How to justify Bruce Springsteen’s skyrocketing ticket prices
MBW Reacts is a series of short comment pieces from the MBW team. They are our ‘quick take’ reactions – through a music biz lens – to major entertainment news stories. The following op/ed comes from Eamonn Forde (pictured inset), a long-time music industry journalist, and the author of The Final Days of EMI: Selling the Pig. His new book, Leaving The Building: The Lucrative Afterlife of Music Estates, is out now via Omnibus Press.
There was, inevitably, plenty of pearl-clutching outrage when it was discovered that some – not all – tickets to see Bruce Springsteen on his 2023 US tour would cost up to $5,000 each on the day they went on sale.
There was, also inevitably, accusations of gross hypocrisy that Springsteen, the bold balladeer of the blue-collar, was pricing tickets at a level that worked out at 13.47% of the average US annual salary of the very people he sings about.
This real-time, demand-driven, “dynamic pricing” was downplayed by Ticketmaster, which said that only a fraction of tickets were going for this price anyway, keenly pointing out that 88% of tickets went for face value and that the average ticket price was $202.
Springsteen’s long-term manager Jon Landau told the New York Times, “Regardless of the commentary about a modest number of tickets costing $1,000 or more, our true average ticket price has been in the mid-$200 range. I believe that in today’s environment, that is a fair price to pay to see someone universally regarded as among the very greatest artists of his generation.”
A multitude of columns and op-eds were rushed out – sometimes even by people who actually pay out of their own pockets to attend concerts! – about how shocking and shameful it all was, where fandom was being steamrolled in the dead-eyed push for profit, and why the live industry had lost the run of itself.
An obvious question, however, went unspoken.
Let’s just suspend disbelief about it all for a minute and ask: if a major act is going to charge $5,000 for tickets, just what is it the fan could receive to justify such an outlay?
By all means, charge $5,000 (or more) for a ticket if you like, but only if you make sure the buyer feels that what they are getting in return is worth it.
To get the ball rolling for #TeamBruce, I have some ideas that I will unveil here as The Ten-Step Validator Of Value.
I have worked out prices for each component where the fan can build their own $5,000 ticket.
Ticketing companies can justify it as a new type of “interactive” and “immersive” experience where the fans have to scramble around to grab all the components that make their $5,000 feel like money well spent.
1. Exceptional seating ($1,000-$2,000)
If the average ticket price is $202 then it surely follows that a $5,000 ticket must be exactly 24.75 times better than John Q Public and his “average” seat. The best seat in the house (the unquestionable $5,000 seat), clearly, is on Springsteen’s shoulders as he grunts and sweats his way through his amazing hits like ‘Gloria’s Eyes’, ‘Used Cars’ and ‘The Big Muddy’. That, sadly, is impractical. So we will downgrade a bit and charge $2,000 to sit in the middle of the stage (seat provided) or $1,000 to sit on the lip of the stage (bring your own cushion).
2. Access to superior drinks and snacks ($200 per beer, $941 per bottle of wine, $67 for zero-proof spirits + $30 for mixers; eight hot sandwiches for $200)
No $10 flat Budweiser for these guys in the big seats. It’s only Samuel Adams’ Utopias or Tusk Estate Cabernet Sauvignon being served. For non-drinkers there is Rasāsvāda. As for “nibbles”, who doesn’t want to see “The Boss” while munching on a small hot sandwich platter? No one, that’s who.
3. Access to the performer ($2,500)
If someone has the audacity to charge $5,000 for a concert ticket, the least they can do is meet the person who paid that much money so they can look the pop star in question straight in the eye (for upwards of one minute of unbroken staring).
4. A professional film crew to record random bits of the performance ($2,000)
A three-person film crew will be beside you throughout the performance and will film in high-res any moments in the show (in bursts of 67 seconds) that you ask them to. They will guarantee that they will just miss the bit where they sing your favourite lyric and will stop recording half way through the chorus. It saves you the hassle of doing it yourself and you can post one recording on Facebook and then never look at the rest of them ever again.
5. A legally binding guarantee that no one near you will talk through the show and drown out the performance with their inane ramblings or get the lyrics wrong when they sing along out of key ($1,500)
To be fair, most people at most gigs today would pay for this upgrade within three minutes of the act coming on stage as they realise they have picked the absolute worst spot in the venue, with the absolute worst gig neighbours, but are stuck there now.
6. The ability to pick the entire setlist in advance ($4,999)
No one wants to hear a “new one” or a minor hit that includes a terrible interpolation of ‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)’ (topical). This way you can hear exactly what you want in the order that you want.
7. The option to skip a song ($1,500)
Don’t want to blow all the money on dictating the setlist? You get one hard-pass option to skip a terrible song you don’t want to hear, just as you do on a Spotify or Apple Music playlist. The only clause is you have to hit the “kill” button (using the keypad in the arm rest of your seat) within 30 seconds, otherwise it counts as a “play” and the act has to finish it.
8. The right to get the act to play a song again ($1,750)
Acts sometimes throw their best songs away midway in the set. You might have gone to the toilet and missed it. Or you just want to hear it again. Grab the keypad (in the arm rest of your seat) and hit “replay”. This option is only good for one song to be played one more time.
9. A seat at the next board meeting of the ticketing company, agent or promoter where you can ask them to do a presentation on why it’s completely fine and normal to charge $5,000 for a concert ticket (free)
They’re already taking the piss with their pricing so this is the very least they can do.
10. A refund when an act plays more than two hours as no one – no one – needs to sit through a concert that long (-$55.55 per minute)
At the end of the average Bruce Springsteen show (3.5 hours), he might end up owing you $5,000.Music Business Worldwide