Sarah Pontillo’s mother let her skip school to buy Taylor Swift tickets.
The plan was for Ms. Pontillo, who is a high school junior, to attend her first two classes on Tuesday morning, after which her mom, Ida Pearce, would pick her up and bring her home just in time to log onto Ticketmaster to buy tickets for the “Anti-Hero” singer’s Eras tour. Once the tickets had been secured, Ms. Pearce planned to return her daughter swiftly to school.
When rumors began to spread earlier this year that Ms. Swift would be announcing a tour, Ms. Pontillo, 16, bought socks at a dollar store to turn into sock monkeys, which she sold to her classmates to earn money to buy tickets. She hoped to make enough cash to buy floor seats and planned to bring a monkey to try to hand to Ms. Swift.
But when Tuesday morning rolled around, Ms. Pontillo didn’t make it back to school. Buying tickets took nearly an entire day of waiting and frantic clicking.
“It was nauseating, because we were going around on this laggy website, you know, like trying to select all these seats, and none of them were working,” Ms. Pontillo said, adding, “I did end up getting tickets, but it took four hours and a lot of a lot of pain.”
The tickets are not as close to the stage as those Ms. Pontillo had initially hoped to purchase, but after hearing about the experiences of Swifties — as Ms. Swift’s fans are known — around the world on Tuesday, she’s grateful to have secured any tickets at all.
To even attempt to get presale tickets on Tuesday, fans had to have registered with Ticketmaster earlier in the month to receive a “Verified Fan” designation. (General sale tickets are scheduled to be released on Friday.) Would-be concertgoers ranked their top choices for concert location and date and provided personal information, including cellphone numbers.
“Our goal is to maximize the number of fans who have an opportunity to shop,” Ticketmaster wrote in a blog post, a nod to the bots that are known to swoop in an gobble up tickets for resale before real, human fans are able to do so.
Being a Verified Fan was no guarantee, however. On Monday, Ticketmaster sent emails and special codes via text message to some fans informing them that they had been chosen to participate in the following day’s presale. People who had not been selected received emails from Ticketmaster informing them they had been placed on a wait list “due to historic demand.”
On Twitter, some users complained about having received only an email but not the text message code that would actually allow them access to the ticket sale. Other fans received emails in the days before the sale from Taylor Nation, Ms. Swift’s team, informing them that they had earned a “boost.”
“As a thank you for your contribution to a historic week, we’d like to boost your place in line,” read the email, which was provided to The Times.
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Kimberly Bertsch, 34, believes she was given a boost for buying Ms. Swift’s merchandise. She had previously bought four copies of “Midnights” on vinyl and a $49 mounting kit that turns the albums into a clock.
It is unclear how helpful those boosts actually were to fans, though, with some reporting online that they had been boosted but had still not received presale access. Mary Franchetti, 24, who received a boost email, ultimately secured tickets via her boyfriend’s Ticketmaster account. He did not have a boost.
For many of those lucky enough to make it through the Ticketmaster culling, the problems were just beginning. On Tuesday morning, potential buyers were encouraged by Ticketmaster to sign in 30 minutes before the sale and enter a virtual waiting room. For some users, the site crashed immediately. Then the real chaos began.
The sale, for many, quickly became a waiting game. Buyers were placed in a queue, with a purple progress bar showing how close they were to being able to select seats and check out. While some fortunate fans were greeted with low numbers on their screens, many were shown the figure 2,000 plus. “Death by 2000+ cuts,” Twitter users joked, a reference to a song by Ms. Swift from the “Lover” era.
Seeking more granular data about their places in the queue, some users dug into the platform’s code. Were they No. 2,001 in line or No. 35,000? While he waited, Ruben Martinez Jr., a software engineer at OKCupid, built a Google Chrome extension that would show him his precise spot. (Mr. Martinez, 28, has since submitted it to the Chrome Web Store where, pending review, it will be publicly accessible.) More than 13,000 people were ahead of him when he tweeted about the extension. After three hours of waiting, he was able to secure six tickets for himself and friends.
“They weren’t great seats,” he said, “but by that point we were just like, anything will be worth it to see her alive again.”
Patience got some fans only so far. The queue moved slowly or, at points, appeared not to move at all for some shoppers. Many fans reported having gotten to the front after an extended wait only to be bounced right back to the end of the line without successfully making a purchase. “We are aware fans may be experiencing intermittent issues with the site and are urgently working to resolve,” Ticketmaster tweeted. Still, fans kept trying and waiting.
One of Austin Shull’s students sent him an email begging him to watch her computer while she attended a lab. “Please please please don’t be the anti hero :),” she wrote in the email, which Mr. Shull, a biology professor at Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C., later posted to Twitter. He obliged, and the student was able to buy tickets. On Twitter, other professors replied to Mr. Shull’s tweets telling similar stories of students’ waiting out the queue in class. One group of students dissected a cadaver with their computers open on another table, being monitored by their teacher.
As the sale dragged on, Ticketmaster announced changes to its sale timeline. Presales on the West Coast were pushed back five hours, and the sale for Capital One credit card holders was delayed to the following day. That frustrated fans who had planned their schedules around the original sale times.
“I don’t like that they were using the excuse that it was unexpected,” Bernadette Chicklo, 24, said. “Like they weren’t expecting this many people when they were the ones that issued the presale codes.”
Ms. Chicklo scheduled a doctor’s appointment for 7 a.m. on Tuesday to ensure that she would be on time to buy tickets. Ms. Chicklo, an accountant who lives outside Philadelphia, also took the day off work.
“I rearranged my whole life to make sure I could sit in front of my computer,” she said. She waited for more than six hours, and by the time she got into the sale, her options were pricey V.I.P. tickets or cheaper seats with an obstructed view.
“I didn’t even have time to debate those V.I.P. tickets, because the whole stadium kind of just wiped out,” Ms. Chicklo said. “They all just disappeared, and then I was sitting there with no ticket.”
On TikTok, Ms. Chicklo posted several videos documenting the process. “Hi, I’m Bernadette from the Philly presale waiting room, and you’re watching a mental breakdown,” she says in one video. Her account handle, @picturetobern13, is a homage to Ms. Swift.
Ms. Chicklo is an administrator of a Facebook group in which 22,000 Swifties have organized in an attempt to outwit resellers who, much as with concert tickets, purchase items like Ms. Swift’s infamous “Cardigan” cardigan in bulk and resell them at gouging rates. A fellow administrator was able to secure her a ticket via Seatgeek, another platform that was selling tickets to the Eras tour and appeared to work better on Tuesday than Ticketmaster.
A Ticketmaster representative wrote in a statement: “Millions of fans registered for Taylor Swift’s Eras Verified Fan presale, with demand more than twice the number of tickets available — then, on top of that, millions more showed up to try to buy. This caused some delays for fans, which we know is frustrating, and we worked as quickly as possible to adjust some on-sale times to manage the volume, and queues are now flowing.”
The system worked for some. Bryn Mitchell, 24, described her ticket-buying process as “super, super easy,” but she noted that friends from her Taylor Swift Twitter group chat had not fared as well. (She recommended that shoppers save their credit card information on Ticketmaster to speed up the process.)
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Tuesday: “Daily reminder that Ticketmaster is a monopoly,” adding that the company’s merger with the concert promoter LiveNation “should never have been approved, and they need to be reigned in” and concluding, “Break them up.” Several other politicians also weighed in on Twitter, also commenting on how the 2010 merger had hurt concertgoers.
Bonnie Gross, a production coordinator who lives in New York City, said: “I think what’s frustrating is this is happening on a Tuesday in the morning. Most people have to work. I’m lucky enough that I can work hybrid, and I work a desk job where, like, I can have this up and running. Not everyone can even do that. To wait all day and waste my day is really discouraging.”
Ms. Gross did not get tickets.
This month, President Joe Biden announced that his administration would crack down on “hidden junk fees,” which included fees associated with concert tickets, as well as some charged by banks, internet providers and airlines.
Ms. Gross, 28, said: “My friends were saying it was somewhere from like $70 to $100 just for the convenience fee. And I’m like, ‘for what convenience?’”
It Happened Online is a column in which we explain very particular bits of news enabled and amplified by social media.