Jay Frank and I were chatting not long ago about concert ticket pricing and margin for large touring acts. He and I have both managed bands, booked bands, and booked venues, so we've seen this from both sides:
Nearly every venue contract sets revenue share based on a fixed set of ticket prices. (For instance: $100 for the front row, $50 in the orchestra, $25 in the balcony.)
Once those tickets get printed, the secondary market determines their real value, no matter what anybody's Attorney General says.
Everybody knows this, and they use their own tricks to squeeze extra revenue from ticket sales. Artist management teams reserve blocks of premium tickets and quietly resell them to premium concert brokers. Box offices tack on "convenience charges" that would make airlines blush, none of which have to be shared with artists.
It's super-frustrating when you try to buy tickets to a big show that sells out right away, only to see the same tickets pop up on StubHub and Craigslist for eight times their face value.
But it's also super-frustrating when you're a music management agency or a venue owner that has a struggling show on its hands. Bad scheduling or awkward booking could have put your artists in too-big of a venue on a night that knocks your core audience out of contention to fill the auditorium.
The folks behind that site envision a service that matches last-minute, casual buyers with cheap seats to concerts and sporting events. A decade ago, you fixed this by reaching out to radio promotions directors and offering blocks of comp tickets for station giveaways. You might not have the perfect audience, but your gig would look a lot more like a sold-out show. Its founder used to work for the NBA, where filling the nosebleed section could cost you some prime television dollars. (Fail to fill seats, and blackout provisions kick in.)
The challenge might not be as prevalent for music venues. I watched one venue owner erect curtains on tension rods to make their room about half its usual size, so as not to offend a national touring act who didn't know their gig was only 50% sold. Other venues might drop in theatre seats or tables into the room to fill out the space.
Getting into a hot show is no problem if you've got plenty of money. But if you're an artist manager or a musician concerned about making your gigs accessible to as many fans as possible, consider some neat alternatives to the status quo that don't mean eroding the value of your tickets:
Stagger your pre-sales. If you're really reaching out to fans, you can set up waves of pre-sales at prices you know your market will bear. Posting a $200 VIP experience might not work on a generic Ticketmaster page, but it can absolutely work on your own website or in an announcement e-mail. Making VIP tickets available at a hyper-premium rewards true fans who'd be just as willing to pay a scalper for premium seats.
Reward fans that bring friends. I went to a Good Old War gig last week with a great gimmick. Buy a block of four tickets for about a dollar more than buying just two. Live Nation's been trying this out at a few venues across the country, and it works. We would have just bought five tickets, but ended up bringing three more folks to that gig who wouldn't have come.
Put everything into the auction. Someone, someday, is going to have the courage to try this. As I told Jay in our conversation: "some venue owner should just put their whole inventory up on StubHub and see what happens." You'd have a HUGE spread from the most expensive ticket to the least. You'd probably even have some folks spending just $1 to get in. You'd make your accountant crazy. But you'd have a fully sold-out show and the artist wouldn't have to surrender a cent to scalpers.
Whether you're booking your own gigs or you're relying on venues for help, it's important to have these kinds of conversations. I've never met a talent buyer that wasn't open to finding new ways to get a sold-out show in their house.
[ Image courtesy Flickr user nayrb7, under Creative Commons license. ]