Do you, the average ticket-buying consumer feel like you’re paying more and more for tickets every time you go to buy them?
Ticket prices have been going up for a generation, with prices once deemed outrageously high are now not only standard for high profile shows, but they’ve become standard for the cheapest seats in the house. What’s worse, ticket prices are a moving target – with no real such thing as “face value” for consumers to go into any ticket sales process as an expectation.
There are multiple explanations for this – inflation is one, though the ticket prices have been going far beyond that measure. Another is the fact that the major revenue for artists in the past came from record sales – a revenue stream that has been decimated by streaming and the decline of physical media sales. So event operators are attempting to capture more and more revenue in ticket sales, and are turning to surge pricing to make it happen.
WHAT IS DYNAMIC PRICING?
Dynamic ticket pricing is the practice of making the price of a ticket fluctuate when consumers are shopping, rather than operating from a fixed, “face value” point for everyone shopping for tickets in a certain area of an event, as has been standard throughout the history of live events.
From Ticketmaster’s explainer on the practice, which was posted to its website in September of 2022 following a string of bad press related to consumers feeling ripped off by their favorite artists, who authorized the surged ticket pricing system’s use:
Supply and demand drives pricing decisions
- The biggest factor that drives pricing is supply and demand. When there are far more people who want to attend an event than there are tickets available, prices go up. If prices are under market value at the onsale, they resell on the secondary market at higher price points.
- Similar to airlines and hotels, ticket prices adjust up or down based on demand. Event Organizers work with promoters to set pricing on all tickets, including fixed and market-based price points.
In plain English, this means that when people want to buy tickets (such as when they first go on sale), dynamic pricing makes those tickets more expensive. How much the prices are surged, and how the company’s systems determine who gets served these higher prices vs. “standard” prices is something of a trade secret. But the idea is pretty simple – charge as much for what tickets you have available as people are willing to pay, and then just move the price down if they don’t sell at maximum surge price as the event date approaches.
This is why you’ll frequently see fans complaining about outrageous ticket pricing during high-profile concert tour initial sales periods. Plenty have been covered on TicketNews as the usage of dynamic ticket surge pricing has become more and more popular. A couple of examples from 2022 alone:
Bruce Springsteen fans furious over outrageous ticket prices
Fans complain over sky-high ticket prices for The Weeknd tour dates
Adele ticket prices criticized during rapid sellout of Vegas dates
Taylor Swift was arguably the first major artist to fully embrace the dynamic ticketing system, famously rolling out the “slow ticketing” game plan during her 2017 tour date sales process.
WHAT IS “PLATINUM” or “PREMIUM” TICKET PRICING?
Consumers have almost certainly run into tickets at events marked “Ticketmaster Platinum” or “AXS Premium” or other similar branding for tickets that seem way more expensive than the rest of the event is showing. Are those some kind of VIP seats?
No, they are not.
Platinum seats are nothing more than tickets that are sold at a substantial mark-up by the event organizer, with the agreement of the artist and their promoter. There is no difference between one and the other – they just surge the price similar to the “dynamic” surged tickets outlined above.
WHY DO ARTISTS DO THIS?
The standard reason that is always given in defense of the ever-climbing and dynamically surged ticket pricing world that consumers now live in is that otherwise “bots” and “scalpers” just grab the ticket inventory and sell tickets for those higher prices anyways – meaning that dynamic and platinum ticket pricing schemes are just the artist eliminating the middle-man.
In one sense, it’s true – the artist is certainly eliminating the middle-man of someone that might want to buy tickets and re-sell them for a profit because the initial face value was too low.
In reality, however, it just means that the artist and their promoter have now in effect become the “scalper” of their own tickets. They are using the price that whatever small fraction of tickets might be purchased with resale speculation in mind during the initial onsale period to justify attempting to charge those inflated prices for everyone who wants to see the show.
CAN CONSUMERS PUSH BACK AGAINST THE SURGE PRICING TREND?
The main thing for consumers to understand is that companies like Ticketmaster, AXS, Live Nation, or whomever are merely doing what they can for their clients – the artists or promoters. Consumers can take their case directly to the artists themselves and convey the fact that they know who is ripping them off when ticket prices are surged well into the $4-5,000 per seat range, as Bruce Springsteen fans saw during the 2022 sales period for early 2023 concerts. Their outrage drew plenty of attention – Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) called for investigations against the company by federal authorities, and the public blowback, coupled with that from the disastrously failed Eras Tour presale from Taylor Swift, helped lead to Live Nation President Joe Berchtold being roasted in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee over antitrust concerns in 2023.
Springsteen shrugged off the criticism, but the fallout continued as his tour dates got underway in 2023 when longtime fan zine “Backstreets” announced it was ceasing publication after the realization that their hero was fine with exploiting them using Ticketmaster systems to extract maximum dollar value for their ticket purchases, a seeming violation of his long-held “blue-collar” persona.
We hear and have every reason to believe that there will be changes to the pricing and ticket-buying experience when the next round of shows go on sale. We also know that enterprising fans may be able to take advantage of price drops when production holds are released in advance of a concert. Whatever the eventual asking price at showtime and whether an individual buyer finds it fair, we simply realized that we would not be able to cover this tour with the drive and sense of purpose with which we’ve operated continuously since 1980. That determination came with a quickening sense that we’d reached the end of an era.
–Backstreets Publisher Christopher Phillips in an editorial explaining the magazine’s plans to shut down
Springsteen, who is at the tail end of a long career that has made him an immensely wealthy individual, can afford to alienate his core fans, it seems. But the reaction is a cautionary tale for other artists who might not have as much fan goodwill to squander in exchange for a bigger slice of the ticketing revenue pie.