Planning on going to a big-name gig? You had better start saving. In July, Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour made headlines after a frenzy to secure pre-sale tickets crashed the Ticketmaster site and left fans with some grim options: pay twice the price to a reseller; give into a glittery VIP package marked at the thousands; or miss out on the show entirely.

As international acts return to Aotearoa post-Covid-19, the surge in ticket prices has concertgoers facing the same dilemmas.

But why exactly are concert tickets so expensive?

The price of tickets is determined by several factors – promoters, venues, ticketing companies and artists all have a say in how they’re set.

Generally, the estimated costs of organising a show will be calculated – travel, accommodation, production, marketing, ticketing and venue costs all come into play, then the revenue estimates are considered. All the numbers get popped into a spreadsheet and a price is set.

In New Zealand, Live Nation Entertainment is a dominant player in the live events industry – owning both the country’s largest indoor arena, Spark Arena, and ticket sales giant, Ticketmaster.

This year, Live Nation is promoting big-ticket events like SZA’s SOS tour, Coldplay’s Music of the Spheres tour, and US country artist Chris Stapleton’s All American Road Show Goes Down Under.

It’s hard to say exactly how the price for these events is determined, but it’s no secret they fall into a price range inaccessible to the general public.

RNZ has reached out to Live Nation Entertainment for comment and is yet to receive a response.

Appetite for live entertainment

Coldplay fan Roy Chowdhury has spent a whopping $880 on two tickets to see the UK band at their Eden Park show. He acknowledges the ticket cost is “pretty crazy” – but reasons why it’s set how it is.

“I’m not sure if it’s Covid or just New Zealand’s population size, but for a band like Coldplay, they will easily fill up a venue like Wembley Arena, which can accommodate 100,000 people per show. Compare that to Eden Park, which is our biggest venue, it will only take 50,000 max.

“So, they have to do multiple days, and even then, the scale is nowhere near bigger countries. Naturally the cost of tickets is also higher, because the organisers have to recover the same amount of cost from a smaller audience number.”

In 2020, New Zealand Promoters Association president Brent Eccles dispelled the misconception that New Zealanders pay more because it’s harder for international acts to get here.

He told Stuff: “Ticket prices are exactly the same as Australia. Obviously, there’s a difference in currency and GST, but the net price is 99 per cent the same.”

He also went on to say that while prices had gone up, concertgoers were getting more bang for their buck.

“When you look at production nowadays, you’re not just getting a band sitting on the stage strumming away, you’re getting a full audio-visual experience, and that costs money.”

But even a band on stage strumming away costs money.

Earlier this month, country music great Chris Stapleton turned heads when his New Zealand show went on sale for $400. An “extraordinary demand for tickets”, as cited by Live Nation, meant a second show was announced, and both shows sold out at lightning speed.

It’s clear there is an appetite for live entertainment, but rising costs means some events are becoming less lucrative.

Just last week, Splore Festival announced it would be taking a break in 2025 after posting a loss.

In a 2023 interview with RNZ, Eccles acknowledged the financial strain that Covid-19 has put on both event organisers and concertgoers. He said it’s becoming more and more expensive to put events on, and staff are moving away to other industries.

“We were kind of one of the last industries to come back on, so particularly labour is a lot more expensive.”

‘They’re milking us’

Decorated American singer-songwriter Chris Stapleton is coming to New Zealand.

Amelia Croydon-McRae is a frequent concertgoer and an avid SZA fan. She was lucky enough to secure a reasonably-priced ticket to the artist’s SOS tour at Spark Arena – but says promoters are “milking” consumers with high prices out of greed.

“We paid $210, which is the most I’ve ever paid for a concert ticket, but there were some general admission tickets that went up to $400. They’re milking us, because not only are you paying $400 for the ticket, you’re also paying $200 for makeup, hair, a new outfit, drinks, and then the cost of getting to and from the venue adds up.

“You could easily spend $800 on one show, which is cooked.”

Croydon-McRae says Kiwis face a “scarcity mindset” when it comes to seeing international acts – and this forces them to fork out the big bucks.

“When an international artist comes here, you really don’t know when or if they’re going to come again, so you’ll put that kind of money down to see them. Then [presale tickets] get you into the mindset of, ‘It’s a rat race and it’s you against everyone trying to get these tickets, and if you don’t see this one artist at this one show, you’ll be miserable’.”

Fear of missing out

In recent years, ticket companies have played on the fear-of-missing-out-factor with dynamic pricing. It begins with pre-sale tickets, generally offering a fair price for a limited time.

Then, tickets will fall on a scale depending on demand – with VIP packages and meet-and-greets soaring up into the hundreds and thousands.

Eccles told RNZ that he does not think this system is particularly fair for consumers.

“I prefer when the price is just set, and you actually work out what you think you can do, and what you think you can sell, and go for that.”

Inaccessible prices have also given rise to scalpers on resale sites. Now, desperate punters must either pay four times the face value, or, in the case of Viagogo, get scammed with a fake ticket entirely.

“It’s disappointing,” Croydon-McRae says. “Especially for people who are massive fans or have listened to an artist for a long time. Because of poor timing or poor luck, they miss out [on a reasonable ticket] and someone else monopolises off of that.”

Maddy Matthews remembers attending a SZA concert in 2018, when tickets were $80. This year, the artist’s shows are priced up to $575 for floor standing.

“Mind you, [the 2018 show] was at the Logan Campbell Centre, so I get it, and she’s blown up since then, but it’s insane to me what is considered a normal price for a concert ticket now. I don’t think it’s a uniquely New Zealand issue either, ticket prices have gone up everywhere for big artists.

“The general public are so powerless and there are no laws or policies in place that protect people from scalpers or price-gouging. And ticketing corps don’t answer to anybody.

“I remember when the internet was buying up the Eras Tour tickets, and some of the resale tickets were tens of thousands of dollars. That was crazy to me and an insight into how unchecked and broken the system is.”

Matthews puts the frustration towards soaring ticket prices best.

“I know it’s a luxury thing and a treat, and they can charge whatever, but I feel like million-bazillionaires can still make money even if the tickets are a reasonable $100 to $150.

“Do you not see that we’re broke?”

By Jogai Bhatt of rnz.co.nz

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