February 18, 2011

Outrageous Ticket Prices: A Consumer Restraint Fail Rant

Lady Gaga-damn That's an Expensive Ticket

Soundproofblog has a limited number of expenses.  Our domain, the t-shirts we've made, the buttons we randomly disburse across the city - these aren't exactly bank-breaking.  However, the one line item that we can't avoid is the cost of attending the shows we cover.  Some tickets are no brainers - $15 to see Kings Go Forth, $25 to see Freedy Johnston, $25 to see Drive-by Truckers, $13 to see Matt Pond, $15 to see Black Joe Lewis, $18 to see Sebadoh, and on and on and on.  But some shows are creeping up into the dangerously expensive level.  I love the Avett Brothers but $45 for a seat at DAR?  I saw them in 2007 for free at a Baltimore Street Festival, and in 2009 they played Lisner for $30.  Fleet Foxes is one of my favorites, but also $45 at DAR?  I saw them in 2008 for $16 at the Black Cat.  I'm all for bands making more money, but when entertainment actually causes inflation rather than reacts to it, we have a problem.

"Where is this coming from?" you might ask.  I saw that on average, ticket owners of the upcoming Lady Gaga show at the Verizon Center paid $108.  And that's retail price, pre-fee.  There are so many people that want to go but couldn't get tickets that the secondary market is up to four times that of retail.  A ticket in the GA floor section would have cost you $200 if you got lucky on ticketmaster, but it will now cost you $800 on secondary seller sites like www.stubhub.com.  Even the cheap seats - section 421 behind the stage and about 4 stories up - are selling for $170 on secondary sites.

Let's stay away from personal taste in the matter and assume that seeing Lady Gaga is extremely important to you.  If you buy two tickets on the secondary market you're looking at a minimum of $400.  Here is a short list of fun things you can buy with $400:

1) Lady Gaga Live DVD and new 26" flat screen to watch it on - $390

2) An iPod touch and all (3?) Lady Gaga albums - $350 (approximate)
3) One ticket to EVERY Black Cat show in March - $283 (pre-fee)
4) An Epiphone Les Paul guitar - $350
5) Nonstop airfare from BWI to San Juan - $343 (midweek flights)

So if the opportunity cost of seeing the Gogs is so high (really, seeing a two-hour show is worth more than a trip to Puerto Rico?), why are nearly all her shows sold out?  In my opinion, it comes down an overall lack of self-restraint and irrational behavior amongst consumers in the entertainment market.  When it comes to ticket face value, the promoters, venues, and booking agencies set the prices based on what their data indicates people will pay for tickets.  As individuals, we have very little control over prevailing market prices.  The entertainment industry knows this, and counts on each and every one of us caving to the inner desire to see the latest "it" band, the hottest blockbuster hit, your favorite sports heroes.  How many times have you said, "Well I know I shouldn't pay that much for tickets, but I just HAVE to be there!"  How many times have you paid for a ticket with a credit card - a credit card with a balance?

I know better than to throw stones here.  If you look at our upcoming concert calendar (down and to the right), you'll notice soundproof is planning on covering some of these high-priced sets I previously mentioned. In response to your head shaking right now, the only thing I can fall back on is that this is my passion and a hobby.  I don't collect cars; I don't have a horse or a boat; I don't really hit the bars that much.  I go to shows.  Maybe that's why there is seemingly a run in ticket prices.  Could it be that America is on a live music binge right now?  Festivals sell out at $300 per weekend where they once cost $150.  "Indie" bands sell out 4,000-seat venues at $50 a seat.  Scalpers' mark-ups push four and five times face value.  Have the ranks of the audiophiles grown so quickly that there aren't enough bands to sate them?  Has the market demand curve shifted so greatly and suddenly that its a total free-for-all for promoters and scalpers?

Perhaps the saddest thing about all this money, all this time, all this effort people put into the live music industry and entertainment as a whole, is that it is never enough.  Total NFL revenue was roughly $7.8 billion in 2010 - a figure greater than the national GDP of the Bahamas - and the players and owners are headed for a lock-out next season.  The NBA pie was roughly $4.0 billion in 2010 - roughly equivalent to the national GDP of Barbados - and they too are veering towards a grinding halt in 2011.  Three million people pay $100 to see a Lady Gaga show, and she still loses millions a year touring.


  1. I saw John Mayer and John Legend for free and $8 respectively. Now... yeah right.

  2. you paid 8 dollars to see john legend? ripped....