These 3 Things Make Concert Tickets Harder and Harder to Afford
Remember when your all-time favorite band finally released a long-awaited list of tour dates?
You scanned the list of cities for anything within a four-hour drive, called your concert buddy to get on board and then clicked over to the ticket site to snag some seats — just to find that this experience would be costing you a few hundred dollars (and that’s for the “cheap” seats).
No, your music spectacle-loving eyes do not deceive you.
Concert ticket prices are on the rise (and have been for a few years now), and it’s starting to get a little ridiculous.
But why in the name of all things rock and roll is it so incredibly expensive to take in a live show these days?
Well, it’s because you (yes, you) downloaded that illegal song off LimeWire back in middle school.
OK, I’m mostly kidding (but sort of not).
The real reason involves both those buy-up bots that allow for major price gouging and the artists themselves.
The Good Old Days
Decades ago, the live-music scene was a very different place.
In the year 1965, a ticket to see The Beatles at Shea Stadium in New York would have run you a whopping $5.65 (the most expensive ticket price offered for that show).
In 2014, the most expensive ticket tier to one of One Direction’s MetLife Stadium tour dates in New Jersey averaged $900. (The most expensive resale ticket was listed for $4,895.)
By comparison, adjusted for inflation, that $5.95 your Aunt Linda dropped to see Ringo (yeah, she was a Ringo fan — fight her) would have cost about $44.72 in 2014.
But these insanely high ticket prices aren’t just a problem for fevered boy-band groupies.
Last summer, the average ticket price that would get you in the door at an Adele concert was calculated to be $395.79 — the most expensive average ticket price for a touring female artist. Taylor Swift made the second spot on the list at (a slightly more affordable?) $236.65, while Lady Gaga’s show clocked in at just over $186.
And those are average ticket prices, meaning some people are paying much, much more.
In anticipation of Taylor Swift’s “reputation Stadium Tour” this year, some fans are dropping a whopping $896.50 (face value) for VIP tickets for the “Snake Pit Package,” which gets you an up-close-and-personal view of the singer, a collector’s box with a digital video component, a limited edition “reputation” book and an LED laminate and lanyard.
For the same show at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, you could pay as little as $69 for seats in the nosebleed section — if you could snag them in time. But previously bought seats in the same (not great) section are already being resold for $228.60.
Even if you manage to lock in the original price, though, it’s not unusual to pay an additional $17 or more in service fees and taxes, bringing that $69 ticket to $86 for a seat with a pretty disappointing view, where you’ll end up watching the show on the giant screens that flank the stage.
Blame the Bots
These extreme ticket prices are happening for a couple of reasons.
On one hand, it has a lot to do with the common frustration among music lovers everywhere: those bots and scalpers that buy up all the tickets in batches the second they drop, only to turn around and resell them at double, triple or even quadruple the original price.
We’ve all experienced some version of the same disappointment: You set your alarm for 10 a.m. on (what could be) a fateful Tuesday, you sign on to your account, you wait for that countdown clock to hit zero, select the first seats you see (no time for strategy!) and click through — only to be told those seats already have been sold.
So you cross your fingers and refresh the page. You see two more seats, this time across the stadium from each other (you can gush about the show with your friend on the ride home, right?), throw them in your cart and click through.
Nope, those have been sold, too.
You refresh again, but you’re met with the stark image of a stadium full of grayed-out seats. The whole experience lasted less than three minutes. You’ve missed the window, and it’s due largely to bots and scalpers.
If you’re still planning to attend the show at this point, you’ll be paying dearly for the opportunity.
But while it’s nearly impossible to stop individual buyers from reselling their tickets at exorbitant prices, most ticket-selling sites are trying to eliminate the use of bots.
Adele, for her part, famously worked to keep her tickets out of scalpers’ hands, saving her fans an estimated $6.5 million on resale ticket prices. Bruce Springsteen (definitely) and Taylor Swift (debatably) did the same.
But there’s no foolproof plan when it comes to scalpers. During that same tour season, resale tickets for the Adele show in Denver, Colorado, were going for as much as $579.
Or Is It the Artists?
While the resale value of concert tickets is often sky-high due to these pesky bots, the exponential rise in face-value ticket prices can be blamed on (attributed to?) the artists themselves.
The easy answer is that artists simply aren’t making money off record sales anymore.
With the introduction of streaming services and free music platforms (and the rise of illegal downloading over the past two decades), it’s getting harder and harder for artists to make a buck off recorded music.
To recoup some of those losses, artists are charging more for live concert experiences.
As the demand for more spectacular spectacles grows (think: indoor fireworks, laser shows, an army of backup dancers, giant flying hotdogs), these shows are becoming more and more expensive to put on.
After all is said and done, the artists themselves take home only a portion of the total ticket sales. Take, for example, Lady Gaga, who reportedly took home $10 million less than Elton John during the 2011 touring season despite having similar upfront sales figures.
Look, it’s not like these artists are hurting for money: Gaga’s $90 million take-home pay that year was nothing to take lightly.
But even when artists work to keep their prices low for their fans’ benefit, and even if ticket distributors don’t inflate the prices and tack on enormous fees, and even if bots and scalpers can be nosed out and shut down, the fact still remains: Enough people are still willing to pay up for a live concert experience.
Are Fans at Fault?
It all comes down to supply and demand.
As more and more people continue to demand tickets, high ticket prices continue to be a sort of self-regulating system.
Even in the absence of bots and scalpers, arenas will continue to sell out at not-inexpensive price points, and devoted fans will continue to scramble for the closest seats — or any seats at all.
In a December 2017 episode of the podcast “Freakonomics” titled “Why Is the Live-Event Ticket Market So Screwed Up?” economist Eric Budish explains that almost across the board, live-entertainment tickets are underpriced simply because so many people are willing to pay so much more.
“So artists often want to sell their tickets at … an artificially low price. And what I mean by that is a price at which demand dramatically exceeds supply,” Budish says, adding, “If a ticket price is too low, that means the artist, or the venue — someone is leaving a lot of money on the table.”
The fact that artists want to make tickets more affordable for fans is great for their image, Budish notes, but putting an exclusive product on an undersaturated market leaves a lot of profit waiting to be had — and it’s profit that resellers are happy to snatch up.
So the problem is, in actuality, threefold.
It’s the bots and scalpers, it’s the artists and it’s us, the willing (albeit a little grumbly) participants.
In the end, there’s no easy answer to how to make ticket prices more affordable or accessible, but here are strategies for beating the bots to the box office.
Either way, arenas are still selling out.
Fans are still showing up.
Artists are playing their shows, packing up and moving on to the next sold-out venue.
And we’ll be there, of our own volition, on tickets that cost us the entirety of our grocery budgets for the week. (So go ahead and buy that front-row ticket — we won’t judge.)
Grace Schweizer is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder.