By Jerry Dawson
Milton Friedman, champion of laissez-faire economics, would have been a fan of secondary ticket markets, but the “Moms 4 Bieber” are not.
The late Friedman might have noted that the most popular concert tickets should be sold wherever supply and demand dictate, and scalpers can only drive up prices because fans will pay.
But this logic doesn’t resonate with the “Moms 4 Bieber”—a group (now with non-profit status) for parents of Justin Bieber fans who are angry about the incredibly high prices of the Beebs’ recent concert tickets. A spokesman for the group was quoted in U.S. News saying, “The rich kids will see Justin and the poor kids won’t.”
Like these moms, many fans are left feeling that the ticket price inflation for big-name acts allowed in part by sites like Stubhub and TicketsNow, however economically sound, is unfair.
Profit-driven ticket brokers will continue to find ways to sell the most tickets for the highest price, but fans and artists can act to make the best of the situation.
What Fans Can Do
Not every fan can shell out the cash for in-demand secondary market tickets. And while there are fewer primary tickets available now than ever before, there are several ways to get tickets at or near face value without going through secondary markets. The two best bets: join a fan club, or participate in credit card pre-sales (like those from American Express).
For the fan that has his or her sights set on that one hot-ticket show (Taylor Swift, U2, Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen), joining a fan club is a smart move to increase the chances of scoring tickets. Ticket availibility through a fan club differs greatly with each genre of music. As Jason Koebler describes in his U.S. News article on Justin Bieber tickets, about ten percent of tickets for an average concert are sold through fan clubs, usually in the form of pre-sales. For an artist like Phish, Dave Matthews Band or Pearl Jam, who all have extensive, “community”-style fan bases, fan club tickets may comprise as much of fifty percent of all tickets sold.
Whether you are looking to believe in the Beebs or jam with Phish and DMB, joining a fan club is a wise option for the savvy ticket buyer.
For the fan that loves seeing shows, but doesn’t have one must-see act, participating in credit card pre-sales may be the best move. A quick search of the pre-sale tickets available through American Express yields available seats for Aerosmith with Cheaptrick, Kenny Chesney and even the overnight sensation One Direction.
While credit cards like American Express often come with yearly fees, the dedicated concertgoer may find that a one-time fee is financially smarter than returning to the secondary market repeatedly throughout the year.
What Artists Should Do
Artists will need to keep the ticket-buying fans happy in order to maintain the massive growth that the concert ticket industry has experienced over recent years. In a recent article from Forbes.com, Timothy B. Lee explains, “From 1999 to 2009, concert ticket sales in the U.S. tripled from $1.5 billion to $4.6 billion.” This offsets the loss in record sales that big record companies experience as digital music platforms grow.
As more cases of artist complicity in secondary-seller controversies emerge, all musicians may need to become more vocal in describing how they will make it possible for the average fan to see a show. Fortunately for fans, some already are acting with the ticket buyer in mind.
The often-progressive Radiohead experimented with a two-ticket limit and will-call only tickets for recent shows in order to limit the secondary market’s effect on ticket prices. While some critics say that it is a fan’s right to resell tickets at his/her chosen price, Radiohead’s actions are pro-fan in a time when the concert industry is not.
Bruce Springsteen has tried to combat online scalpers by requiring fans to bring with them the credit card they used to buy tickets. This comes after two previous Springsteen ticket debacles: fans tried to buy still-available face value tickets from Ticketmaster in 2009, but were immediately directed to higher-priced tickets at the secondary site TicketsNow; ticket sites selling Springsteen’s tickets were also jammed in January 2012 when scalpers “attacked” the sites, trying to maximize ticket purchases.
There are drawbacks to any action that limits the “free market” aspect of ticket sales as they currently exist, but any steps taken by artists to keep the tickets in the hands of fans are steps in the right direction.
A Battle of Attrition
Ticket brokers, both primary and secondary, have a financial incentive to act in less than savory ways when it comes to deciding when to offer face value tickets and how many to offer. Even so, an educated consumer with the help of a loyal artist just may be able to have his free market, and his Justin Bieber tickets, too.