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It’s not your imagination: Concert ticket prices are going through the roof.
And not just for the super wealthy who pay thousands of dollars to see the best acts from the front row. Fans of all types are paying more to see their favorite musicians.
The average price of a ticket to the 100 most popular tours in North America has almost quadrupled over the past two decades, from $25.81 in 1996 to $91.86 through the first half of this year, according to researcher Pollstar. Along with pro sports and Broadway shows, concert prices have far outpaced inflation.
Some of that increase was out of necessity. As piracy eroded music sales, artists began to lean heavily on concerts. Stars like Beyonce and Taylor Swift can make more in a couple nights onstage than they can from a year of album sales. But something else was going on, too. Ticket sellers like Ticketmaster and AEG’s AXS began adopting technology that showed fans would pay almost any price for their favorite acts, especially stars who only come around every few years.
“We all undervalued tickets for many, many years,” said Joe Killian, who runs a media consulting firm and founded a concert series in New York’s Central Park.
Higher prices have been good for the concert business. The live-music industry surpassed $8 billion in revenue in 2017, and is on pace for another record in 2019. Live Nation Entertainment Inc., which owns Ticketmaster, touts its ability to charge higher prices.
It’s not just tickets, either. Music fans also face skyrocketing prices for food, beverages and merchandise. The average fan spent $20 at events in 2016 staged by Live Nation, the world’s largest promoter. This year, that figure is expected to reach $29, an increase of almost 50%.
If artists’ growing reliance on live music has led to any guilt about appearing greedy, the rise of ticket resale sites like StubHub took care of that. For years, entertainers watched as scalpers vacuumed up tickets and resold them for far more on such exchanges. Agents took this as proof that tickets were underpriced — and their artists underpaid.
Ticketmaster and others have since developed the ability to change pricing at any moment, enabling artists to charge more upfront and keep more of the dollars that went to scalpers. They can also reduce prices closer to show time if tickets aren’t selling, or create special windows for true fans.
Not every artist has embraced the new philosophy. Ed Sheeran booked the highest-grossing tour of all time while charging less than $100 a ticket, making him one of the cheapest of the top tours. He is adamant that his show be affordable to all his fans.