When concerts and festivals started to slowly return in the summer of 2021, concertgoers noticed something: a steep increase in ticket prices.
Part of this is to be expected as artists, venues and promoters try to recoup the losses that occurred due to the pandemic.
But the reality is ticket prices had already increased significantly over the years even before the Coronavirus had reared its ugly head. So much so that "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" recently dedicated an entire segment on it.
This has been going on for decades
According to Oliver, "the average price of a popular concert has more than tripled since the mid-nineties, vastly outpacing inflation." 1996 to be exact and there's a very important reason why that year is significant: it's the year SFX Broadcasting purchased New York concert promoter Delsner/Slater.
Soon, SFX would go through each major market in the U.S., purchasing the largest (and, at the time, still independent) promoter in that area (Don Law in Boston, Cellar Door in Washington, D.C., etc.), eventually forming one large national concert promotion company.
In 1999, they purchased their first European acquisition and in 2000, sold the company to Clear Channel, who rebranded that arm of their company Live Nation.
Merging with Ticketmaster in 2010, Live Nation Entertainment now operates worldwide with an organization that includes venues, has an artist management arm (Artist Nation) and has purchased festivals over the years including Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo. It's not unusual for these operating costs to be covered through fees on tickets.
Secondary Market Pricing
Professional ticket brokers (a nice way to call people who are professional ticket scalpers) have been driving up prices for years thanks to third-party ticket websites like Vivid Seats, Seat Geek, etc.
Pre-internet, these people had to stand outside a venue the night of the show (and not within a certain radius of the venue, otherwise they could be arrested by an undercover cop) and hope for the best.
Now, by using multiple accounts through online ticket outlets, they're able to scoop up the best seats the moment they go onsale and immediately put them on these third-party websites.
What's worse, an unknowing fan who googles 'artist + venue' will see these companies listed as their top results because these companies pay more for their SEO than the artist, venue or promoter. The unknowing fan clicks on this link, thinking they're buying directly from the source and instead pays way more than necessary for a ticket to a show.
Additionally, if you've bought a ticket from a third-party website for a performing arts venue that allows ticket exchanges, you may get the venue the night of the show and find your ticket null and void.
If the original owner of that ticket, who listed and sold it on the third party website, contacts the venue and exchanges it to another show, your ticket is completely null and void the moment the exchange happens. You'll arrive at the venue the night of, unable to get in and there's nothing you can do about it.
With the advent of third-party ticketing websites, artists and promoters soon realized that fans were willing to pay way more for a ticket than they were actually charging (there was a time when one ticket price for the entire show, regardless of where you sat, was the standard).
They also realized that fans were willing to pay in order to meet their favorite artists, which spurred the VIP packages that include meet and greets.
With dynamic pricing, if you want to pay more, you'll get a better seat. But even dynamic pricing has skyrocketed over the years.
In 2013, $250US would get you a floor seat close to the stage on Paul McCartney's stadium tour. On his latest stadium tour outing in 2022, $250US seats were in the nosebleed sections.
Is This Temporary Or The New Norm?
Until there is federal legislation that regulates what people can charge on third part websites, this will be the new norm.
Some U.S. states have passed legislation that controls what percentage someone can charge above the original ticket price but that is few and far between.
It is up to the artists and promoters to control these costs, which they seem unwilling to do. It may take the looming recession and fans staying away in droves for this to change.
Until then, expect to pay more out of pocket if you're going to a show.