Trends: Access to Concert Tickets has Continually Diminished
As concert productions have become increasingly costly, ticket prices have risen as availability has fallen.
It is no longer enough to love your favorite artists; you now must put blood, sweat and tears into getting tickets to concerts if you want to see them live. Beyond the actual effort of obtaining tickets, prices have skyrocketed as fan’s demands from live music have become extraordinary. Gone are the days of casually attending concerts; instead, getting in has become a battle. While this is not a new issue, the scale of concerts and expectations of fans have escalated in the past few decades, making an already limited market increasingly competitive and expensive.
The difficulty of obtaining concert tickets was brought back to national attention when Taylor Swift’s tickets for the highly anticipated “Eras Tour” went on sale. These tickets were impossible to get. I was one of the many who struggled. First, I had to sign up for presale, which I did not get at home in Tampa, Florida. I rolled with the punches and instead got presale elsewhere in Denver, a place with which I have no connection. After waiting in an unmoving queue for over two hours, I wasn’t even able to get through. Thankfully my friend who I was on FaceTime with did. I was sitting in the office of my internship, screaming in my cubicle on the phone “just get any seat, I don’t care!” Tickets were secured, but at the cost of nearly emptying my bank account. And compared to other stories I’ve heard, my experience was on the positive side.
It is not just Taylor Swift who is impossible to see — Harry Styles, Tyler Childers and more made news because of the arduous effort and expenses required. What’s worse is that the stress of purchasing tickets via presale or the second they go on sale is an unfortunate necessity. If a fan was to miss the original sale, they would then fall victim to the greed of scalpers, resellers and professional brokers who, according to Variety, markup their ticket prices “from an average of nearly 50% to an astonishing 7,000%.” For Styles’ “Love on Tour,” the average ticket price was over $600 with certain tickets going for more than $3,000.
Average ticket prices have tripled since the mid ’90s, even before they are bought out by scalpers. The price influx reflects the raised expectations from fans, who now anticipate elaborate productions as the standard for tours. John Corr of SoundMoves, a company that aids in the planning of some of the largest world tours, told BBC that “people’s expectations keep rising — do they want a musical performance or do they want a show?” When attending a concert, there is a new expectation for an immersive show — fireworks, pyrotechnics, background dancers and more — in sharp contrast to when concerts were less ostentatious and production-heavy.
It’s not just the base prices of tickets that limit fans, but also the means in which they are sold. Ticket access has always been an issue; in 1993, Pearl Jam attempted to cap their ticket price at a mere $18 to mitigate scalpers and make their tour affordable. This made the fees placed by Ticketmaster abundantly clear as prices rose beyond the set cap. Leslie Helm and Chuck Phillips then ran a series of stories in the Los Angeles Times, exposing Ticketmaster as the villain of this story and prompting a legal investigation of Ticketmaster’s monopoly behavior. Aeorsmith’s manager described Ticketmaster as “an arrogant bully who has forgotten who his true customer is: the fan.” As a result, Pearl Jam was forced to cancel their “Vs.” tour — their refusal to work with Ticketmaster crippled the tour as exclusive agreements with venues limited performance availability.
When the U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation, Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament both testified in front of the committee, only for the Justice Department to drop the case shortly after. Ticketmaster’s market power continued to grow and “unfortunately, those who will be most hurt by the Justice Department’s cave-in are the consumers of live entertainment,” a Pearl Jam spokesman said. “The consumers are the ones who ultimately pay for the lack of choice in the marketplace.”
The site’s true nature had been revealed: a monopoly. Prior to Ticketmaster, Ticketron was the primary tool used for concert ticket sales. However, in 1990, the majority of its assets were sold to Ticketmaster. Ticketmaster’s power further grew in 1993 when Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, acquired control by purchasing 80% of the platform. Allen revolutionized its operations, transforming it into the powerhouse we all know today. After a fierce competition with Live Nation, another ticket sale site, the two merged in 2010. Becoming Live Nation Entertainment, its transformation into a monopoly quickly began as it bought out competition like Front Gate Tickets and UPGRADED.
Ticketmaster’s protocols behave in a way that limits accessibility for fans. It will hold back around 90% of available tickets to then later be sold to a secondary market, such as radio stations, artist’s fan clubs and credit card companies — this was seen in the “Eras Tour” exclusive presale for Capital One card holders. This further restrains an already limited market, encouraging competition between fans seeking tickets. Additionally, Ticketmaster adds fees that reach up to 78% of the ticket price, which are then divided between artists, venues and Ticketmaster itself. The issue is exacerbated by the lack of options for alternatives — Ticketmaster’s exclusive relationships with stadium venues, artists and companies pigeonhole fans into using their platform.
In December of 2022, fans filed a suit against Live Nation Entertainment, for the anticompetitive behavior that characterized Swift’s “Eras Tour” fiasco. The Senate meeting that was subsequently called questioned the legitimacy of the partnership between Ticketmaster and Live Nation, providing hope for concert goers as they called for its potential end. According to the New York Times, the partnership is set to expire in 2025, so changes to ticket purchasing access may be coming in a mere two years. However, it is unlikely that prices will ever return to their earlier rates as the demands of performers have become increasingly exuberant. And it seems that the feral sprint for concert tickets will remain a part of contemporary consumer culture for quite some time.