were also encouraged to purchase that artist’s product, link to Facebook, send emails and more to improve their “fan score.” This would bump your place in the virtual ticket line and improve your ability to purchase tickets. According to Amplify.com, Ticketmaster’s Chief Digital Officer and EVP of Data Science and Engineering, John Carnahan, explained what FanScore means at the XLIVE Data and Analytics conference earlier this year:
“We take that information and behind-the-scenes we run our machine learning which scores those users,” he said. “It tells us the likelihood that the person is going to attend that show. We’re taking all the data that we have of which (concerts) this person attended and which ones they didn’t.”
Based on their fan score, people will get a code that they can then use for a specific presale which prevents them from fighting with bots to get good seats.
“The response is fantastic,” Carnahan said. “Which makes people actually like Ticketmaster. A big goal of mine is to get people to actually like Ticketmaster again or ever.”
The fan scoring is also being used for other features. For instance, if a show is sold out, potential ticket buyers are prompted to fill out a form that will notify them if and when tickets are dropped for whatever reason. According to their fan score that predicts the likelihood of them attending the event, they will be sent a text message that informs them that there are available tickets.
“We will make a reserve for you before that ticket even shows up on the site and based on the constraints you had, these tickets look good for you and we will purchase them for you with your credit card on file if you respond with a yes,” he said.
To ensure the best possible fan score, Ticketmaster is also unveiling a new product called Presence. Events that use this product will make it a requirement for every ticket purchased to have the holder’s name. So if someone buys tickets for their family, every ticket will have to bear the attendee’s name and can be transferred via the Ticketmaster app or a team’s app. The path of identity can be fully tracked this way. It could also mean that if a friend purchases a ticket for you, then transfers it to your Ticketmaster account, your attendance still benefits your fan score.
Carnahan ended the chat by expressing that “in a lot of ways we are eliminating the worst part of a live event experience which is buying a ticket. The association is between the artist and the fan and we’re just trying to make that happen. The more that we can step out of that, the more that we can just link up the fan and the artist together.”
I went through a similar process earlier this year with Imagine Dragons. If I purchased the Evolve T-shirt, limited-edition clear vinyl LP and digital album bundle for $54.98, it guaranteed me first access to the Imagine Dragons North American tour tickets. While first access did not guarantee tickets, it provided access to the presale. To improve my chances, I was then encouraged to “move up the line” to get better access. Buyers received fan score points for each friend referred, each referred buyer, number of Facebook shares, and each tweet and email with my link. The “Top Fans” would qualify for a VIP experience at the show. Group 1 would get first access to the best seats. The top 1,000 fans in each city would be allowed to purchase four tickets before the public onsale or Group 2. Then, Group 2 would have pre-sale access for up to four tickets before the public onsale. Also, a waitlist, pending availability, would allow presale opportunities. After doing everything that I did, I became No. 58 in Group 1 for the Boston show.
So it was important when FanScore verbiage was removed from the terms and conditions of U2.com. Can you imagine how much spam U2 fans would be sending out to improve their place in the ticketing line?
Potential for SOE to Debut at U.S. No. 1
Who announces a tour before the album comes out? Didn’t U2 learn that lesson from Pop and the PopMart tour? Furthermore, didn’t U2 just finish a stadium tour this year? What’s the rush?
Many albums are released in November for the Christmas season and to drive up fourth-quarter profits. It appears U2 are taking a page out of the same playbook as artists like Arcade Fire and Katy Perry, who have bundled a copy of the album with the purchase of a concert ticket. Fans who purchase a ticket to the North American first leg of the E+I tour will receive a copy of Songs Of Experience in either CD or digital format. Ticketmaster states, “Every ticket purchased will include a copy of U2's new album, ‘Songs of Experience,’ to be released 12/1/17. Be on the lookout for a separate email with instructions around how you can redeem your album(s). Prior to 12/1, you will have the opportunity to pre-order one CD per ticket purchased. Once the digital album becomes available on 12/1, fans can redeem either a CD or digital album at the time of redemption. One album per ticket. U.S./Canadian residents only. Not valid for Fan to Fan Resale.”
Universal Music’s competitor, Warner Music, promotes the process to encourage artists to bundle their albums this way. In the case of Tom Petty, Warner Music’s website states:
In 2014, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers set an ambitious goal with Hypnotic Eye – to achieve their first-ever #1 album. Partnering with our team, we managed an album-ticket bundle campaign during the launch of their North American tour. Across 30 dates, ticket sales were strong from one of rock’s living legends. Our team orchestrated an impactful album delivery machine to ensure that fans had easy access to the album included with their tickets. The process was smooth and successful – the album sold 130k copies in its first week, debuting atop the charts on the Billboard 200.
Should all 14 currently announced US dates sell out (and we expect they will), approximately 280,000 copies of the album will be “sold” (14 x 20,000 arena tickets). That figure will play into the first-week US album sales. In a way, U2’s taking an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach to securing a top album position on the Billboard 200 chart. The label and Live Nation can now promote Songs Of Experience as a No. 1 album paired with a sold-out first leg of a tour — it’s a business win-win. For fans who purchased tickets, it’s like you’re getting a “free” album. Unlike in 2014, you have to opt in to redeem the free album through Ticketmaster. In reality, Live Nation understands its margins and has added the cost of your album to the price of the ticket and servicing charges. (Note: Montreal is the only show currently announced in Canada and should not impact the US record chart)
November 20 is an important date. That is when all North American ticket holders must opt in for the album to count toward the first week of album sales; a two-week window is required for approval by Billboard and SoundScan. The guidelines are set forth by the American Association of Independent Music.
This is how many artists can “game” the system to secure a No. 1 album position the first week of release.
It might also explain why “You’re The Best Thing About Me” had so many videos and remixes drop almost weekly across YouTube and the streaming services. According to Billboard, YouTube views are factored into the Top 100 singles chart ranking. Streams from various music services also count toward chart position. Each time there was a new version, people wanted to experience it, which added to the charting potential for U2’s lead single from Songs Of Experience. Starting in 2018, the streams from paid tiers of services will have more weight in the Billboard Top 100.
Also, one of the measures of Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart is number of tracks downloaded. As Travis M. Andrews reported this week in The Washington Post, Billboard’s formula counts the digital sale of 10 songs as an album sale, and every 1,500 streams of songs from an album count as an album sale. “If all 10 tracks of a 10-track album are purchased, then that counts as an album sale. But, for example, if every track on a 20-song album is purchased, that counts as two album sales. And if an album with 10 songs is streamed by 150 people, then it counts as a sale of the album. But if an album with 15 songs is streamed by 100 people, that also counts as a sale of the album. More importantly, the songs don’t need to be streamed as part of the actual album. Instead, they can be individually added to playlists, and each stream still counts toward the album itself.” This might explain why some of U2’s Songs Of Experience tracks were not available for download earlier this year (like “The Blackout”).
Given today’s business climate, Universal and Live Nation may have positioned Songs Of Experience with the best chance to debut at No. 1 in the United States.
For fans in certain European countries, the incentive is slightly different. Even though no concert dates have been announced yet, a concert presale code is being linked to the preorder of Songs Of Experience. In the U.K., there are different rules for bundling concert ticket presales with album sales as it pertains to album charts. For fans in the rest of the world, there appears to be no additional incentive.
This is the first taste of what’s to come for presales for the Experience + Innocence Tour. I see the North American presale as a test market for how this strategy will play out. Chances are, additional dates may be added to the itinerary in major cities. Best of luck to those trying for tickets to the first leg of the 2018 tour.