LONDON — Just months after the Taylor Swift saga enraged fans around the world, Ticketmaster is in hot water again — this time after tickets to the final of the Eurovision Song Contest sold out in a half-hour, as some fans reported tech issues that left them ticketless.
A spokesperson for the BBC, the broadcaster for this year’s contest in May, said “tickets for all nine shows sold out in 90 minutes.” The demand was “extremely high,” it said.
Fans quickly took to Twitter to report issues with the sale, which was managed by Ticketmaster. Some said they were placed in a virtual queue and then kicked out due to “inactivity,” while others said they received error messages when trying to pay for the tickets in their carts.
Ticketmaster in an email acknowledged that “a very small number of fans experienced issues accessing the queue,” but said its website did not crash. It said “ticket sales were unaffected, and thousands of fans secured their seats” to the contest. The company did not respond to follow-up questions about the tech issues or how many fans were impacted.
This latest controversy comes as Ticketmaster is under pressure from U.S. regulators to prove that it is providing the best service to fans and artists, after consumer groups complained that the company — which merged with Live Nation in 2010 — was behaving like a monopoly. The issue was brought to the forefront last year when fans reported widespread systems issues during the presale for Swift’s “Eras” tour, prompting Ticketmaster to cancel the public sale. The company was later forced to apologize.
This year’s Eurovision Song Contest is particularly symbolic. Ukraine won last year’s contest but could not host this year’s — as is traditionally the winner’s right — because of the ongoing war.
The city of Liverpool, England, is hosting the contest on Ukraine’s behalf, and the British government has offered to subsidize about 3,000 tickets for Ukrainian refugees living in the United Kingdom. The sale of those tickets will go through a separate ballot process.
For many fans, particularly in Europe, where the contest is largely held, Eurovision is a highly anticipated tradition, and a chance to gather around the television with friends and family to celebrate one’s country and its musical talents — or lack thereof.
In the United Kingdom, “it used to be a joke,” said Michaeljon Fosker, 45, a Londoner who has been a fan of Eurovision for 15 years. In fact, the sometimes outlandish nature of the contest was recently parodied in the Netflix film, “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire,” starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams. But now, “more people are getting into it and understand that actually, there is good music that comes from Eurovision,” said Fosker. He cited Italian rock band Maneskin, which won Eurovision in 2021 and went on to be nominated for a Grammy, as an example.
In addition to spotlighting up-and-coming music, many say watching the contest has allowed them to discover other cultures and to see diverse artists represented on screen. The event is known for being LGBTQ+-friendly, with several LGBTQ+ contestants having won the contest.
Oliver Adams, a Eurovision blogger based in Liverpool, told the BBC that he has followed Eurovision since he was a child and that the contest helped him explore his own identity. “I found my queerness through Eurovision,” he said.
Ahead of the sale of Eurovision tickets, Adams told the BBC: “I’ve got my laptop ready, I’ve got my phone ready, I’ve got my work laptop ready. I’ve got every person in my family on standby, ready to hit various assigned shows.”
Yet many fans like Adams, who prepared for the ticket sale to go live and were in the queue when it did, faced difficulties navigating the Ticketmaster website or paying for tickets. On Twitter, some shared screenshots of gateway timeouts or error messages that appeared on Ticketmaster’s website when they were far along in the queue or at the payment stage.
One user joked that Ticketmaster was “letting the UK down worse than Jemini ever did” — a reference to the 1990s pop duo from Liverpool that represented Britain at Eurovision in 2003 year and finished last, earning the country zero points.
Ticketmaster LATEST #Eurovision pic.twitter.com/gVAHdyly6A— Scott Bryan (@scottygb) March 7, 2023
With the rising interest in the contest has come rising demand for tickets to attend in person. Organizers believe this is the first time that tickets to all live Eurovision shows have sold out on the first day of sales. Ticketmaster advised fans to check its fan-to-fan resale website in case tickets become available in the future.
One issue is the venue: The Liverpool arena has a maximum capacity of 11,000 people — which is large, but not compared to some of the event’s past venues. According to Eurovision, the 2001 contest in Copenhagen had the largest audience ever, with nearly 38,000 people gathering at the city’s Parken Stadium.
“There’s millions of people that want to go and see it and you’ve got one arena. It’s kind of logical that a lot of people are going to be upset and not get tickets,” said Fosker, who did not manage to buy tickets for Eurovision this year. He first tried to secure tickets though a ballot organized by Eurovision fan club OGAE, but gave up when he saw that a bundle that included tickets for both live semifinals and the final was priced at 960 pounds (about $1,130). He then got in a virtual queue for general-audience tickets, but it took “so long” that tickets “were sold out by the time I got there.”
He says he isn’t upset, though, and plans to watch the contest on television— echoing one of his friends, who he said told him “that at least I’ll have the best seat in the house, but it’ll be my house.”
“If you get the right group of people together it’s still going to be great to watch on TV,” he adds. “Plus you get to have your own snacks.”