What price fandom? The psychology of ticket pricing
You’re an artist with fans, who naturally want to see you perform. But when your tickets go on sale with an option to purchase a premium ticket involving a more personal experience, how do you price that without alienating those fans who can only afford standard tickets?
Genuine fans are, by nature, PASSIONATE. Feeling emotional attachment to an artist is interwoven with their whole life experience. And they deserve artists who consider what the changing landscape of price and value means to them.
Today, live events offer customers many extra layers of experience: VIP lounges, meet and greets, exclusive merchandise, premium seats, etc. Some customers are willing to pay extra for the best locations, and/or for an enhanced experience. Sometimes older and often more affluent, many customers are willing to ‘buy back’ their valuable time and avoid queues. But they want to feel great about it – not like they’ve been mugged.
I recently saw this price/value balancing act play out on social media. An artist who’s been around for four decades announced a 2018 UK tour. I’m in the online fan group, who were quick to post the announcement, days before standard on-sale details were released, when the only prices known were those at the very top end. On offer was the ‘meet and greet’ package containing exclusive merch, guaranteed front-row seating and the chance to meet the act and have a professional picture taken with them. The group members were in uproar; most understood the appeal of the meet and greet package but many scoffed at anyone willing to pay.
What really stoked the collective fires was a lower tier of premium ‘hot seat’ experiences, which consisted of the front-row spots at a higher price, with the same exclusive merch, just without the meet and greet element. Some of the comments included: “I kinda resent the people that are paying over the odds for this rubbish. We could all have had our own meet and greet for nothing”; “are they just wanting to rip off their fans now?”; “I have the funds. I just choose not to be exploited”; “it’s not fair on the fans that can’t afford the premium experience” (to which someone replied: “It’s not fair that I can’t afford a Porsche and have to get around in a Fiat”).
“Many customers are willing to ‘buy back’ their valuable time and avoid queues. But they want to feel great about it, not like they’ve been mugged”
“Not fair” and “rip-off” featured throughout the comments. Serious fans felt they were being insulted and exploited by the pricing. This was 48 hours before standard ticket prices were known. Once standard ticket prices were published, comments included, “That’s pretty reasonable”, and the general theme was that they were glad the act was touring and that good seats at affordable prices would be available.
Interestingly, someone did post a poll on the group asking if members would buy a standard, hot-seat or meet-and-greet tickets. The results of the poll were: 87% standard, 11% meet and greet and just 2% for the hot-seat tier – which, if you have any experience in economics and price level perception, will tell you that the middle (hot seat) tier was probably there to provide a value distinction between top/bottom pricing.
Touring is a business: a commercial enterprise with a degree of risk that not enough tickets will be sold and/or money made to cover big, unavoidable costs. The industry also knows that higher prices for one event can reduce the overall audience for another. Fans who feel that reality in the ticket price may interpret it as greed, and more transparency about the pricing could mean less negative feedback.
Who’s to say which fans are more genuine than others? It’s a nonsense status – you’re either a fan or you’re not. But the added word ‘genuine’ comes from an emotional place, a subjective place where only you can judge what’s true. I understand genuine passion – all of the team at Bigdog Live do. It’s what makes our tails wag, and it’s how we know who those fans are, what they want and where best to position that artist, act or event to ensure they get to make the best choices and have the best experiences.
No matter how many comments I read (and almost replied to), I always knew that for that artist, that event, I’d choose the meet and greet package. I can’t queue for two hours for an autograph, but I do want the opportunity to meet the lead singer and say thank you for the years of enjoyment. I know I’m lucky to be able to pay for that choice.
I can’t afford a Porsche, but I can sit in one for a few hours and pretend.
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Ticket prices are rising – but it’s all about the experience
While some of the voxpops on the BBC article used words like ‘overpriced’, an equal if not greater number of people called in and said that the acts they’d seen recently were worth the money paid. I think this drills to the root of this – the experience.
There’s acknowledgment that income from recording and sales is down, so many acts are touring more to enhance that revenue deficit. But it’s also true that the actual experience is growing bigger in every sense. The shows are more spectacular, the venues bigger, and filling these with something not seen before isn’t cheap. Plus there’s a business need to pay fairly, to sort staff pensions, pay taxes, etc.
I think it’s easy to say it’s ‘extortionate’ if you personally feel you should be able to see that act but cannot afford that price. And it’s also true to say that the grassroots scene is still very fairly priced and accessible – so it’s really just to the arena and stadium end that this rise is happening.
The shows are more spectacular, the venues bigger – and filling these with something not seen before isn’t cheap
Ultimately, many promoters are indeed lifting prices to offset the perceived losses of the fan-to-fan secondary sites, where none of the revenue paid on higher-priced tickets goes back to the act, and back into the industry. It’s unclear if the prices looked at include booking fees charged by venues – which can add a tasty amount on top in many cases, so, for example, while the act may get £50, the customer may well pay nearer £60 or more.
What it all boils down to is that if people are willing to pay it, then that’s the market ‘bearing’ the price. It’s commercial enterprise.
I paid handsomely for both Fleetwood Mac and Kate Bush in recent years – and it’s the one and only time I expect to see them. Truly a memory to last a lifetime and certainly worth what I paid, as the shows were exceptionally well staged.
Did I get ripped off? Hardly.