By the close of the fifth annual Billboard Touring Conference, held at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City on November 19 and 20, one thing was sure: almost all the panelists had different ideas about what the current state of the economy could and should mean for the future of live entertainment and ticket sales.

Ray Waddell, Billboard‘s executive director of content and programming for touring and live entertainment, urged caution in a pre-conference opinions article. The Nashville-based exec wrote, “Now’s the time to make tickets more affordable. That means bookers may have to lower their expectations about what their acts can earn. That’s just smart business.”

Members of the opening panel agreed during their discussion about artist development. “A $25 ticket is a lot easier to swallow than the $35 ticket,” one noted, to the accord of others. “In the club and theater world, the $35 ticket is getting tight.”

“In down economies, country music seems to do well…. But outside of AC/DC there’s not a ‘must have’ ticket out there,” noted Rob Beckham, representing the William Morris Agency. He went on to explain that as competition increases for the “disposable dollar,” the touring industry will begin to see the full extent of the problem.

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However, keynote speaker and iconic performer Gene Simmons cautioned against lowering ticket prices as a way to draw crowds during his November 20 address.

“You’re training an entire generation of people to pay less for something and then more for something else. They won’t know what the value is and they’d rather pay less every time,” the musician reasoned, adding that tickets should retain the same price, but add more acts to events’ lineups to increase the perceived value of live entertainment.

However, the actual value of tickets was in question during the ticket industry panel, “Two Tickets to Paradise,” where it was noted that an exact worth can be hard to gauge when similar tickets sell for a wide price range.

While resale sites have a reputation for selling tickets well above face value, TicketNetwork CEO Don Vaccaro said that is increasingly not the case. “We’re seeing a greater amount of tickets being sold for less than face value, which is a very bad trend,” he explained, continuing, “At the end of the day, consumers feel that they’re paying too much for tickets at the box office when they see the secondary market selling tickets for less.”

Festival owners and promoters also noted difficulty with pricing tickets during their panel, “Into the Great Wide Open.” Some American music festivals are exploring their options, including country music’s Stagecoach Festival that hopes layaway payment options will help push tickets at full price in 2009.

However, Buddy Lee Attractions President and CEO Tony Conway noted that the real test of next year’s festival numbers won’t rely so much on pricing as customer service. “People want to be catered to,” he said, citing parking, on-site transportation, safety, and food and drink services among the must-have amenities for festivals.

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Ash Capps, the president of AC Entertainment, agreed that atmosphere will make or break the 2009 year more than announced lineups, noting, “The really successful festivals all have a unique character to them.”

He went on to reference the annual Bonnaroo Festival, co-produced by AC Entertainment. “The headliners are important, but the heart and soul of the event goes beyond the headliners,” Capp related. “I’ve talked to a lot of kids who don’t even go to see the headliner. They’re there for the communal experience of it.”

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