Why are tickets for rock concerts so expensive?

play 'fever dog'!Artsjournal links to a CBC story on the prices of concert tickets:

Whether it’s Justin Bieber or the Rolling Stones that fans want to see in concert, they’ll likely be paying dearly.

“At first, we only spent $350. Then, the next time, we spent $450,” 16-year-old Bieber fan Cara Corbett and her best friend Tyra Bright told CBC News.

“This year, it was like $650 and I was like ‘I’m done … I’m not spending any more.'”

Back in the 1970s, a ticket to a Rolling Stones concert in Toronto cost around $8. Tickets for the band’s upcoming Toronto stops on its 50th annversary tour start at $166.50, with the priciest spots listed for upwards of $600 a seat.

One explanation is that established acts like the Stones or Fleetwood Mac simply weren’t as popular or considered iconic in decades past — and couldn’t command as high a premium. There are acts that now rely on touring as their main source of revenue.

Another problem is that many groups — from sponsors to resellers and brokers — get access to tickets before the general public.

However, according to ticket sales giant Ticketmaster, a major factor is the massive and elaborate shows that make up today’s typical concert experience.

I don’t buy the Ticketmaster explanation. Ticket prices are high because people are willing to pay that much for a big show, and if they were not we would not get such elaborate shows in the first place. Neither do I buy the explanation that the Stones or Fleetwood Mac were not as popular back in the day. I’m old enough to remember the 1970s and trying to get tickets to these shows – yes, they were cheap (I think I paid $8 to see Elton John in 1974), but they would sell out very quickly.

I see something in the reasoning given by Alan Krueger and Marie Connolly (download the paper for free here): in the 1970s, bands toured in order to generate buzz for their records, since that’s where the money was, and so they would keep ticket prices down as a cross-subsidy to market their LP’s. Now there’s not much to be made in recordings, and so the situation has flipped – give away recordings at very low prices (compare what you pay for a CD now with what you paid for an LP in the 1970s, adjusted for inflation, to see what I mean), and make the concert the main event.

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  1. says

    I’m guessing that affluent parents in their 60s and 70s were not attending Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac concerts in the ’70s. The people who went were young and paying for it themselves. Whether it’s Bieber or the Stones today, it’s the parents’ money that’s going toward those triple-digit tickets. I’m guessing upper-income middle-aged people’s leisure dollars went elsewhere in the past, like country club memberships and such.

      • says

        Another possible explanation (and a more likely one, now that I think about it) is that rich people simply are richer these days. Since there are a limited number of seats available for any given marquee concert and a limited number of acts that can truly be marquee, their willingness to pay goes up as they compete with each other for the scarce good. (You can think of the progression of this trend over the decades as kind of like an auction in slow motion and with many iterations.) Combine this with the societal shift I mentioned above (with Boomers not wanting to completely let go of their youth, etc.) and I think you have your answer. IMHO.

      • says

        I also think that the people who are buying these tickets (for themselves, at any rate) aren’t buying the concert experience itself so much as the temporary social prestige that comes with having hot concert tickets. Otherwise we’d see lots more people going to concerts alone.

        • Beth Seltzer says

          Yes! And then you get people sitting behind you that will actually ask you to sit down when Billy Joel is performing Pressure. It’s such a turn off.

  2. Steven J. Tepper says

    Ticket prices reflect many inter-related phenomena — including a rise in demand, the need for artists to make more money touring as product sales decline, and a higher production value due to increased special effects and elaborate staging. But, we can not ignore the effects of added ticket fees and consolidation. Artists, venues, promoters, and the ticketing agents (Ticketmaster) have all jumped on the bandwagon of adding fees to the price of tickets — each taking a bit of the additional pie. And, the consolidation of giant promoters like AEG and LiveNation have led to bidding wars to lock in the most popular artists. They have the $ to bankroll unreasonable advances for big acts and then recoup by charging more at the box office.

  3. Lenora says

    Each of the Rolling Stones who stayed with the group since the new era of skyrocketing ticket prices now has a net worth of between $160 million (Charlie Watts) and $280 million (Mick Jagger). Bill Wyman, who left the band in the early ’90’s, is quoted as complaining that he is relatively poor because he missed this new hugely lucrative touring phase. Mick Taylor, who left the band in the ’70’s was recently featured in English newspapers driving a beaten up car and barely making ends meet.

    Basically, the touring juggernaut has been engineered into a well-oiled machine designed to make the participants as rich as possible. Why wouldn’t they raise prices as high as the market can bear? “Sir” Mick Jagger, who long ago gave up his anti-Establishment posture, for example, has several posh ex-wives and girlfriends to keep in the latest designer fashions and many growing children to spoil! He was always the businessman, in any case, with a degree from the London School of Economics right at the outset.

    Seeing the Stones at Rich Stadium for $13.50 in the mid-1970’s was one of the highlights of my teenage years, partially because the overflow crowd was made up of other earnest young fans just like myself. We waved to each other on the NY Thruway en route to Buffalo from other parts of the state. The concert was an all-day affair. We were really excited, not blase. Today’s well-heeled audiences don’t generate the same vibe, and the experience isn’t as life-changing, even though it is always thrilling to see the artists in person.

    I am disappointed to have to miss this upcoming tour (I won’t pay $166), but I can’t really fault the Rolling Stones for charging as much as they can get. They have enhanced the everyday lives of millions of people for decades and will continue to into the future through their classic recordings, the fruits of their own hard work and creative genius.

    Word has it that Mick Taylor will be rejoining the group for this upcoming tour, and let’s hope it helps him a bit! On second thought, the opportunity to hear him play live with the Stones might just be worth that $166.

  4. Peter says

    If that 8 dollar ticket for the Rolling Stones in 1970 had only kept up with inflations it would cost $48 dollars today. I would never pay $166 dollars to see a concert. That is a crazy waste of money.

    • David Knezevic says

      Chicago in (I think) 1989 was $20 for almost front row seats at the CNE. Chicago in London (Budweiser Gardens) next month, for the same seats are $130. If we’re going by inflation that’s about 31.82% per year. Minimum wage has only gone up 30 in all those years. So it can’t be anything but greed from the artist to the ticket taker. The shows were just as elaborate then as they are now. It boils done to greed. The problem is that we the people continue to shovel out. I am guilty of this. I paid $180 (all in) for an Elton John floor seat at the Kitchener aud and it was worth every sorry penny. I will never forget how wonderful an experience it was. I tried to repeat that experience at the ACC in Toronto 5 years later and learned that the original price paid wouldn’t even get me in the door. The seats in comparison were now $900+. Greed greed greed greed GREED!

  5. john roper says

    Dude, it’s simple. They only do one night there days instead of at least two. so twice the amount, at least

  6. Melissa says

    A certain amount of the price problem is Ticketmaster. They can charge what they like because, as you say, people will pay it. During their most recent tour, Bon Jovi was really good about keeping some of their ticket prices relatively low for the not-filthy-rich masses. The Ticketmaster “convenience” fee ($16) ended up being more than the base ticket price ($15) for my cheap seat. Greedy bands are greedy bands [and there are many of them!], but the third-party surcharges are a significant problem, especially when they are the act’s designated ticket supplier. Of course, as long as people like me keep buying, nothing is going to change.

  7. Phoebe says

    Does anyone remember when Barbara Streisand did a tour in 1994 I think it was and charged over $100 per ticket? That was unheard of at the time but she got away with it, and it seemed to me that was the turning point where tickets skyrocketed. Lawn seats for the Eagles that summer were &84.00 and that was on the grass, no seats.

  8. says

    Not enough stress here on the flip-flopped business model of musicians, IMHO. The “record industry” (“electron industry?”) is falling apart and the best way for musicians to make a living (or a fortune) is through touring. Touring, as Michael says, used to promote the upcoming album and was not designed to make a significant profit. Today, it’s incumbent on the musician to charge as much as the market can possibly bear, which is why — perhaps more significantly than the mega-prices of the Rolling Stones et al, we see concerts by middle level semi-stars priced at $75 or more.

  9. Daidai says

    I went to fleetwood mac several years ago and while it was a great show i just can’t justify the even higher price for this tour.
    Re Barbara Streisand’s I remember her tickets got higher and higher in price until one tour where she played to less than half full stadiums (probably still turned a profit mind you).


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