The war against ticket touts and secondary ticketing sites trying to charge fans a small fortune to get into a gig has been well documented in recent years. But lately, legitimate promoters and artists have started hiking their ticket prices up unchallenged. Damian Jones speaks to fans and experts in the live industry to find out why it's happening
When The Who recently announced a one-off concert at Wembley Stadium with the Kaiser Chiefs and Eddie Vedder supporting, many fans were left reeling when they discovered even the nosebleed seats were nearly £80 while the best seats on the pitch were over £200 a pop.
One fan wrote: “The Who charging circa £230 for front block at Wembley is disgusting. All they’re doing is ripping off their loyal fans that have probably seen them many a time. Plus to make the pitch all seating when they know everyone will stand is obscene. Just comes to pure greed.”
Another aggrieved fan raged: “The Who are asking £79 plus postage for the worst seats in Wembley, and £212 for the best. Talk about taking the piss.”
Prices like this have become a commonality for heritage acts like The Rolling Stones but The Who have always kept their prices reasonably fair on previous tours.
It’s not just senior heritage acts whacking their prices up though.
Off the back of their side-splitting Spinal Tap-meets-The Office documentary After The Screaming Stops, Bros announced a one off gig at O2 Academy Brixton where standing ticket prices alone were an eye watering £106.50.
- Read more: ‘Bros: After The Screaming Stops’: the most WTF one-liners from pop’s answer to ‘Spinal Tap’
While Matt and Luke Goss’ quotes were undoubtedly documentary gold, prices like this are clearly taking the piss.
Many fans thought so, with one writing: “Caught some of the Bros film when I got in tonight, and not gonna lie after watching it I thought I would have a quick look at the ticket prices for the Brixton Academy show, bloody hell over £100 per ticket?! That is ridiculous!”
Another would-be gig-goer vented: “I know Bros have had a resurgence of interest after their documentary film. But £106.50 for a standard price ticket for their Brixton Academy gig? Madness.”
When NME approached The Who and Bros for comment, we were either asked to contact promoter Live Nation or received no comment at all. Despite repeated attempts to contact Live Nation, they also refused to comment.
So why are promoters hiking their prices up so much? And how much do the artists have a say in setting ticket prices?
Gideon Gottfried, UK and European editor for US concert industry trade magazine Pollstar argues that there are a number of factors affecting the primary ticket market. Firstly he points out that artists rarely make money from albums any more with the rise of online streaming. In this sense, older acts like The Who, who last released a studio album 13 years ago, also tend to make comparatively less than contemporary artists like The 1975 and Taylor Swift from album sales.
“I’ve spoken to promoters who say artists have a right to be greedy these days because live entertainment has become their sole income and recorded music doesn’t bring much revenue any more,” he explained. “But it is quite astonishing to see some of these prices from certain heritage acts. My only explanation is that they know people are gonna pay it, so they charge it.”
Jon Chapple, news editor at international live music business magazine IQ, also points out that live music is currently in a “boom period” and prices are soaring as a result.
“Ultimately, I think, it’s capitalism at its most basic,” he said. “The prices are growing as demand grows. And while there are fans who can afford to pay those high prices, the majority of acts will continue to charge them.”
“While there are fans who can afford to pay those high prices, the majority of acts will continue to charge them”
– Jon Chapple, IQ magazine
As for who sets the ticket prices, Chapple claims: “It’s the promoter [in The Who’s and Bros’ instance, Live Nation] who ultimately sets the ticket prices, but the artist also has a lot of control, especially with acts like The Rolling Stones and The Who.”
Gottfried goes even further to say: “From what I gather it is a conversation between the promoter and the artist. It is usually the artist that has the last word and the final say.”
But he argues that many acts are actually trying to keep their ticket prices down.
“There are artists like Ed Sheeran for instance, who is the biggest touring artist of all time, who has a deliberate philosophy of not charging too much and also limiting VIPs and doing meet and greets for only disabled children or somebody who has won a competition,” he claims.
“He doesn’t want to overcharge his fans. So an artist at that stage charging still between 40 and 80 dollars in the US [Sheeran is, however, currently charging over £80 a ticket for his forthcoming UK tour], shows you that it’s all up to the artist at the end of the day.”
Although some artists go to great lengths to look after their fans, Gottfried also pointed out that promoters are taking advantage of the so called “hardcore” section – those fans who go out and buy tickets for several shows in the UK and overseas – knowing that they will pay even if the price is much higher.
“I’m a big free market fan but for a free market to function you need people to make rational choices,” he argued. “A music fan won’t make a rational choice when it comes to buying a ticket. They will probably blow a whole month’s salary without thinking about it because they are such a hardcore fan. So I think that needs to be taken into account. I would like it if promoters and artists took this passion into account. A lot of them do, but there are also some who seem not to care.”
“A music fan won’t make a rational choice when it comes to buying a ticket. They will probably blow a whole month’s salary without thinking about it because they are such a hardcore fan”
Gideon Gottfried, Pollstar
One such fan is Paul Radcliffe, a hardcore gig-goer who saw no problem with The Who hiking up their prices and happily paid over £170 for a seat on Level 1 at Wembley Stadium.
“I wanted to pay that price because we don’t know how long The Who are going to go on touring, it might be the last time we see them,” he said. “Fans of these so called heritage bands will pay these ticket prices because they have followed these bands from the start and don’t want to miss a tour. “
Long term Who fan, Justin Merrick on the other hand was put off for the first time by the high ticket price.
“I would have paid between £80-£100 for a decent seat at a push but I’m not willing to pay those prices. I’m a fan of The Who but I’m not gonna pay £80 for a ticket on Level 5,” he argued.
Another worrying factor is that some promoters are allowing ticket prices to soar because the secondary ticketing market is so out of control.
“A lot of promoters in the game think that this whole secondary ticketing market explosion has shown that people were underpricing their tickets,” Gottfried said. “It’s up to whether an artist agrees with that and therefore just ramps up the ticket prices because the secondary market shows that it pays.”
The bigger the artist, the more spectacular the live production too. Muse’s flying drones and U2’s supermassive LED screens for example don’t come for free. And in many cases this adds to the ticket price.
- Read more: NME meets Muse – Together in electric dreams
“Another thing a lot of artists and tour and production managers say is people expect a spectacular show when they go out,” says Gottfried. “If you talk about that mainstream sector where people want huge LED screens and lighting and pyros and flying artists, then the production of such a show obviously costs a lot as well, which again will affect ticket prices”
“A lot of promoters in the game think that this whole secondary ticketing market explosion has shown that people were underpricing their tickets”
Gideon Gottfried, Pollstar
Chapple agrees adding: “If costs go down, ticket prices should, in theory, follow. So if a band wants to do a tour with minimal production, as opposed to lasers and video projection and pyrotechnics and all that, they’ll be able to charge less.”
Despite high production costs, some bands still manage to keep ticket prices relatively cheap. Brit Award-winners The 1975 priced theirs at around £40, even though fans were treated to a game-changing, high-tech production.
Since the 2015 terror attacks on Eagles Of Death Metal’s concert at the Bataclan in Paris and outside Ariana Grande’s concert in Manchester in 2017, security has become a lot tighter at venues with metal detectors being enforced and thorough bag searches.
Again this has apparently changed the dynamics of ticket prices.
“There are heightened security requirements especially on the festival circuit and also the concert business that now need to be taken care of,” Gottfried explained. “That is paid for by the promoters so that has added a lot to the cost which they do forward on to the customer.”
And that’s not forgetting how much bands, particularly heritage acts make from merchandise.
A recent report by BBC 6 Music pointed out that artists can make around £4.80 for one t-shirt alone sold at £20.
“If you assume, say, 5 percent of fans buy merchandise – anecdotally, I understand it’s rarely more than about 7-8 percent, and could be as low as 2-3 percent – for a sold-out, 70,000 capacity Wembley Stadium show, that’s 3,500 people buying a t-shirt so that’s $17,500 (£13,100) for the band,” Chapple argues. “And bear in mind the big heritage acts generally have older fans with more money, and T-shirts and usually cost more than £20.”
Despite these soaring high prices, there are ticket agents such as mobile ticketing platform DICE and See Tickets that are fighting back for the fan by cutting booking fees out of the equation and by ensuring gig-goers don’t try and sell on tickets at a higher price.
“Both agents have a resale policy of not allowing fans to overprice their tickets or resell them on for a higher fee,” said Gottfried. “They can just charge face value plus the processing fees. To do that you have to build in a mechanism which doesn’t allow people to charge more. DICE and See Tickets does so unlike secondary sites like StubHub and Viagogo who clearly don’t.”
This view was backed up by Jason Edwards, Head of Music at DICE, who claims their platform has fought hard to keep down extra ticket price charges: “No artist wants to exploit their fans. Stuff like unexpected add-on fees doesn’t help though. A fan sees a ticket for £50 but by the time they get to the checkout it’s another £10 or £15 on top of that. Not cool. At DICE we take a stand against this this by showing the total price up front and by working hard to keep fees low.”
But there is a gap already developing between fans going to the bigger arena shows ahead of a new act at the smaller toilet venue, especially with a bigger portion of a punter’s gig spend going on one or two shows.
“Genuinely, yes, people are choosing larger shows over smaller shows because even now it’s harder for a new band to get any recognition in a world where social media and labels are dominating the funnel to get to the people, and any advertising space or editorials,” says Nathan Clark, owner of the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds.
“There is becoming a bigger gap between genuine new music goers and people who go to large scale events just because it’s an event, not actually for music. It’s pure scale economy as well. When people are buying tickets, would they be excited to go and see The 1975 given all the publicity and all the hype and the Brits performance over, say, a Yungblud concert? Fans will look at it and go, ‘Why go to that when you can go and see one big production’.”
Worryingly, as well it appears that a lot of major promoters will continue to whack prices up in the future.
Gottfried added: “One thing you hear from a lot of European promoters is that tickets prices are still fairly low compared to the US.”
“So they are orientating themselves by what they see overseas. Also with the growing influence of multi national corporations like Live Nation and AEG in Europe they might also be inspired to just raise the price levels. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see that across the board in the future.”
With prices going up it’s looking like an expensive future. Just how much are you willing to pay?