Why is it so hard to buy tickets to concerts these days? Why does it seem like so many events are selling out instantly?
- Technology allows more people to buy tickets quicker.
- The ticket market remains cornered by scalpers and secondhand ticket brokers.
- Your favorite bands are just getting more popular.
- The drying up of appropriately-sized venues in some locations for certain artists and their respective draw.
- An insistence by the industry to book artists in smaller venues than necessary to set the precedent of always selling out shows.
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Going to a concert is supposed to be a pleasurable experience, and it better be for how much it costs these days. It’s an elective. A splurge. But when it starts off with having to go to war with your fellow fans just to get into the venue, and many times losing out and having to rely on the secondary market where you know you’re getting hosed and are inadvertently aiding and abetting the same process that allowed the tickets to be sold out instantly in the first place, it’s almost enough to make you consider spending an evening with Netflix instead.
This used to be a problem only for fans who were a little slow fingered, or that didn’t know about a certain concert until the last minute. Now you have folks planning their lunch breaks around the official start times for ticket sales, logging in immediately, and still missing out on all of the good seats, if they get a seat at all. They’re battling against professional scalping companies and programmed bots that can swoop in instantly and buy entire sections of seats before anyone in the general public even gets a shot, if those seats were even released to the public in the first place. The ticketing companies don’t care because they get their money either way, and the secondary markets like StubHub have grown into multi million dollar businesses because of it. It’s a war for tickets, and fans are getting caught in the crossfire.
This isn’t just a problem for big mainstream bands playing massive venues anymore. As independent music continues to take over market share, and there continues to be a slow build of interest in more substantive music, this issue is starting to affect performers that a few years ago fans were used to seeing in dingy bars with 20 other people.
Upsurging country artist Chris Stapleton played the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville in February. Tickets for two consecutive nights sold out immediately, so then a third night was added and it sold out immediately too. Dedicated hardcore fans who put out active effort to make sure they got a ticket were left out in the cold. A similar story was told for many of Chris Stapleton’s other upcoming shows which are all sold out, and for shows by other upsurging artists like Sturgill Simpson, and Jason Isbell.
What’s so frustrating for patrons is that not only are they doing everything right and still not getting a legitimate chance at tickets, almost instantly tickets are being posted on StubHub and other resale sites. This leaves folks not just with the disappointment of not scoring tickets, but feeling swindled by a system that seems rigged to score extra money from tickets beyond face value. None of that money is going to the performers. It’s an extra expenditure by the fans that could go to merch, or other concert tickets instead of shady middlemen who either skirt the laws, or take advantage of the loopholes in them.
All this has been an ever-present issue for tickets in not just music, but sports and other places for many years. Remember Pearl Jam in their skateboard attire testifying in front of Congress on the matter in the 90’s? They sued Ticketmaster, and lost. But the issue now is being exacerbated by the amount of artists selling out venues, a slowly dwindling amount of choices in the mid-sized venue space, and an emphasis by artist management and promoters to sell out the venues they book.
Luckily there are some bigger artists today taking the leadership in trying to rectify the issue for their own fans, and music fans in general. Eric Church, who recently put tickets on sale for back to back shows at Colorado’s legendary Red Rocks venue, discovered that 2,700 tickets were purchased by known scalpers, including a block of over 750 tickets bought up by a specific scalper ring in Texas. All those purchases were canceled, and the tickets were re-released to the public. “I have never seen more relentless, nefarious and frankly disgusting efforts to defraud the fans and the general public,” Church said in a statement on the matter. The country performer has made it one of his personal issues to battle ticket scalpers. “Six words for you thugs: You Will Not Win. I Will.”
Last Friday, Radiohead released tickets to two shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden, and two shows at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. All four dates sold out almost immediately. Fans were furious, and so was Radiohead’s frontman Thom York. “I’m as fucked off as you are,” Yorke said on Twitter, “and am only human.” He then let it be known that strict ID checks would be happening at the venues, and patrons looking on the secondary market better make sure their tickets are legit, or they would be turned away at the door.
The quick sellout has given way to the immediate sellout. The long-standing issue of getting your hands on concert tickets has been exacerbated by technology making it so easy for so many people to buy tickets at once. Consolidation in the ticket selling business hasn’t helped either. But as frustrating as immediate sellouts can be, it is still a supply and demand issue. Whether tickets are going to scalpers or real patrons upon an initial sale, there’s more people who want to see these concerts than tickets to sell, and that’s what causes the skyrocketing secondary prices. For mid sized bands playing large clubs and small theaters, promoters and managers are encouraged to book venues slightly smaller than what demand might dictate, because you want to sell out every show on a tour.
The publicity that a sellout generates, and the precedence it sets for promoters is important to building up the guaranteed money and booking leverage an artist receives. Before an artist is allowed to play theaters, they have to prove they can sell out large clubs. Before they can move to larger theaters and amphitheaters, they have to prove they can sell out the mid sized theaters. Though this system ensures promoters don’t take a bath on any show or put a band in the wrong-sized venue, it means hot names in music will almost always sell to capacity for live events.
The long term solution is to create more inventory. That is what Garth Brooks has been doing on his current world tour. Instead of booking one show in a given locale and letting fans fight it out for tickets, Garth Brooks books a venue, and then scales the amount of shows depending on demand. He may begin with two shows, but if they sell out quickly, he may add a matinee performance, or a third night, or both. This way he stays ahead of the secondary market, and is able to keep ticket prices relatively low compared to other major acts. It also allows him to book arenas as opposed to stadiums and other big venues where the sound and presentation aren’t as easily controlled.
Not everyone can plan a tour like Garth Brooks though, and as Radiohead and Chris Stapleton have proved, even booking multiple shows at the same venue doesn’t always solve the supply and demand problem. But with so much technology making it easy for fans to purchase tickets instantaneously, the continued presence of scalpers taking advantage of lax regulations in the secondary market, and an insistence on promoters and managers to purposely book venues that will sell to capacity, purchasing tickets to see your favorite artist promises to continue to be a battle until big solutions are implemented industry wide.