Scalpers, Wealthy Get Great Seats for Taylor Swift - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NC5 Investigates: Concert Ticket Secrets

Scalpers, Wealthy Get Great Seats for Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift Taylor Swift
music industry analyst Bob Lefsetz music industry analyst Bob Lefsetz
5-year-old Jasmine Null 5-year-old Jasmine Null
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Taylor Swift is one of the hottest acts around, a nominee this week for Entertainer of the Year. 

When tickets to her concerts recently sold out in minutes, Taylor Swift's people told reporters to ask Ticketmaster what happened. 

(Minneapolis Taylor ticket seekers were swiftly shut out)

A NewsChannel 5 investigation discovered that it may have nothing to do with who's selling the tickets. 

For seven months now, our investigative team has been digging into Nashville's concert ticket secrets. And Taylor Swift's concerts demonstrate how a lot of tickets may be sold -- before you ever have a chance to buy. 

In fact, the night that country sensation Taylor Swift brought her Fearless Tour back to Nashville, 5-year-old Jasmine Null was stuck at home without a ticket.

"Oh, I keyed my fingers off trying to get it to go through," her mother, Tabitha Null, said.

Tabitha was on the computer the moment tickets went on sale to the public, but she kept getting the same Ticketmaster message: Sorry, no tickets found.

"So what happened when your mom told you that you could not get tickets?" NewsChannel 5 chief investigative reporter Phil Williams asked Jasmine.

"I just ran to my room and cried my eyes out," the little Taylor fan answered.

And for those lucky enough to get seats, there wasn't much of a choice.

"They answered the phone at two minutes after 10, and level 305 was the best available seats," one concert-goer said.

What Taylor Swift and her people never told her adoring fans was what our investigation discovered: that they may never have had a shot at some of the best seats in the house.

"People don't want to believe that they really can't get a good seat, that they can't get ahead," said music industry analyst Bob Lefsetz, who writes The Lefsetz Letter blog.

But internal ticketing documents show that, out of more than 13,000 seats at her Nashville show, there were really only 1,600 set aside for sale to the general public.

To view ticketing documents from the Sommet Center show, click here. Out of 13,330 seats, there were 1,591 left "open" for when tickets went on sale to the general public.

Click here to view ticket maps, showing which seats were reserved for which group.

It's a secret that, Lefsetz said, is never shared with fans.

"Your numbers are unfortunately incredibly realistic," he told Williams. "People will be shocked. They said, 'Well, I saw the ad. Tickets are finally on sale, and I got a crappy seat. What happened?' So it's about truth in advertising."

Taylor Swift's tour was advertised as an American Express event. What that meant was that, during a presale period, American Express customers had first dibs on some 5,000 seats.

"I think it's terrible by virtue of the fact that the public has no idea how many tickets go that way," Lefsetz added.

And fans probably had no idea that if they really wanted a prime seat on the front row of Section 4, right in front of the stage, those seats were reserved exclusively for folks with American Express Platinum Cards.

Or third row, Section 2 -- alongside the stage -- those seats were reserved for people with American Express' Centurion Cards. That's an invitation-only card for the very rich.

"That's what's wrong with this business," Lefsetz said. "In the '60s, rock and roll blew up, 'We're against the man.' Now, rock and roll is the man. Country is the man."

Taylor's team says it was a deal they struck to help keep the top price of their tickets at $49.50.

But on web sites like Ticketmaster's TicketsNow, we found eight tickets being scalped for $183 each. Those seats -- Section 4, Row 5 -- had also been reserved for Platinum cardholders.

Lefsetz said that's an example of what's wrong with such presales. "It's a full-time job keeping up with all the organizations that I must be a member of to get a presale, and it becomes an advertising thing. And I believe that is heinous."

Taylor Swift's people also set aside another 2,500 seats -- a lot of them on the floor -- for fans who signed up for a special presale code through her web site, While that sounds great, the problem is, online, you can't tell the difference between a fan and scalper.

And that's where our investigation found the most stunning numbers.

For example, two tickets on the front row of Section 2 were allocated for sale through Taylor's Fan Club for $49.50, but they were immediately listed on TicketsNow for $1,177 a seat.

And the same thing happened with tickets allocated for opening act Kellie Pickler's fan club.

That club, also operated by Ticketmaster, charges $20 for a membership -- with the promise of access to ticket presales for diehard fans.

But we found seats in Section 1, Row 5 -- which also sold for $49.50 -- listed on TicketsNow for $749 each.

"They've got all these tickets and, for the price that they are going for, I think that there's something wrong," Tabitha Null said.

Phil Williams asked Lefsetz, "So why not have all tickets go on sale at the same time?"

"In order to have all tickets go on sale at [the same] time, the acts have to agree that they don't want to take that check from American Express. They don't want to take that check from the fan club," the analyst answered.

"And the acts are greedy. They want that money."

Lefsetz says artists like Taylor Swift could begin to address fans' concerns by being transparent about how their tickets are really sold.

Tuesday afternoon, a member of Taylor's management team told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that they tried to come up with a system that would give fans good seats at a good price, but it hasn't worked out like they wanted. 

He says they're now looking at some new approaches for 2011-- including possibly having all tickets go on sale at the same time.

Robert Allen of 13 Management said:

"If you look at the numbers, Taylor Swift tickets are supposed to be some of the more affordable shows in every marketplace. Taylor herself made sure the price points were affordable for fans, and anybody can sign up for free for pre-sales at

"Taylor does not condone sales of her tickets through secondary brokers, nor does she profit in any way from the inflated pricing of secondary sales. We know, and your investigation shows, that the concert ticketing system in our industry is flawed, at best, and we will wholeheartedly support any legislation enacted to regulate the industry."

Just like Keith Urban, Taylor Swift also had $20 tickets available for her concert. 

She had almost a thousand seats available. However, first dibs on 750 of those tickets went to people with American Express Blue Cards.

Back to NewsChannel 5 Investigates

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