Are 2023 concerts and music festivals pricing out fans?

Photo by Jose Devillegas/Getty Images, Photo by James Devaney/Getty Images, Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

It’s been four years and six albums since Taylor Swift toured. Last week, the singer announced the North American leg of The Eras tour, and while the excitement among Swifties was palpable, nervousness quickly took over. How much will tickets cost? Will fans be able to afford them? Will it even matter because bots will buy them up anyway? It turns out, ticket prices will range from $49 to $899, before fees. And before the bots buy them up and jack them up even further. Gulp.

And Swift isn’t the only artist pushing four (or five) figures:

The prices are too damn high! These wild increases could easily render festivals completely unaffordable and make them less diverse and accessible, too.

Pre-Covid (in 2019), the global events industry was valued at $1.1 trillion and expected to reach $1.6 trillion by 2028, according to Allied Market Research. Of course, we know what happened next. By March 2020, the industry had already lost $16.5 billion, and in a survey conducted by EventMB, 90% of event professionals reported that some or most of their business had disappeared and 2.75% were left unemployed. By November 2020, 52% of event pros said they had lost income as a result of the pandemic, while 11% had been furloughed and 10% laid off.

With venue capacity limits and mask mandates lifted, the pandemic feels (relatively) over, so why are concert and music festival ticket costs still sky-high?

Much like my former relationship status on early aughts-era Facebook, it’s complicated.

  • Loss of workers: Most experienced crew — sound technicians, tour managers, lighting technicians, roadies, tour bus drivers — shifted industries during the pandemic. Today, there’s a significant shortage of skilled and semi-skilled crew working on events. These professionals can often earn more money elsewhere.
  • Infrastructure costs: Rather than cancel 2020 tour dates and lose all of their revenue, artists like Lady Gaga went on with the show. However, the costs of construction, lighting and sound equipment were up so much (#supplychain), pre-pandemic prices no longer covered the cost of the event. Ticket prices for newly released dates and cities went up to narrow the margins.
  • Fuel costs: The event industry continues efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, but unfortunately biofuel doesn’t work in equipment like monitors, amps or light boards — yet. Crews need reliability to power their stages and cut back on wait times for fans.
  • Legislation: You’d think it would get easier to produce a festival or concert tour every year, but it actually gets harder. There are ever-changing laws, guidelines and restrictions to comply with. While these are (usually) positive changes to boost everything from union rights to environmental protections, all come with added costs and red tape.
  • Bots: Hammering down on profit buying is one of the only ways to regulate demand. There must be trustworthy infrastructure to sell tickets, so fans aren’t scammed (more in this below). Of course, this won’t impact smaller-scale local musicians, but it will help bigger stadium shows fill seats responsibly.
  • Good old-fashioned price gouging: We’re seeing it everywhere in industries that took a real hit during the pandemic — and even those who didn’t. Companies trying to make up for those lost two years by jacking up their prices. And guess what, with all the complaints about gas prices, people are buying these tickets left and right. It’s supply and demand, and as long as we keep paying, the prices will stay too damn high.

Speaking of supply and demand: Enter Ticketmaster Platinum seats.

According to StadiumHelp, Ticketmaster Platinum tickets are premium seats to concerts and other events that are made available by artists and event providers. Unlike regular seats, these prices are set by a computer algorithm based on the calculated demand of the show. While they’re always more expensive than the base value tickets, how much more is determined by a calculation. Ticketmaster Platinum was behind the $5,000 price tag some fans were shocked to see when trying to buy Bruce Springsteen tickets earlier this year.

Platinum tickets aside, Ticketmaster prices have more than tripled since the mid-’90s. The company often withholds about 90% of tickets for the secondary market, which then upsells them up to 7,000%, according to Buzzfeed News.

And it’s not just the music that’s expensive… food and beverage prices have also increased, especially festival food. While you may think the empanada truck is printing money, vendors don’t get to keep all of their earnings. Event organizers often get a percentage of vendor profits; Inc. reports that big fests like Bonnaroo can take up to 30%. It’s often hard for vendors to find sufficient staff, as the labor involved in prep and setup can be grueling, too.

So, what can be done about it?

  • Use Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan tool: (We swear this article isn’t a Ticketmaster ad.) This tool is basically a lottery system where fans can register to “win” access to an early ticket sale. Only those who are invited to the sale may purchase tickets using a unique access code. Swift has implemented a system for her Reputation tour, Lover Festival and now The Eras tour to ward off scalpers.
  • Implement honesty systems: We know scammers are going to scam. These types of systems ask speculative ticket buyers to identify themselves so they can access cheaper bulk tickets to shows through the same portal as everyone else.
  • Support small venues and upcoming artists: Instead of buying a £335 ($381.63) Glastonbury ticket, fans could use that same amount to attend several smaller-venue gigs featuring emerging artists. While shopping around for lesser-known musicians might not sound like a fair trade-off, independent venues are a vital part of the music scene and deserve support, too.
  • Implement flexible ticketing: This can include discounted rates for students, the unemployed and fans from marginalized communities, while those who can afford to pay a little bit more do so as a donation.

More than anything, music fans must decide for themselves what their spending cap is. Yes, we all want to see our favorite artists and bands live, but it’s not worth going into debt. With inflation such a hot topic right now and whispers of a recession looming, it seems there’s no end in sight for our anxiety over ticket prices. But meaningful experiences exist at every price point; just because we can’t go to every show, doesn’t mean we can’t go to any. And the trade off might be doing a little research, going to an indie show, and being able to see the next Lady Gaga or Taylor Swift before anyone else.

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