The new ticket war: why are gigs so expensive?

Ticket prices for live music events have been largely debated for a number of years, now. We all know about the war against ticket touts and re-selling sites such as Viagogo and Twickets and, with the help of artists such as Ed Sheeran and Adele, the popularity and impact of these sites seems to be decreasing. However, it appears that there’s a new kind of ticket war on the horizon. In recent years, it seems that ticket prices are rising more generally as legitimate, first-hand vendors have been increasing their prices.

Research from Pollstar shows that the average ticket prices for the top 100 worldwide tours in 2017 rose 5% to $84.63 (£61), while a 2018 BBC investigation found that ticket prices for big arena gigs have doubled since the 1990s and – taking inflation into account – the prices of gig tickets have risen by 27%.

Take the Spice Girls as an example; in 1998, tickets to their Wembley Stadium show cost £23.50 (£39 in today’s money) whereas tickets for their 2019 Wembley Stadium show are selling at £60-£135 for seated tickets, £75 for standing and £199 for ‘Spice Circle’ standing.

In a recent poll conducted by WNOL, 74% of respondents said that gig tickets are too expensive. One Twitter user said ‘personally I think that the pricing is way too high – especially in standing arenas for people like Ariana Grande, Little Mix etc. who attract a younger audience of early teens’.

Another Twitter user said ‘I think that gig tickets are extremely overpriced for what they are. It’s just another way for corporate bands to leech money from the easily persuaded youth of today’.

Others pointed out that, although tickets can be expensive, some artists are aware of this and do try to tackle this. One Instagram user said ‘some performers are aware of how expensive tickets are getting and actively try to keep prices low (like The Vamps) while others know they can charge a lot more and that people will pay it so they go extreme. You can’t blame them because, in a way, their main income is probably from touring these days’.

But why are ticket prices so high?

‘Venue costs rising, promoters’ fees, performers’ fees and the rising costs of logistics (travel, shipping of equipment et cetera) will have all contributed to the rising costs of gig tickets’, says Brighton-based music journalist Tom Sayer.

‘Performers still need to make money from their shows, and often even with high ticket prices and large sell-out shows, they make little to nothing on the shows themselves. They rely heavily on the selling of merch at the shows, and an increased awareness through gig promotion and PR’.

Although Tom doesn’t think gig culture will die if ticket prices continue to rise, he thinks it will likely change – ‘At the moment it seems like most shows are either free (open mic nights, pub bands) or very expensive (arena tours). I think they key is offering shows in the mid-range, so people are more likely to take a punt, even if they don’t know the artists’.

And Tom seems to be right; if anything, gigs only seem to be getting more popular. Expensive, yes, but with artists themselves – Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift and The Vamps, to name a few – opening their eyes to the problems of the live music world, it may not stay this way forever. After all, look at the progress that’s been made in tackling the original ticket war.


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