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An Unpopular View: Concert Tickets are Obviously Too Cheap.

That headline probably made you mad. “What are you talking about, jerkface? I can barely afford to go to shows as it is! And you say that we should pay more?”

Well, yeah, actually. Let me explain.

The natural hand of the market says that when something is in high demand, the price goes up. Uber has surge pricing. Tolls on highways are higher during busier times. Airline seats get more expensive the closer it comes to departure. If there’s a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico that damages refineries, the price of gas goes up. And when tickets are in short supply for a big gig, scalpers and resellers will find a way to acquire tickets to sell them above face value.

None of us like that gouging feeling. We all hate to pay more. Rising prices in the face of high demand feel opportunistic, exploitive and downright mean. But look it from the side of the artist. They’re getting hosed even more than the consumer. This article in the New York Time business section looks at the situation.

When Bruce Springsteen decided to do a run of shows at a Broadway theater with fewer than a thousand seats, he appeared to reject the laws of economics — or at least what would seem to be in his financial best interest.

He limited ticket prices to between $75 and $850 and has been allocating them through a lottery that includes identity verification. His goal was to prevent scalping. Yet not everyone who sought tickets got them at those prices. The tickets that have leaked onto the open market on StubHub ranged in one recent search from $1,200 to $9,999.

It sure looks as if Mr. Springsteen left a great deal of money on the table and impeded the laws of the marketplace. After all, some people got tickets for $75 for which others were willing to pay four figures.

This is where my argument that concert ticket prices are too low. Scalpers and resellers can make tremendous margins on hot tickets, trading on the demand created by the artist. None of that extra money goes to the performer or the promoter. One of the few (only) ways to combat this is to charge more for tickets in the first place.

I know, I know. That sucks for the average concert fan. But if we’re going to accept the laws of supply and demand, shouldn’t the money go to the people who provide the labour and the talent? Back to the NYT.

But the strategy may be less irrational than the raw numbers suggest. And understanding the hidden logic behind concert pricing — or how Home Depot responds to a hurricane, or even how your neighborhood restaurant handles the Valentine’s Day crunch — can provide a guide to solving some of society’s biggest problems while satisfying people’s deep need for a sense of fairness.

Understanding this logic can also win you a Nobel in economics.

Keep reading,



Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38458 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “An Unpopular View: Concert Tickets are Obviously Too Cheap.

  • I’ve thought that a good compromise between keeping prices affordable and available to more fans with ensuring that more money from ticket sales goes to artists/promoters rather than scalpers/brokers is for a certain proportion of tickets to be auctioned at relatively low prices accompanied by stringent ID/credit card presentation rules for entry. The rest could be sold at auction online (I imagine the technology to do so exists or could be created).

    This probably wouldn’t eliminate bots/brokers but I imagine it would limit their influence.

    Part of me thinks the reason such a system isn’t implemented is because the existence of a secondary market ensures that shows will sell out at the original low prices, guaranteeing that the artist will get as much money as they can from the initial ticket release.



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