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Publication

Market Report: UK

The annual guide to the global live entertainment ticketing business
Click the interactive map below to explore the top 40 global markets

If 2022 was the UK live sector starting to stabilise, 2023 (at the top end, at least) was a year packed with blockbuster stadium shows from the likes of Harry Styles, Beyoncé, Bruce Springsteen, Depeche Mode, Blur, Wizkid, and Burna Boy (the first African act to sell out a stadium in the UK).

There were plenty of arena-level tours and major festivals across a variety of genres (Glastonbury, Isle of Wight, BST Hyde Park, Wireless, Latitude, Green Man) doing brisk business.

The year, however, has been overshadowed by the temporary closure of Brixton Academy since late December 2022 after the death of two people in a crush during a show by Asake on 15 December. The future of the venue, one of the most important and iconic in the country, is still hanging in the balance. On top of this, smaller and grassroots venues are struggling or facing closure due to rising running costs and gentrification.

The cost-of-living crisis has badly hurt consumers in the UK, and the fuel crisis has also impacted seriously on venues who were already struggling to make ends meet.

The cost-of-living crisis has badly hurt consumers in the UK, and the fuel crisis has also impacted seriously on venues who were already struggling to make ends meet. Music Venue Trust is pushing for major venues and touring acts to donate from revenues to support small venues that are the lifeblood of the UK live industry.

For some parts of the UK live industry, business is booming, but that success is unevenly distributed across the sector.

As of June 2023, the Bank of England raised interest rates for the 13th consecutive time, bringing them to their highest level since 2008, to try and get inflation under control. With consumers increasingly having to cut back on their spending, all forms of entertainment could be negatively affected for some time to come. The next few years look very bumpy indeed.

Primary ticketing

The UK is a very crowded market. At the top end, Ticketmaster, See Tickets, AXS, and Eventim are jockeying for dominance, with Skiddle and DEAG-owned Gigantic pushing hard. But the continued growth of companies like DICE and Tixly (a B2B ticketing platform operating mainly in the performing arts) suggests an evolving ecosystem that can accommodate multiple players at different levels.

Phil Hutcheon, CEO of DICE, suggests a type of inertia is gripping the market at the moment. “From our view, it’s still the same players,” he says of who is dominating. “We’re not seeing new entrants nor innovation.”

“We’re not seeing new entrants nor innovation.”

At present, only AXS and Ticketmaster are experimenting with dynamic pricing at scale, but this is really a knock-on effect of promoters (who also have ticketing divisions) paying record-breaking advances to mega-acts and having to find ways to turn a profit of squeezed margins.

One source says they have seen cases recently where consumers are paying four times the average face value price for tickets to an event in order to guarantee the best seats. Artists are willing to have dynamic pricing for a certain allocation of tickets at shows but most seem resistant to dynamically price the whole house, hence the conditional experimentation at the moment.

Dynamic pricing typically translates as increased prices, but there is resistance to apply dynamic pricing the other way as some ticketing companies say they do not want to train the market to wait and to expect price drops.

Noel Edwards, ticketing director at Ticket Factory, suggests dynamic pricing is not as widespread as many presume. “I always think it’s a bit of a misnomer to call it ‘dynamic’ pricing stuff because dynamic would mean that it goes up and down,” he says. “And it tends to only go up. It is almost disingenuous to call it dynamic.”

“I always think it’s a bit of a misnomer to call it ‘dynamic’ pricing stuff because dynamic would mean that it goes up and down and it tends to only go up. It is almost disingenuous to call it dynamic.”

 

There is also a technological push towards greater safeguarding of consumer purchases. Andrew Parsons, regional VP of UK & Ireland and MD of Ticketmaster UK, says, “SafeTix, our next generation encrypted mobile tickets, are being used by more and more events.

The rotating barcode ensures powerful protection for fans from fraud and counterfeit tickets. Festival clients, in particular, are loving the product as it has all but eliminated fraud onsite. Smart Queues, our cutting-edge solution for virtual lines, is now being used for all major on-sales. The technology provides the ability to sell tickets faster whilst making it fairer for fans, by keeping bots out.”

Parsons also notes that Ticketmaster is opening up self-serve opportunities to more stakeholders in the live business. “As more and more events go on sale, we see more growth opportunities for event organisers and promoters to control their events using our self-service tools, such as TM1, our event creation and management platform that enables promoters and event organisers to build and manage their own events on Ticketmaster,” he says.

“As more and more events go on sale, we see more growth opportunities for event organisers and promoters to control their events using our self-service tools.”

“With this in mind, we are continuing to expand on the functionality of our Universe platform, empowering event organisers to build and manage their events as well as embed the ticket-buying process within their own site, setting their own fees and managing cash flow.”

Distribution of sales

An estimated 95% of ticket sales are digital/e-tickets, with only a handful of venues still offering some form of paper ticket. Ticketmaster says digital tickets account for around 90% of all its sales.

Simon Carpenter, chief commercial officer at Gigantic, says, ”Only a small number of our orders now are fulfilled via the traditional method of posting out tickets; a huge percentage of tickets are now digital. We are also due to launch native wallet tickets soon, with the aim to speed up and improve the customer experience of seamlessly obtaining their digital tickets and getting into the venue without delay.”

Edwards says that, for certain types of events, the physical ticket is actually coming back. “We’re seeing comedians doing a lot of Yondr pouch gigs where, when you arrive, your phone is taken and put in a pouch. Obviously, the problem for that in an arena is if your ticket is on your phone and your phone is locked away in a pouch and you forget what seat you’re in, then you have a problem. So, we have done 100% physical tickets for some comedians recently because of Yondr pouches.”

The problem for that in an arena is if your ticket is on your phone and your phone is locked away in a pouch and you forget what seat you’re in, then you have a problem.

Value of market

Music economist Will Page calculated that UK music fans spent £2.1 billion (€2.4bn) on gig tickets last year. Using PRS data, he says the volume of live music events in the UK was down 26% from 2019 to 2022, but the amount spent on tickets was up 22% in the same period – surpassing £2bn for the first time – while spend on recorded music also exceeded £2bn. He also found that music in the UK stadiums and festivals now make up half of all box office spend, compared to 40% in 2019 and just 23% in 2012.

Secondary ticketing

Despite a long and detailed inquiry into secondary ticketing – and the Competition & Markets Authority calling for tougher laws to protect consumers – the UK government in May effectively rejected putting measures in place, leaving the sector to self-regulate.

All the major ticketing companies have a resale option that is described as “ethical and capped” by one ticketing expert. Some only allow face-value exchanges while others have a 20% cap on prices. Names like Viagogo and StubHub still operate, but the established ticketing companies, with their own solutions, are hoping to counteract them. There are calls for companies like Google to remove the advertising status of third-party resellers so that they cannot game the SEO and appear at the top of search results for tickets.

“We are vehemently anti-secondary here. We’re very pro the customer having the choice to be able to sell their ticket, but we’re absolutely against someone selling it for profit for no good reason other than they just bought it to resell it.”

“I would describe the industry as frustrated by it,” says Edwards. “We are vehemently anti-secondary here. We’re very pro the customer having the choice to be able to sell their ticket, but we’re absolutely against someone selling it for profit for no good reason other than they just bought it to resell it. We work with Twickets as our official resale partner.” Carpenter says of Gigantic’s approach here, “We continue to work closely with our clients to ensure tickets end up directly in the hands of fans and out of the hands of touts.”

International/domestic splits & genres

As the UK came out of Covid, the market was heavily focused on UK acts for the simple reason that international acts could not tour there, but that has changed as things got back to normal. The split is much more even now between UK and international artists.

The split is much more even now between UK and international artists.

Rock and pop are still the preeminent genres, but C2C: Country to Country Festival has helped boost the appeal of country music, while K-pop, Afrobeats, and Latin artists are growing steadily in popularity, with acts in these genres selling out headline shows that would have been impossible even five years ago. DICE says it is seeing electronic and hip-hop acts also selling well in the UK.

Edwards notes that Birmingham is over-indexing in world music shows, reflecting the diasporic makeup of the city in particular and the Midlands in general, citing huge shows by Punjabi singers Gurdas Maan and Diljit Dosanjh as symptomatic of a broadening out of the audience. He also says they are seeing a rise of non-traditional promoters dealing in such acts but suggests established promoters will soon be looking to muscle in here.

Cultural analysis

The impact of Covid and the squeeze on consumers’ wallets during the cost-of-living crisis has meant that people, when buying expensive tickets, are insuring them against cancellation. Refunds during Covid appear to have altered consumer expectations.

Consumers want flexibility, and ticketing companies are seeing greater uptake of their insurance policy options, particularly for major events and festivals where consumers are already spending high figures and want that extra level of reassurance.

“Only a few festivals are really having a bumper 2023.”

Hutcheon suggests that hot shows and intimate shows are doing well, but the middle is struggling. “Only a few festivals are really having a bumper 2023,” he says. “We haven’t seen too much sensitivity in pricing to sell out, although festivals have priced themselves higher relatively speaking so really need to have a strong USP to justify it. Smaller shows are still quite cheap.”

Taxes & charges

VAT on tickets in the UK is 20%. The margin for ticketing companies now is typically part of the booking fee, although some promoters will give ticketing companies an inside commission (although that is normally covered by just increasing the overall ticket price).

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