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Money: Why are concert tickets so expensive? Here’s who is really responsible | UK News

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Where is all the money going? Here’s who is really responsible for concert tickets going crazy

By Katie Williams, Money team

Spending a fair chunk on going to see your favourite big artist is not new – but it certainly feels like concert prices have entered a new stratosphere.

Fans of Bruce Springsteen have paid upwards of £120 for “rear pitch” standing tickets for his May 2024 tour, while some expressed disappointment recently over the £145 price tag of standing tickets for Billie Eilish’s 2025 UK leg.

And while you could have nabbed Beyonce or Taylor Swift tickets in the UK for £50 (before fees) if you took a “nosebleed” seat, these had limited availability and quickly sold out. General admission standing tickets for Swift’s Eras tour – which comes to the UK next week – started at £110.40 and those at the front had to shell out £172.25. It didn’t stop there – by the time many fans got to the front of the online ticket queue, the only tickets left cost upwards of £300.

So what’s behind rising ticket costs? These are some of the reasons…

Fans willing to pay for big spectacles

Simply put, ticket prices would come down if people voted with their feet.

Matt Hanner, booking agent and operations director at Runway, said prices at the top level had “risen considerably” – but the increase was partly being driven by demand.

“We’re seeing a lot more stadium shows, greenfield, outdoor festival-type shows which are now a staple of towns around the country,” he said.

“There’s a growing number of people that are happy to spend a large chunk of their disposable income on going to a major music event.”

Jon Collins, chief executive of LIVE, the trade body representing the UK’s live music industry, had a similar view.

He said there were more large-scale shows and tours now than ever, and there was “massive appetite” among music lovers for “bigger spectacles”.

Fancy shows mean higher costs – with staffing, the price of the venue, transport, artists’ needs, insurance and loads more to factor in.

Of course, all these things are affected by inflation. Collins said ticket prices also factored in the rising costs that had hit every venue from the grassroots scene to major arenas.

“You’ve got a couple of different factors – you’ve got the spectacle of the show and the production cost and everything that goes into the ticket price. But then you’ve also got the fundamentals,” he said.

The cost of venue hire has increased “significantly” in the past couple of years due to electricity and gas price rises, he added.

“You’ve got the increase in the cost of people… very justifiable costs like increases in minimum wage and living wage. At every stage of the process we’ve got these cost increases that will all push through the pressure on the ticket price.”

Are artists being greedy?

How much money artists really earn off live touring is of interest to many – but the music industry is generally reluctant to release details.

The people we spoke to suggested it was not as simple as artist greed because, as we mentioned earlier, there’s a lot to pay for before anything reaches their bank accounts.

The Guardian spoke to anonymous insiders about this topic in 2017. Its report suggested that between 50-70% of gross earnings were left for promoters and artists. The piece also cited a commonly quoted figure that the promoter takes 15% of what is left and the act will get 85%.

It all depends on the calibre of the artist and how much work the promoter has had to put in – they could end up with a bigger share if it was a hard push to get the show sold.

The people we spoke to said music acts and their teams would discuss the ticket price, and the bigger the act, the more sway they have – but it’s ultimately set by the promoter.

Taylor Swift – arguably the biggest popstar on the planet right now – is personally earning between $10m and $13m (£8m – £10.5m) on every stop of her Eras Tour, according to Forbes. She is reported to take home a whopping 85% of all revenue from the tour.

But it’s worth pointing out, too, that she’s been known to be generous with her cash, having given $100,000 bonuses to the dozens of lorry drivers working on the tour.

What have other artists said? 

Some artists have been critical of the high ticket prices being demanded by others.

Tom Grennan told ITV two years ago that he had seen “loads of artists putting tickets out that are way too expensive for the times that we are in”, adding that he wanted people to enjoy shows without worrying if they could pay their bills.

Singer-songwriter Paul Heaton was also praised for capping ticket prices for his tour with Jacqui Heaton at £30 in a bid to tackle music industry “greed” and help people during the cost of living.

British star Yungblud recently announced his own music festival, Bludfest – saying the industry was too expensive and needed to be “shaken up”.

“I believe that gigs are too expensive, festivals are too expensive, and I just wanted to work to create something that has been completely done by me,” he told Sky News.

Meanwhile, frequent Swift collaborator Jack Antonoff has said “dynamic pricing” by ticket sale sites such as Ticketmaster was also an issue when it came to cost.

He told Stereogum that he wanted artists to be able to opt out of the system – which basically means ticket prices increase when a show is in demand – and be able to sell them at the price they choose.

On its website, Ticketmaster describes its “Platinum” tickets as those that have their price adjusted according to supply and demand.

It says the goal of the dynamic pricing system is to “give fans fair and safe access to the tickets, while enabling artists and other people involved in staging live events to price tickets closer to their true market value”.

The company claims it is artists, their teams and promoters who set pricing and choose whether dynamic pricing is used for their shows.

Ticketing website fees

As well as dynamic pricing, “sneaky” fees by online ticket sites are also causing issues for live music lovers, according to the consumer champion Which?.

A report from the group last month said an array of fees that isn’t seen until checkout can add around 20% to the cost of concert and festival tickets.

Which? has urged a crackdown on the “bewildering” extra charges, which include booking, “delivery” and “transaction” fees, venue charges and sometimes charges for e-tickets.

The Cure lead singer Robert Smith tweeted that he was “sickened” after fans complained last year about processing fees  on Ticketmaster that wound up costing more than the ticket itself in some cases.

Responding to the Which? findings, Ticketmaster (which was far from the only company named) said: “Fees are typically set by and shared with our clients… who all invest their skill, resource and capital into getting an event off the ground. Ticketmaster supports legislation that requires all-in pricing across the industry.”

Live Nation and Ticketmaster sued over ‘dominance’

The US government is suing Ticketmaster owner Live Nation over allegations the company is “monopolising” the live events industry.

Justice department officials said it was unfair for the firm to control around 70% of primary ticketing for concerts in America. 

Live Nation has been accused of using lengthy contracts to prevent venues from choosing rival ticket companies, blocking venues from using multiple ticket sellers and threatening venues that they could lose money and support if Ticketmaster wasn’t the chosen seller.

Live Nation said the lawsuit reflected a White House that had turned over competition enforcement “to a populist urge that simply rejects how antitrust law works”.

“Some call this ‘anti-monopoly’, but in reality it is just anti-business,” it said.

And it said its share of the market had been shrinking and its profit margin of 1.4% was the “opposite of monopoly power”.

The lawsuit “won’t solve the issues fans care about relating to ticket prices, service fees and access to in-demand shows”, the company said.

“We will defend against these baseless allegations, use this opportunity to shed light on the industry and continue to push for reforms that truly protect consumers and artists.”

As well as reportedly controlling most of the ticketing market, Live Nation also owns and represents some acts and venues.

Canadian artist Dan Mangan told Moneywise this was enabling the company to take “more and more of the pie”.

He said when venue rent, equipment and other costs were taken into account, lesser known artists could take as little as 20% of ticket sales.

VAT

Another major cost on tickets in the UK is VAT (value added tax).

At 20%, it’s pretty hefty. It was brought down to 5% and then 12.5% as the live music industry was hampered by COVID, but returned to the pre-pandemic level in April 2022.

The charge puts the UK “out of step” with other countries, Collins said.

“In competitive major markets like France, it’s 5%. Germany it’s 7%, Italy it’s 10%. Sales tax in the US is typically 6% or 7%. So we are significantly out of step with other markets when it comes to how much VAT we charge on tickets,” he said.

Touring now bigger source of income for major stars

With the decline of physical products and the rise of subscription listening, artists are earning less from making music – and income from live shows has become more important for the biggest stars.

Writer and broadcaster Paul Stokes said major stars who would have toured infrequently in the past were now willing to put on more shows as it becomes increasingly profitable.

Some artists will even pencil in multiple nights at huge venues like Wembley Arena, he said – something that wouldn’t have been considered two decades ago.

“When Wembley was built and they said ‘we’ll be doing regular shows’ you’d think ‘are there acts big enough to fill this massive stadium?’

“It’s become absolutely part of the live calendar that artists will come and play not just one night at Wembley, but two or three every every summer.”

Stokes said this demand has also prompted the scale of shows that we’ve become used to seeing, featuring expensive production and pyrotechnics.

Not being felt evenly

While a night out seeing a platinum-selling artist is likely to be an expensive affair, industry figures are also keen to point out that the escalation in ticket prices isn’t necessarily happening at a lower level.

Collins said that while major stars were putting on arena shows, there would be plenty of other live music taking place at the same time, “from the free pub gig to the £10 ticket at the grassroots venue, to the £30 mid-cap”.

“There’s an absolute range of opportunities for people to experience live music, from free through to experiencing the biggest stars on the planet,” he said.

But concertgoers choosing to save their cash for artists they’re more familiar with may have led to a “suppression” of prices for lesser-known acts, Hanner noted.

“Everyone’s short of disposable income because there’s a cost of living crisis. [Artists’ and promoters’] core costs are going up as well, so it’s more expensive for everyone. That fear of pricing people out is just being compounded,” he said.

“I think [that] has definitely led to prices being suppressed [at the lower level], when really they should have been going up.”

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