Live Nation/Ticketmaster, your new concert overlords, have announced a special deal on concert tickets this month. "No Service Fee June" means the live music behemoth will nix its always inconvenient "convenience fees," which often jack up the price of a simple concert ticket by a third or more.
When the two entertainment giants merged this year, with the surprise and seemingly easy approval of the Obama justice department, music fans quaked in their Chuck Taylors, fearing the sky wouldn't even be the limit to the fees they'd charge. This move follows last summer's similar round of price cuts (remember "No Service Fee Wednesdays"?) and is no doubt a grab to lure fans into a summer concert market that still has a lot of empty seats.
Empty seats, yes -- Jason Garner, CEO of Live Nation's concert division, tells Billboard (as he told Congress last year) that 80 percent of shows don't sell out and 40 percent of tickets go unsold -- and yet Billboard adds that "despite last year's economic downturn, average per-show gross and attendance in North America were up 7.6 percent and 8 percent, respectively, according to Billboard Boxscore. That was the first time average attendance has outpaced gross in more than a decade."
Be warned: This doesn't erase the parking fees and few other fine-print kinds of things. Jim DeRogatis has a good breakdown of this.
And if you haven't read the New York Times profile of Live Nation/Ticketmaster dark lords Irving Azoff and Michael Rapino, it's illuminating and slightly terrifying. The story chronicles the reasons behind the merger and the sometimes conflicting interests of the now joined companies, with this part indicating just how at sea these guys might still be when it comes to reconciling their desire to get artists into their stable (by paying them unreasonable amounts of money) and getting butts into the seats (who then must cover the profits by paying more in fees) ...
The average price of a ticket to one of the top 100 tours soared to $62.57 last year from $25.81 in 1996, according to Pollstar, far outpacing inflation. The interesting question is why.
Mr. Rapino's theory is that musicians are just benefiting from the same trends that have enriched other superstars, like athletes and actors.
"The ticket was underpriced 40 years ago," he says.
Rival promoters see another culprit in high ticket prices: Live Nation. The company, they say, represents a consolidation of regional promoters that didn't just coincide with rising ticket prices but also helped cause them. Ticket prices, in this telling, have gone up because the largest promoter has been paying whatever-it-takes sums to get bands in the door -- both to drive out competitors and to bring in desperately needed revenue to cover fixed overhead costs and to fill up seats. The company's biggest outlays include "360 deals" with Jay-Z, Madonna, U2 and others, giving the company a stake in tours, recording and merchandise profits in exchange for nine-figure paydays. Jay-Z's deal was reportedly worth more than $150 million.
"Look at what has happened to ticket prices, and the price of everything else at a concert, over the last 10 years, right when consolidation was happening," says John Scher, who books shows in Madison Square Garden, at Radio City Music Hall and elsewhere in New York. "I talk to college kids all the time and they tell me that going to a show at an arena or an amphitheater is just beyond what they can afford. And it's because Live Nation has been paying the acts these outrageous sums, which is just alienating the fan base."
Mr. Rapino denies overpaying for bands, and says that the price of tickets often triples when they're sold by scalpers, which suggests that they were actually underpriced.