You may have heard of the Bruce Springsteen Big Ticket Debacle. After a six-year Boss tour drought, tickets went on sale and fans suddenly found themselves staring at $4,000 price tags. Born to cry!
What was the fault? In two words: dynamic pricing, the same algorithm-controlled, supply-and-demand phenomenon responsible for your Uber ride around town or your plane ticket to see grandma suddenly costs more. (Not the same as Adele’s $40,000 tickets, which resulted from resellers snagging the best seats.)
Well, keep those wallets open, music fans. With the fall concert season upon us and crowds still hungry for a live experience, expect dynamic pricing to affect the best seats. But there are still ways to get a good deal and even lobby for change.
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What is dynamic ticket pricing?
In 2011, Ticketmaster, the industry’s dominant—many would say monopolistic—supplier of event tickets, announced that it would begin adjusting prices based on consumer demand.
The goal was to keep tickets from being distributed on secondary market platforms like StubHub, providing more of that revenue for artists, venues and ticket providers.
“Fans need to understand that sometimes that’s what the best venues are worth,” says Bob Lefsetz, a music industry analyst at The Lefsetz Letter. “The only way to get around this is to try and link every ticket to a specific fan with no transfers allowed.”
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Who is to blame for the dynamic prices: Master Tickets or your favorite artist?
When it comes to dynamic pricing, “it’s important to remember that it’s the artist telling Ticketmaster that this is what they want to do, not the other way around,” says Lefsetz.
And many have done just that. Over the years, major acts like Taylor Swift, Drake, Paul McCartney, Ye and Harry Styles have embraced dynamic pricing. Currently, artists such as The Weeknd, Alicia Keys and Carrie Underwood are also offering their best seats – often called Platinum Tickets – through this variable pricing system.
“This is when artists want to go out and support themselves and their teams and the people who work for them, so they want market prices for those great seats,” says Dean Budnick, co-author of “Ticket Masters: The Rise “. of the concert industry and how audiences were destroyed.”
Decades ago, many states had strict, if rarely enforced, anti-scalping laws, Budnick says. But they disappeared in part due to lobbying by resellers. The premium price is “a response to that and an attempt to capture more revenue for the artist.”
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So how expensive were those Bruce Springsteen tickets?
Although Springsteen fans were outraged that their working-class hero allowed this to happen, sales figures released by Ticketmaster reveal that around 12% of tickets were so-called Platinum, and thus subject to dynamic pricing.
88% of tickets sold at face value were priced from $59.50 to $399, with an average price of $202, Ticketmaster told USA TODAY. Only 1.3% of tickets at all shows sold for more than $1,000 and more than half (56%) of tickets sold for less than $200; 18% were less than $99, 27% between $100 and $150, and 11% between $150 and $200.
“Promoters and artists’ representatives determine the specific price for their shows,” Ticketmaster said in a statement. “The biggest factor driving prices is supply and demand. When there are far more people who want to attend an event than there are tickets available, prices go up.”
Do all fans hate premium prices?
They don’t, says Lefsetz.
“The irony is that the people who pay the most for tickets to see their favorite artists are often the happiest, something you can see in the popularity of VIP experiences,” where artists offer more than just a seat at the show, he says. .
Concert tickets were undervalued for decades, Lefsetz says. A big change occurred when The Eagles returned to the road in 1994 and priced their Hell Freezes Over tickets at a then-high $100. The fans go inside. He adds that while it’s easy to argue that the best places are “only for Wall Street fat cats, that’s not really true; often, it’s a die-hard, hard-working fan who saves up for this special experience.”
His advice to those who still want great shows to be cheap: “If you want to see a band for a cheap price, go to your local bar. This is about raw economics.”
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Will ticket prices ever drop on Earth?
Some artists have tried to fight back against the high prices. In 1995, Pearl Jam challenged Ticketmaster by refusing to perform at venues where the company controlled ticket sales. Recently, the group was criticized by fans for saying OK to premium prices.
But real change is possible only if lawmakers limit Ticketmaster’s power, says Ron Knox, a senior researcher at the advocacy group Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
“Artists are operating in a broken system,” he says. “The Justice Department may reconsider whether the merger of Ticketmaster and (promoter) Live Nation reduces competition, harms concertgoers and harasses artists.”
Knox argues that a more competitive landscape for event tickets, from concerts to sports, would essentially lower prices across the board, as fans have a limited amount of discretionary income, especially in our inflationary times.
“Pressure can be brought to bear by Congress and regulatory agencies,” Knox says.
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How to avoid dynamic pricing?
The best tactic: patience. Just as the price of an Uber ride will increase when it releases a concert, concert ticket prices will likely increase in the excitement of the release date. But if you wait, prices can drop for those once-expensive spots.
In a recent resale ticket market study by FinanceBuzz, concertgoers spent 33% less than the average ticket price when buying on the day of the concert and 27% less than the average when buying the day before the show.
“Don’t rule out your fan club or radio station promotions,” says Budnick. “Check with your credit card company; sometimes they offer access to tickets. And don’t forget production hold, which is the release of tickets by management closer to the show after they determine how many tickets needed to be held for the artist. Prepare for more more than a bite of apple.”
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