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Published: 2008/01/23
by Dan Greenhaus

Featured ColumnTicket Pricing: ‘What Exactly Is Conservative?’

In a recent Reuters article noting that 2007, despite large reunion tours by The Police, Van Halen and others, was the worst in the concert business since 2004, the article’s writer suggested that Pollstar editor Gary Bongiovanni thinks the major acts were “conservative” in their pricing. The writer mentions both the average ticket price for Dave Matthews ($49) while Bruce Springsteen’s average ticket price was “just” $92 (meanwhile, one can get tickets to see Bruce at Giants Stadium for $65 right now).

While the former act, like others of his ilk, has always kept ticket prices down, I was a bit irked by the suggestion that Bruce’s tickets were “just” $92. Of course, this was in comparison to fourth-highest-grossing-of-all-time The Police’s ticket price of $114 (which brought in $132 million dollars), but still. When did $92 become worthy of a “just?” When did it become “inexpensive?”

At the same time, one cannot fault Bongiovanni too much for thinking Bruce’s ticket pricing was “conservative.” From a business standpoint, the difference between his price and The Police’s cost Bruce approximately $385,000 per night. Whether Bruce played twenty or forty nights is irrelevant, that’s real money. If you compare it to Genesis’ average ticket price of $130, the difference is even starker. Now you’re talking about $665,000 per night. Over a twenty date tour, that’s over $13,000,000 a band did not make. I don’t know about you, but $13 million dollars is hard to leave on the table.

I’ve always been a champion of free markets, and the right of a band to price their tickets at whatever they want, whether it be $130 or $49, is central to that premise. But it’s difficult for bands and promoters to get a handle on supply/demand fundamentals and that’s one of the reasons that I believe the auction process for tickets is coming as a general rule, rather than the exception to it. In addition, the right of individuals to cast scorn on a band such as Dave Matthews for not getting every dollar he can is also a guarantee in our society.

But what I don’t understand is how one can suggest that Bruce tickets were “just” $92? I see a whole lot of concerts by $8 bands at the Mercury Lounge, $25 bands at Webster hall and $114 bands by way of The Police at MSG. While I don’t have a scientific study to back this up, it seems to me that the average ticket price for those larger, arena sized bands, is about $65. When a band comes around New York, and I have to pay $65 to see them, that’s average and I feel no ill effects from that. Once you get up near $100 per ticket, that’s when I pause to weight the cost/benefits of paying that much for a concert, given how many other, lesser priced concerts I can see for the same money. That’s a psychological breaking point, even if the dollar difference between $95 per ticket and $103 per ticket is negligible. And I know I’m not alone in that thesis because I have that conversation with other people regarding the same concerts. So when I see someone suggest that a ticket, even for an act like Bruce that can command a higher price, is relatively inexpensive at $92, I have to disagree.

To be clear, the prices we’re talking about are mainly for the nostalgia acts, bands heading out on the road to get paid for work from thirty years ago. I don’t have any problem with bands doing that, nor should you. Getting paid is central to our society and getting paid it was makes the world go round. But lets be honest, Coldplay isn’t charging $130 per ticket (I paid $60). I paid less than $80 to see Bon Jovi. Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood are on tour together, and one can get a ticket for $62.50. I can buy tickets to Van Halen at the Izod Center in Jersey for $47.50 assuming those tickets are available, while Matchbox 20’s highest price ticket for an upcoming show at MSG is “only” $80. Gov’t Mule’s highest price ticket is $65 for their run of shows at the Beacon Theater while Kid Rock tickets at the Mohegan Sun in CT are one price only, $39. One can go see Natalie Merchant for $45. Foo Fighters are one of the most popular bands on the planet right now, but you can see them at the BankAtlantic Center in Florida for a top ticket price of $42.25. Linkin Park, whose newest album has sold over two million copies, is on tour with Coheed and Cambria and you can see them at the Joe Louis arena in Detroit for a top ticket price of $48.50.

In the end, are tickets expensive for the big name acts? Yes, yes they are. And Bongiovanni’s mistake was looking at the concert industry through glasses clouded with the prices for those acts when in reality, ticket prices for the vast majority of musical acts are far less. There’s a ton of music out there for everyone no matter what style of music you like, and the vast majority of it is more than affordable; It’s downright cheap.

Now just go out there and support the bands.

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