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Why people will pay so much to see artists in stadium shows.

7 min read
Why people will pay so much to see artists in stadium shows.

It’s been hard to ignore the Ticketmaster scandal that enraptured social media this past week as Taylor Swift fans struggled to buy tickets on the site for her upcoming Eras tour. As a main seller monopolizing the market—Ticketmaster/Live Nation has a more than 70 percent market share of main ticket services for major concert venues—the platform came under fire when millions of Swifties attempted to buy tickets during multiple pre-sale events, but were sabotaged due to consistent glitches and faulty codes. Those that did get to buy tickets became victims of dynamic pricing, which forced them to pay amounts well above the established ticket price, even for nosebleed seats. And the fees! The fees can add up to more than half the ticket price. This is all before considering resale—some fans became victims of bots and opportunistic humans who blocked buyers from actually securing the originally-priced tickets in their cart, and resold them on StubHub and other resale sites with price markups at tens of thousands per seat.

As someone who has endured the piss-poor experience of Ticketmaster many times before—I had to join multiple pre-sales to secure tickets for Harry Styles’ recent Madison Square Garden residency, and repeatedly struggled to buy Paramore tickets for the same venue just weeks ago, losing tickets I had already selected to “another fan”—I commiserate with these Swift stans deeply. I’ve never paid more than $175-ish (original price) to see a stadium or arena show before, and to see the prices these fans were being manipulated into paying, after jumping through hoops just to find available tickets, I was befuddled and upset on their behalf.

However, I wasn’t necessarily nonplussed by those who did decide to take the plunge. Some in my personal circles—colleagues on Slack, friends via DMs and texts—seemed to be wondering: Is any stadium concert even worth all of this? I get the inquisition (delivered, as it is, with a side of shade): stadiums and arenas can feel vacuous, sucking out all the effervescent energy of a live performance. It seems like you end up paying money to basically watch a LED screen of someone performing, if you’re seated higher up; to get closer, you have to lay out so much cash, the anxiety of having spent it could hang over your head like a cloud.

But stadium and arena experiences can be fun! Get off your high horses, music bros. Going to see a musician for $25 at your local small venue is not the same. I’ve had plenty of fun dancing with friends, singing at the top of my lungs, and appreciating new arrangements of my favorite songs from the nosebleeds of my local arena. I like having a seat and overpriced drinks and french fries nearby should I need them. And really, there’s nothing like the sound of thousands of people singing your favorite song together. Sometimes, it pays to pay—and people have paid unthinkable amounts to see acts like BTS and Beyoncé—the latter of which just auctioned a ticket and travel package for her upcoming tour for over $50,000. Though there’s really no excuse for being forced to pay more than you should have to (a few fans tweeted about panic-buying Swift tickets, to their regret later), some fans of the kinds of acts that cost this much are comfortable with their high-priced purchases.

I spoke to Rebecca, a Lady Gaga fan who bought a $450 resale ticket for the D.C. stop on the Chromatica Ball this past August at Nationals Park. (I’ve changed the names of the people I interviewed, at their request.) “I’ve always wanted to see Gaga, and because she has fibromyalgia she hasn’t toured in a while and might not tour again,” Rebecca explained. “So, I saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing.” This is something Rebecca said she would do again, but only for specific artists: Gaga, Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Taylor Swift (she didn’t get tickets to the Eras tour after waiting in the queue for two hours). Even though she would have paid similarly for Swift this time around, she wasn’t happy about the Chromatica cost; the ticket was at a resale price after all, “and like $90 of it was a Ticketmaster service fee.”

Someone who did secure Swift tickets this week is Max, a die-hard Swiftie, who paid about $683 for his ticket in the lower bowl area of Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium. This isn’t his first rodeo, either—“I’ve paid similar prices for Demi Lovato and Beyoncé in the past.” Though he paid the price, he still feels jerked around by the ticket-buying system: “I hate experiencing resellers mostly because they spike the price two to three times higher than I would normally pay in the general sale.” But, unfortunately that’s the name of the game, and the show must go on: “When I see the prices that high, it is a little jarring, but at the end of the day I know when I go see Taylor it’s a whole production and I’ve never regretted going, so it’s worth it for me.”

Die-hard fandoms balling out on concert tickets isn’t specific to millennials or Gen Z. My mother, a Gen Xer, has paid exorbitant amounts for excursions to concerts. She traveled to Vegas to see Sade in 2011, and would have gone to London in 2009 to see Michael Jackson’s This Is It tour, if it hadn’t been canceled due to his unexpected passing. Her most recent trip? An upcoming jaunt to Jamaica to see reggae legends Buju Banton and Beres Hammond perform together in the island’s largest parish, Saint Ann. All in all, the trip will cost her from $3,000 to $4,000. She paid about $175 for VIP tickets, standing room only; like festivals, these outdoor concerts often don’t have seating. But then, of course, there’s the flight, hotel, and transportation. Because the concert is taking place on New Year’s Day, the hotels near St. Ann were already fully booked, forcing her to find lodging further away from the venue. “The car ride itself will be $800,” she told me. The event is quite historic—it’s the first time the two acts are billed to perform together on the island—but it has an even deeper meaning for my mother. “I am a huge, and I do mean huge, fan of both those artists and they happen to share a lot of music together. And since Buju Banton was excommunicated from the United States of America on trumped up charges where they locked him up for years, he can’t come here. So I have to go to him.” (Read more about Banton’s history with the American legal system here.) She paused and looked at me: “Those tickets could have been $10,000 and I would have paid to go see them. Without a doubt.”

The opportunity to see the performer doesn’t have to feel fleeting in order to justify the experience, either. There are plenty of Swifties who paid the high price and don’t regret it, even going so far as to reprimand other fans who do. And, as far as I know, there’s no hint that Taylor won’t tour again. Sometimes, the draw is simply seeing something spectacular. I can tell you, as a Beyoncé stan, that watching a seamless show that incorporates complex choreography, multiple costume changes, impeccable vocals, and sophisticated tech elements such as lighting and set design can be quite awe-inspiring. The impact of simply bearing witness to a highly intricate performance going off without a hitch can feel miraculous.

At the end of the day, what really explains these purchases is community. Artists build community. There’s the community they establish with themselves, causing followers to fall so deeply into fandom that their feelings can range anywhere from blind support to absolute worship. And then there’s the community that fans find between each other. That space where both of those things collide becomes sacred. Being around others who care about a song or a band as much as you do can make you feel like there are people who understand you in some intrinsic way. And being able to commune with those people, experiencing the person who brought you all together, can be powerful, as well as just fun.

There are those who, like me, build prospective ticket prices into their budget. My friends and I are working on our Beyoncé funds for her Renaissance tour as we speak. But paying for this kind of ticket is never going to be a completely rational act, and that’s okay! Music is cool and cathartic and transformative! Have you ever been to a live experience that has changed your life? A sporting event where you witnessed the impossible, a play that opened your mind up in new ways, a concert where you heard your favorite song? Hell, even Cirque Du Soleil! They defy physics! Looking back at the moments that changed you, how much would you pay to experience them again?

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