Why are Concert Tickets Priced So High?

See also Why You Can’t Get Tickets to See Your Favorite Performers here.

I copied this article published last year in from an ABC News page. So let me say up front that this is copyright © ABC news and all the content is theirs. I thought it just nailed the whole topic so well that I couldn’t add anything to it. Why are ticket prices so high? Well it’s not as simple as it might seem. But it’s very interesting to me that while the management of some acts (Stones, Elton John) will point the finger in every direction – even at fans – artists like Dave Matthews happily charge 40 bucks. I think these bands are full of shit. They could charge less and still make money. They just choose not to. Article below. Italics in article are mine:

A ticket to a Rolling Stones concert cost about $8 in 1969. Today, it can cost you up to $350 to get into a Stones show. Prices of concert tickets are rising faster and higher than those for movies, theater — even sporting events. But rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be the anti-establishment art form, and maybe that’s why so many fans feel aggravated that rock — once for the masses — is now often for only the rich.

“I’m like an old rock ‘n’ roller and I can’t go see them,” said 47-year-old Steve Rex.

Outside a recent Rolling Stones concert in New York City, devoted Stones fan named Avi was desperate to get into the show. But he was shocked at the $350 price tag. “It’s ridiculous; it’s insane — $350 to see anybody, I don’t know, I wouldn’t pay it.” Even if he could afford it, he says he wouldn’t want to give his money to what he imagines is some corporate pickpocket standing between the box office and the Stones. “I assume there’s some guy standing on top of the buildings here on a big leather chair that’s getting all the money,” Avi said.

Who’s to Blame?

So who is getting all the money? Why are ticket prices so high? Some people say it’s the rock stars just being greedy. Others blame a massive media conglomerate called Clear Channel Communications. Even huge stars like Grammy Award winner Dave Matthews say they’re troubled by what Clear Channel is doing to the music business. “A big company like Clear Channel has every opportunity to sort of take over every edge of the business,” Matthews said. And that’s exactly what some people say Clear Channel is doing.

Clear Channel is No. 1 in radio station ownership, the concert promotion industry, and ownership of concert arenas. Since Clear Channel started buying up the industry, the average concert ticket price has risen by one-third. The sharp increase was so alarming, it triggered a Senate investigation last month. Rocker Don Henley testified about Clear Channel before the Senate committee. “I come at my own peril … This unprecedented control by the conglomerates is hurting the music business and the culture,” Henley told Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Just days after the hearings and the bad press that came with them, Clear Channel canceled a planned interview with {ABC News magazine} 20/20. Instead, the company issued a statement, in which it points a finger right back at the rock moguls. “It is high attendance, not high ticket prices that benefit Clear Channel … More than 100 percent of the ticket price increase in 2002 went to the artists,” the company said in its statement.

Is Online Downloading the Culprit?

So who’s telling the truth? Miles Copeland, owner of Ark 21 Records and former manager of Sting, admits that Sting and other artists have a lot of control over ticket prices. If they seem greedy, Copeland says, it’s because they’re being ripped off every day — not by Clear Channel, but by their fans. “Five years, 10 years, 15 years ago … every time you wanted music, you’d go to a record store and you’d have to fork out money to buy records. Well nowadays they say it’s just OK to steal,” Copeland said.

Steal online, that is. Apparently, many of us simply cannot resist the temptation of downloading music from the Internet. But all that free music is not without a price. “The public ought to realize as they’re complaining about ticket prices, that they’re forcing ticket prices up because stealing music from the artists eliminates that source of income.

Recording artists like Sting used to make the majority of their money from just that: recording. Now, they’re making 62 percent of their income from touring. “So now the only source of income is tickets,” Copeland said, “and basically the public will have to pay the price of that.” [Otherwise they can go fuck themselves, right Miles?]

The Stones ‘Get What They Need’ … and Want

It’s a big price. Bands like The Who that came of age in the 1960s have left all that peace, love, and flower power behind. Now, mega acts like the Stones, with pyrotechnics and large stage shows, have grown into big corporations with payrolls and overhead. “It’s a big fat cow, the entertainment industry, and sometimes it’s shameless,” says Matthews, who was born in the ’60s.

Matthews is also having his pocket picked by downloading fans. But he says theft online can’t begin to explain the huge price tag attached to the ticket prices of the rock ‘n’ roll idols he grew up with. “There’s an obscenity when you get 200 bucks a ticket,” he said. Even Matthews’ ticket prices have gone up — but only a little — to $40 for any seat in the house. And he still makes enough money to be one of last year’s top money making tours. “If it costs you 25 bucks, or 30 bucks to put on a show for each person and you charge 40 bucks, that seems like a reasonable profit,” Matthews said.

We asked Stones tour manager Michael Cohl why Mick Jagger and his boys aren’t satisfied with 40 bucks a head. Cohl said it’s simply a matter of money. “If they wanted to play for free, wouldn’t they just go down to the pub in London and play for free anytime they want? … They would like to make money too.” Cohl said the Stones want to make money for their hard work, just like everyone else. But the Stones live like royalty when they’re offstage, renting out entire hotels where a single room can go for as much as $4,000 a night.

So, aren’t the fans are paying for this lush life? “No,” Cohl said, “the Rolling Stones are paying for it. If the fans buy the tickets we get reimbursed.” If the sky is the limit in ticket prices, the Stones have no reason to stop until they hit the ceiling. Even with ticket prices of up to $350, they sell out every night.

Top Dollar for Nosebleed Seats

Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of the concert magazine Pollstar, says another way the big acts gouge concertgoers is by charging top dollar for seats at the very back of the arena. A back-of-the-stadium seat at a Elton John/ Billy Joel concert could run you $85, and you’d need binoculars to see the piano men. For a $250 ticket to a Paul McCartney show, you’d get a seat off to the side and a couple hundred feet away.

So have some musicians forgotten the fans who put them where they are? Rocker Lenny Kravitz says yes. “I can’t sing ‘Let Love Rule’ and then, you know, charge people, you know, 500 bucks to get in. It’s not what it’s about,” he said.

But some industry insiders says that it’s not just about the love. Pollstar’s Bongiovanni says younger bands playing today know that their fan base can’t afford the ticket prices that a Paul McCartney fan can. So, because they can get away with it, legends like McCartney, the Stones, Cher, and Billy Joel and Elton John put together the four top-grossing tours in 2002 — with a combined draw of $330 million. As long as people are willing to pay huge sums to see the rockers of yesteryear, prices will keep going up.

So, let’s get back to Avi, the diehard Rolling Stones fan who couldn’t afford the $350 price tag to get in. After spending hours out in the cold, he got lucky. “I just got a free ticket. I swear to God!” Sometimes you get more than what you need — you get what you want.

In case the point isn’t made, the Stones ticket at the top of this post (1965) was $3.50, the ticket below (2012) is $353.50. What increase is that exactly? 10,000%?

Rolling Stones tix

6 thoughts on “Why are Concert Tickets Priced So High?

  1. Yeah. Pisses me off quite frankly. And while there isn’t damn thing you or I can do about it, I always find it’s nice to know who’s lying to us. In this case it seems to be pretty much everybody. But Clear Channel and Ticketmaster? The lowest of the low.


  2. I remembered something about prices of tickets for well-known acts such as Sinatra and Streisand particularly and how much well-endowed people would pay for their concerts. At that time, for my age and class group, buying tickets for these acts was well out of my range even if I was interested in seeing them. I remember that people were laying down $1,000 a ticket to see Streisand in concert. Even the famous late night TV host during this era, Johnny Carson, cracked jokes about needing to break into Fort Knox to see a well-known act in concert. For someone who was making a gross amount of $60 a week during this time, I could only afford the $3 album and $5 concert tickets. So the prices for these acts were targeted towards the generation of people who had limited income. Now the new hit makers are targeting, as they did before, people who have the money to pay for their concerts. Lot of people in our generation will lay down those funds to see these acts. My friend, who I consider a cautious spender, told me recently he spent $400 a ticket (he bought two) to see the Eagles in concert. His major complaint? His date was late and he missed two of his favorite songs.


  3. Yeah I recall hearing about, at least, the Streisand tickets. But back then I think that money was going to scalpers. Eventually the performers wised up and said, ‘Why aren’t I getting that?’ As to your Eagles chum, I confess I’m in that same boat. Tickets to The Who cost me $150 apiece. I didn’t pay it gladly but I sure as hell enjoyed the show. So I guess people are always willing to pay (if they can afford it) what it takes for that certain experience. Some people will follow Springsteen or whatever’s left of the Dead around and that’s their vacation. So now I might go to one, maybe two shows/year instead of one or two/month. And spend a lot more time at small clubs.

    Side note – I’m reading a really good back about Broadway (“Razzle Dazzle”) and it’s the same exact thing. Once upon a time, Broadway tix were 15 bucks. People were outraged when they went to $40. By the time they went to $50, one guy said, “You’ve just lost much of your audience.” And of course nobody cared because the well-heeled can always afford anything. Top price for ‘Hamilton’, the hottest show now on Broadway? $177. Face value. If you can get them.


  4. I think you make a good point about spending funds on seeing bands or Broadway shows, for that matter, instead of going on a regular vacation. You can spend more going to a tropical island for vacation. The Eagles guy doesn’t go on regular vacations so the ticket cost was minimal compared to a regular vacation, which sounds pretty much like him. Saw an interesting article written in 2002 on ticket costs from the Economist Alan Krueger, which I am including here. (Hopefully, this cut and paste will work).



    1. Yeah it did work though I have an extra filter for URL’s, simply because that’s what the bad guys use.

      Anyway, very interesting and complementary article. A few quotes:

      “In the last five years concert ticket prices have grown by 61 percent, while the Consumer Price Index (the measure of the price of all consumer goods) increased by just 13 percent. Further, the cost of concert tickets now outpaces the other entertainment sectors — movies, sporting events, theater — by about 30 percent.” (This article was written in 2002).

      “Krueger’s third main explanation deals with the status of complementary goods, such as album sales. According to Krueger, the bounty from these goods has been drying up. “There was a 10 percent decline in album sales last year, and a 7 percent decline before that,” he said. Krueger pointed to the practice of downloading music from the Web as having a major impact on album sales. “Jazz and blues fans tend to buy more music, while there’s more piracy with rock and pop,” he said. According to Krueger, this trend explains why jazz and blues concert prices have grown more slowly (23.4 percent) than rock and pop (74 percent).”

      My guess is that jazz and blues fans are older and can afford to buy this stuff. I won’t speculate on whether or not a younger rock audience thinks it’s ok to pirate. I have no way of knowing that. Anyway, good stuff. Thanks.


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