U2:UV’s Rocky Ticket Sales
Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2023-04-29)
I’m going to preface this by saying I personally did not get tickets in the presale via U2.com. None of our team here at U2Songs were able to get tickets via the fan presale. Most were waitlisted for the Verified Fan sale, and have never come off that waitlist, although one member of the team did have some luck with Verified Fan and was able to purchase tickets. The demand for these tickets to see U2 at the Sphere is very high. Many fans are in the same situation.
Robert Smith of the Cure has made headlines recently, showing an artist that’s willing to pay attention to what is going on with their fans, can improve the nightmares we all hear about daily with ticket sales. Reducing fees, blocking scalpers, recalling tickets, he’s managed to get involved in ticket sales and do all these things. There are ways to make things go better. The last two days of U2 sales for the Sphere in Las Vegas were not better. They were right there with well publicized past issues with U2 ticket sales in 2018 and 2005, if not worse.
I am going to look at the whole timeline of the sale to date, as well as including a few comments about where I could see some positive changes could be made. First, it is important to note there were two different presales in the mix this week. U2.com fan tickets are through your membership at the website. You pay an annual fee, and you get perks, one of which is first dibs on tickets. The other presale was Verified Fan. The two are independent of each other, and one did not need to be a U2.com member to take part in Verified Fan, and likewise, one did not have to take part in Verified Fan if they were content to just try via U2.com. Times below are a rough estimate in some cases, based on when observations were shared by other fans. All times below are ET, although throughout the sales times were communicated in PT in some communications and ET in other.
April 24, 2023
10:00am: Five shows are announced at the Sphere. Fans are told they can take part in a presale via U2.com through a new procedure. Fans will submit a requested list of shows (up to 3) which can be prioritized and can pick from a range of seat options at each of these three shows they pick. Seat choices could not be prioritized. The deadline to submit the list was 10am on April 26. At the same time, notifications were made that the Verified Fan sign up for a separate pre-sale can be done until 10am on April 26 as well. This was the same cut off date and time for the two pre-sales. There was confusion between the two sales, the same ending date did not help matters. While these announcements were being made, hotel packages and VIP packages went on sale immediately, and fans discovered they could buy a ticket bundled into one of these packages immediately, which included options for the coveted GA ticket. Unlike other tours, where the fan club always appeared to have first access, this time the VIP and hotel packages were put on sale first.
April 25, 2023
3:15pm: Seven new shows are added, based on the number of requests that U2.com are receiving for tickets, the sign ups happening for verified fans, and the sale of VIP tickets. Fans are sent messages that if they submitted a request to U2.com for shows / tickets, they could now send a new request to override the previous requests. No additional time was given to pick these new dates or to change previous submissions. Now fans have less than 24 hours to decide whether to keep their first choice, or to pick new ones. There was confusion on exactly what would happen, did submitting new date choices put you further back in the queue? (We don’t think it did, but clear instructions would have helped at this point.)
5:45pm: A look at VIP ticket and hotel packages show that these packages are selling out for the first five nights. Only 100-level seats are available in the hotel packages at this point.
April 26, 2023
10:00am: The registration ends for Verified Fan. This is also the last chance to submit any fan club requests. Throughout the morning, fans report issues trying to sign up with Ticketmaster for Verified Fan, unable to do so right up until the process closed. At this point no further timelines were known when other steps would happen in the fan club sale. Fans were left sitting around reloading emails, hoping for something to come in. It is easy to say, go do something else, but many people today have additional verification steps on their credit cards, requiring an approval for a charge to go through. Even a message that charges would not happen for at least 12-hours would have helped in this case.
7:00pm: Emails start to go out telling fans they have been successful at getting tickets. Celebrations start. The first emails appear to all be for the first show in September, and all for GA tickets initially but rapidly notes start to appear as well. Fans receiving emails appear to be in both categories of the fan club, the longer subscribed Ultra group, and the newer subscribed Violet group. Fans take that as a sign that it bodes well for most getting tickets. Emails go out for about three hours with new emails arriving steadily.
9:50pm: Emails seem to stop. Fans who have not yet received an email don’t know what to think. Message boards and email lists are buzzing wondering if that was it, if it was all over.
10:15pm: After about 20-25 minutes, the emails restart. This time out the emails are mostly dealing with allotments of seats through the fan club. Fans who applied for GA are left wondering if they will hear something after these seats are processed. During this time, some fans had credit card issues, where charges were identified as fraud, and declined by the card company. With no other clear avenue for help, fans seek out help through U2’s Zootopia forums, and some were successful. There isn’t a clearly identified process to get help, nor any identified number to call and speak to someone if there is a problem. Identifying an avenue to get help in these cases would be incredibly helpful, these issues will continue to happen. A huge shout out for the moderators for going above and beyond to give advice during these presales and provide suggestions for finding help. An option to enter a back up credit card may also help avoid some of these issues.
April 27, 2023
12:03am: Just past midnight, emails start to go out to fans regarding the Verified fan sale which is happening the next day. Those verified are sent a time to enter the sale and told they will be sent a code via text message closer to the sale time. Many fans are told they are not going to partake in the earlier sale times, as they have been waitlisted, but are told to hang in and wait for a text message letting them know they’ve been moved off the wait list. The email with times in it could have been clearer. Fans did not realize there were staggered entry times for the presale, which resulted in confusion about the start time of sales. Your email says 10:20am? Why does the website say 10:00am?
2:30am: Almost seventeen hours after the registration closed, a final email went out to those waiting to hear back from the fan club presale. “All eligible requests have been processed; the results of your request are listed below.” Those not receiving tickets saw a single word next to their request, “Unfulfilled”. After waiting the better part of the day, that did describe how many felt. We took a very unscientific poll the next day of those who follow us on Twitter, out of those who had attempted 621 responded they had been successful at getting tickets via the fan club (55%) and 500 people reported they had been unfulfilled (45%). The demand for these shows was clearly high, and it was clear that the first five nights offered initially had been the clear favorites, and GA was the preferred area to see the show from, as most people not getting tickets fell into those categories. A quick look at the VIP packages and hotel packages shows that many of the events that had been showing as sold out, now appear to be on sale again.
12:00pm: The Verified fan sale opens, and no GA tickets are available in the sale. A note upon entry reads “Due to incredible response from the U2.com Subscriber Presale, ticket availability is extremely limited for today’s presale and some ticket options are unavailable.” Many fans still have not been sent codes they are expecting and are unable to access the sale. Others had thought they could enter the sale right from the start and had not realized they were given a different time in the original email, then the start time of the actual sale, and are now realizing they must wait. Those who did receive codes report struggling to access the presale at all using the links provided.
12:15pm: The next wave of codes start to arrive. These are for those accessing the Verified Fan sale at 12:20. Unlike the 12:00 entry, this seems to go smoother, and fans receive codes, and can enter the sales. Many waiting for a code for the initial entry time, are still waiting for a code, and others report although emailed that they were verified never receive a code at all.
12:30pm: It’s being widely reported that Platinum tickets are turned on for the sale for seats. A $501 face value seat is now showing up at $1495-1995. Some of the shows on sale have no seats available without this markup. If you turned off the Platinum tickets in your view, there was nothing else left to see. The only option were Platinum seats. The $501 seats appear to now be priced at $1495-1995. There are some reports that on the Wednesday nights a few were priced as low as $1375. The $400 seats in the initial pricing are now listed at $995-1020. The $268 face value tickets are now showing up at $750-775. The cheapest tickets, originally priced at $140 are now showing up at $595. Ticket pricing is variable, and some nights (Wednesdays) are priced lower than others. Dynamic pricing is not in use, Ticketmaster does not consider Platinum tickets as dynamic pricing, as these prices do not change with demand.
12:40pm: Another wave of codes is sent out. Those entering the sale at this time are shown nothing but Platinum tickets for the most part, although with constant refreshing of the screen, occasionally a face value ticket could be seen.
1:30pm: Five new shows are announced, which go on sale immediately. These are announced via text message, which is sent only to Verified Fans who can access the sales and not to those on the waitlist. These shows are sold immediately, with tickets available in all sections, including GA. These are not mentioned on U2.com for almost an hour. Ticket packages for VIPs and hotel are also available for these new shows and go on sale immediately. These packages can be accessed by fans who have not been verified and is indeed the only way a non-verified fan, or waitlisted fan could access these shows at that time.
2:30pm: U2.com announces the five new shows, which have been on sale for around an hour. They announce that there will be some sort of ticket opportunities for these newest announced shows but provide little detail beyond watching your email.
3:05pm: Ticketmaster shares online that additional access is now available and more verified fan codes have been sent by text and calls the whole thing a “lottery-style process”. Reports start to come in that fans are finally starting to come off the wait lists for Verified Fan access. No GA tickets are left in any sales, and all seats appear to be Platinum seating, and although some fans have come off the waitlist many remain waiting.
7:00pm: Ticketmaster tweets that due to demand there will be no general on sales for U2 the following day. Verified fan or the U2.com presales will be the only way to get tickets. At this point many fans have never gotten off the wait list, and those fans who did not apply for Verified Fan will be unable to buy tickets. VIP and hotel packages are found for three shows which remain unannounced, on November 8, November 10, and November 11. These cannot yet be purchased but are obviously ready to be launched when these shows are announced.
April 28, 2023
10:00am: More confusion, as the Verified Fan requirement is dropped, and fans can enter the ongoing sales without having a code. This is the opposite of what Ticketmaster had communicated the previous night, and it appears that there is indeed a general sale happening. All seats available appear to remain Platinum priced seats, and those are in low supply as well, showing in the higher price range sections.
5:20pm: U2.com send out an email stating, “We’re writing to you as a U2.com subscriber who was not successful in buying tickets this week for U2:UV Achtung Baby Live At Sphere. We are aware that a number of long time subscribers were unable to access tickets and we are working towards resolving this issue. An email with further details will follow. Thank you for your patience.” Many subscribers who were unsuccessful at getting tickets report not receiving this email. Subscribers who couldn’t make the initial dates, and hoped to have a pre-sale for later shows question if there is any hope to access these shows now.
That’s where we are now. U2.com have shared “Due to extraordinary ongoing demand, which has seen over one million ticket requests registered, Sphere Entertainment Co. and Live Nation today announced an additional 5 dates for U2:UV Achtung Baby Live At Sphere.” If they knew demand was that high, why did they just put on five shows initially. If this much demand was expected, why not offer up all shows at once, allowing fan club member to apply for tickets across all the shows. Also if this much demand was expected, why not limit the fan club allocation to two tickets, as was done in previous arena sales?
There are questions from fans about the fan presale and how tickets were allocated. Many newer “Violet” category fans appeared to be celebrating their ticket success. Fans are asking was that because they picked less busy nights, or were we all in one pot to begin with? The FAQ at U2.com states, “The Ultra group (Paid-up subscribers as of 3:00 PM EST on Sunday, February 12, 2023 will have their ticket requests considered first. People who subscribed after this time (Violet) will have their ticket requests considered next.” This rule may have been followed, but tickets were awarded at all the same time with no visibility into the process, making people question what had happened.
I fully understand that the demand in these sales has outstripped the number of tickets available for the sales. I fully appreciate the opportunity to participate in the initial U2.com presale, even if I was not successful. I do have friends who were able to purchase tickets, and who are quite happy with how it all worked out. The terms are clear when signing up for the fan club subscriptions that tickets are not a guarantee. I also understand that the limitations I placed on my submission for tickets, limiting things to one specific date, may have made it harder to fulfill tickets in my specific case.
But a nice perk of being in the fan club would have been if fan club members were immediately able to participate in Verified Fan and not placed on a waitlist. Give them an access code with the “unfulfilled” email. The fan club presale was also run using Verified Fan and we were all verified during that process. Immediate entry into the Verified Fan sale after being told they were unable to buy tickets via the fan club would have helped many. But many were waitlisted, and at this time, still have not come off that waitlist. Holding open registration for Verified Fan until the fan club results were known would have also helped, as many, confident in past experiences obtaining tickets, did not sign up for the second sale.
When I woke up yesterday, I had not been successful in the fan club sale. I was verified but had not moved off the wait list. I couldn’t even see what tickets were available and had no opportunity to buy anything. Speaking with friends, and hearing about the Platinum pricing in effect, I turned to the secondary market. If Ticketmaster won’t let me buy the tickets, then may as well have a look I thought. The scalpers must be laughing all the way to the bank right now. Not only has Ticketmaster put us on waitlists, which makes the secondary market one of the few options to buy a ticket, but most of the prices being asked for on the secondary market are 10-15% lower than the Platinum tickets being offered by Ticketmaster themselves. [If anyone does use the secondary market, ensure your purchase has protections in place, as you do not have the protections in place that you would have using other systems, which is the reason we will never recommend this as a means to purchase tickets, and fake tickets are always a concern.] All the hoops, all these processes a fan must follow, all this confusion. It’s not working. You can sit and watch hourly as the inventory grows on secondary markets. The scalpers had access to the fan club, and they had access to the verified fan sale.
That’s my issue with how things went. Access. I never liked fighting against bots and scalpers in the past, but at least I could, and feel I was given a chance to try for tickets. Now you are not even given the chance. You get verified, sit on a waitlist, unable to access tickets, while the scalpers these systems are set up to battle seem to have no issues sailing through. You can watch them clean out inventories of tickets and post them for retail (but only via the secondary sites, as you are on a waitlist and can’t see what’s on offer at Ticketmaster…)
In 2005, Larry Mullen took the mic at the Grammy Awards after U2 won their award for Best Rock Performance. His words? “Due to circumstances beyond our control a lot of our long-suffering fans ended up queuing overnight and didn’t get tickets and I’d just like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the band, to apologise to them.” Larry also posted an open letter on U2.com addressing the issue. “There was a mess up in the way the tickets were distributed through U2.com for the Vertigo pre-sale. Some of it was beyond our control, but some of it wasn’t. I am now in the process of figuring out a way of distributing the tickets for our intended return to North America in the fall. The only fair way of doing this is to give U2 Propaganda members, who are now U2.com members, priority in the queue. After that, people will be given priority in the order in which they joined. Many people who joined U2.com and didn’t get tickets are understandably angry. They now have the option to get a full refund of their subscription fee. The idea that our long-time U2 fans and scalpers competed for U2 tickets through our own web site is appalling to me. I want to apologise to you who have suffered that.” The infamous letter from Mullen ended with “By the way, a note to those so-called U2 fans who are quick to accuse U2 of unseemly behaviour, I’ve only got two words for you…”
Something seems to have gone wrong again. The ticket process for other acts has been well covered in the news of late, and time and time again has been problematic for fans. Robert Smith of the Cure has tried to improve things for his own fans, but it took direct, personal intervention by the band to bring about change. The U2 fan base is upset. These sales did not go well. More communication and clearer documentation would have helped, but the use of Platinum pricing and Verified Fans has hindered and not helped the fan base in anyway.
I’m not telling my story looking for help obtaining tickets. I’ll be fine, and I will see the show, thanks to friends and I’ll sort it out later, but others may not be so lucky. I could not buy my own ticket via Ticketmaster. I couldn’t even try. That’s what makes me upset, the lack of being able to participate because of restrictions brought in to fight scalpers. But I sit and watch other fans not able to participate, while scalpers continue to offer up tickets with little hinderance. The whole process is pushing fans to consider the very system all of this has been set up to combat. Somehow I don’t think that is what the band was hoping to accomplish here.
The Edge in Rolling Stone spoke about ticket pricing for these shows. He gave a lot of hope to fans who have not seen U2 play in North America since 2018. “We’re trying our best to be as fair and respectful to our fans as we can be, we’re also spreading out the ticket costs so that there are some affordable ones. The most-sought-after tickets will be non-transferable. Inevitably, some will wind up on the secondary market. There’s not a huge lot we can do about that.” U2.com shared in the show announcement, “Tickets start at $140 and will reflect all-in pricing. This means the ticket price listed is the full out-of-pocket price inclusive of taxes and fees. The larger capacity at Sphere allows for 60% of tickets to be priced under $300 and there will also be a limited number of premium priced tickets per show.” Having seen the ticket sales this week these statements do not seem to match the fan experience, and pricing 60% of the tickets below $300 and then actually selling them for $750 doesn’t seem to be “fair and respectful.”