Music fans are increasingly being priced out of arena gigs
Unless the recent sharp increase in ticket overpricing is addressed, many elite artists will soon be playing in half-empty stadiums and arenas.
It was June 2004 and sitting high up in the Murrayfield Stadium heavens, I was a nervous wreck of excitement as the Edinburgh 67,000 seater stadium slowly filled up for my first ever concert. Soon I’d be seeing one of my favourite bands, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. It was the hottest ticket of the year (in Scotland’s Capital, at least) and I couldn't believe my luck.
High on flat Coca Cola and a customary RHCP T-shirt purchased, the hairs on the neck rose when Tim Wheeler from first support act Ash approached the stage holding an inflamed guitar above his head before immediately thrashing into his band’s classic hits. The Pharrell Williams led hip hop project N.E.R.D were next - and to be honest they stole the show! - before the Californian funk-rock legends provided two hours of classic tracks.
Despite many commenting afterwards that the ‘Chilis had put on one of their most subdued sets to date, my 17-year-old self was in ecstatic awe at Anthony Keidis, Flea and co’s theatrics, even if they were only small dots in the distance and I spent more time watching the big screen by the side of the stage than the figures on it! A few months shy of my first part-time supermarket job, the £35 gig ticket may have seemed a little expensive, but I made the extra sacrifices to ensure I had the money to attend. As the sunset faded, I sang along to ‘Californication’ with my school friends and wished the night would never end.
A decade and a half ago, such stadium and arena gigs used to sell out in minutes but I’ve noticed recently that many such gigs haven’t been anywhere close to that. The reason for this is simple, the rising costs of arena tickets that are pricing many music fans out of attending.
According to the National Arenas Association, the average arena gig ticket in 1999 cost £22.58 (the equivalent of £36.22 today) and yet it appears that you’d be lucky to pay less than £70 these days for a gig of that size. Inflation may have risen by 38% in 23 years, but you’re now being expected to pay at least 200% more for an arena gig ticket. Something doesn’t quite add up.
Take the Red Hot Chili Peppers as an example again. They’re obviously nowhere near the same power level of the mid-2000s, but where their 2004 tour sold out in minutes, you could find tickets aplenty a couple of weeks prior to their Glasgow Bellahouston July 2022 gig. The lowest ticket is an astonishing £91.50, over £55 more than what you'd be expected to pay for them all those years ago.
Similarly, for Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar, the lowest price for a standing ticket at his The Big Steppers Glasgow Hydro show in November is £185.45. Hovering around the map of the venue online and it’s clear around two-thirds of tickets still remain unsold for the seated section. Perhaps not as expensive, but the cheapest standing ticket in the same venue for Arcade Fire’s WE tour in September is £76.80. Back in 2007, at the Canadian band's peak, I saw them at Glasgow’s SECC where the ticket price wasn’t much more than £30.
You see the reason this annoys me is that I’m a massive fan of both Arcade Fire and Kendrick Lamar, yet there’s not a hope in hell that I can justify paying the money being asked for a midweek gig. As evidenced by the vast amount of unsold seats for both, plenty of others are in the same boat.
Price of living
With the price of living rising by 9% in recent months - the highest in 40 years - and wages not keeping pace with inflation, people are undoubtedly having to make sacrifices to afford their bills (my gas and electricity bills have gone up 30% since April alone!). It’s no wonder therefore that entertainment non-essentials such as arena gigs are no longer as desirable. Add to that the number of trains being cancelled (in Scotland, anyway) and the drastic fall in taxi availability since the pandemic, it can often lead to a conclusion that leaving the house at night is a challenge not worth taking.
So, why are gig tickets so expensive these days? According to Jon Collins, chief executive of LIVE, there are rising cost pressures on the music industry from issues ranging from fuel prices, supply pressures with equipment for tours and the fact there’s an overspill of big arena gigs from 2020 and 2021 that were cancelled due to Covid.
As a result, gig ticket prices have shot up drastically and show little sign of coming down anytime soon. The price rise may be understandable to make up losses, but they’re at a level that is simply off-putting to a population now suffering their own financial hardships. In turn, this has resulted in tonnes of unsold tickets.
No one is asking for these tickets to be given away for free, but surely some common sense should prevail when it comes to the pricing of these events. The supply is there, but the demand is waning and it doesn’t sit right that the consumer is being expected to spend drastically more than they should expect to in this current financial climate. At the end of the day, pricing fans out of gigs results in fewer tickets bought, an artist playing to empty seats and disillusionment amongst a fanbase. Isn't it within the major label/organisers' interests to meet the public halfway?
Coughing up to see your favourite artists
Then again, feedback, when I asked about his issue on Twitter, saw some admit that they’d willingly - and often reluctantly - pay over the odds (£100 plus) to see their favourite artist. And it appears some artists will always have fans who'll do so. Bruce Springsteen is playing three nights in Dublin in May 2023 with tickets ranging from £82-133 for seated and £112 for standing. Even with the gig several months away, the vast bulk of tickets are sold out. I do love the Boss, but honestly not enough to pay those prices! Again, a decade ago I paid less than half the price for standing tickets at Hampden Park (£55).
Whilst elite artists may be pricing fans out of tickets, it’s not all doom and gloom. I’ve recently paid between £27 and £38 for plenty of excellent artists at the top of their game (Sam Fender, Idles, Fontaines D.C., Foals etc.) at medium-sized venues in Glasgow and Edinburgh. However, I do still worry that in the near future even gigs of this nature will drastically rise to at least the £50 mark.
I guess the most popular artists will always be the most expensive, but I don’t blame anyone who doesn’t want to pay the extortionate prices being asked. It’s just a shame that many music fans are increasingly being priced out and unable to afford to see many of their favourite artists. With the prices vastly increased over the past few years, we shouldn’t just accept the extortionate costs. Something needs to be done to make it more affordable and the elite artists shouldn't be taking advantage of their fans' loyalty.