A Blog by Jonathan Low


May 24, 2024

The Socio-Economic Reality That Drives Escalating Pop Concert Ticket Prices

Popular music ticket sales are rising far faster than inflation, but the reason is not just greed. Yes, presales to favored industry insiders and celebrities limit ticket availability by between 10 and 65% depending on the artist and the venue. And promoters' fees are as high as 27% of the price.

But the biggest issue is classic economics: supply and demand. The number of people attending Live Nation events is up 47% over five years. There are only so many top artists, they can do only so many shows and stadia hold only so many people.  JL

Whizy Kim reports in Vox:

Concerts have gotten more expensive on the primary market where someone can buy tickets, like Ticketmaster, before scalper charges are added. The average ticket price of the top 100 music tours in 2022 was $122.84. For the top 10 tours in 2023, the average was $152.97. 10 to 30% of a venue’s capacity is often held back for presales for VIPs, music industry pros, corporate sponsors, the media, and more. For major artists at huge venues, that number could be 65%. (And) fees make up 27% of the ticket’s cost. (But0 demand means many people are clamoring to go to a handful of popular artists’ concerts. Live Nation reported 145 million people attended its shows in 2023, compared to 98 million in 2019. Ticket sales in the first quarter of 2024 are higher than 2023.

You’re in a crowd of tens of thousands of fellow fans. The band starts playing your favorite song. Everyone screams. You will never, ever forget this moment.

Seeing a musician you adore live can be a transcendent experience. But getting to that moment has become a nightmare because getting tickets that won’t completely bankrupt you now requires weaving through an obstacle course. Tickets to a popular show dropping means pandemonium. You might get errors when you try to purchase tickets, and can spend hours waiting in a virtual line to grab any available tickets you can. Then the entire ticketing site crashes, apparently due to too many bots trying to access the site.

On resale sites, tickets are already exponentially costlier than what you were prepared to pay. But you’ve been waiting years for the chance to see them up close — so you shell out the money. In 2024, that can mean hundreds of dollars, even thousands, for the best available seats. The very best tickets for Taylor Swift’s Eras tour, as of last year, were sold on resale sites for as much as $200,000 — enough to pay for a four-year private college with no financial aid.

It’s no wonder music fans are disheartened and furious. Of course, the fact that the biggest music promoter and ticketing service is one single, giant company that has a lot of control over how tickets are bought and sold definitely doesn’t help matters. The Department of Justice is set to file an antitrust lawsuit against that company — Live Nation, which owns Ticketmaster — accusing it of using exclusive ticketing contracts, among other things, to maintain a monopoly. But while it’s easy to blame just one party for the chaos and the cost, the reality is that there’s a complicated concoction of reasons why obtaining tickets to a major concert has gotten so dire, and dealing with so much demand isn’t easy, either. Millions of fans want to attend a Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, or Harry Styles concert — and there are only so many shows and seats. Who should get to go?  

How concerts got so pricey

The fact is, concerts have steadily gotten more expensive even on the primary market — the place where someone can originally buy tickets, like Ticketmaster — before any scalper upcharge is added. According to the live music trade publication Pollstar, the average ticket price of the top 100 music tours last year was $122.84. In 2019 it was $91.86 — a rise that outpaced inflation by a good margin. Back in 2000, it was $40.74. For the top 10 grossing tours in 2023, the average price was even higher: $152.97.

Though there are a number of factors involved in this price creep (including high fees, which a 2018 Government Accountability Office report says make up an average of 27 percent of the ticket’s total cost), the heart of the matter is simple: demand. People all over the world are clamoring to go to just a handful of the most popular artists’ concerts. Live Nation reported that 145 million people attended one of its shows in 2023, compared to 98 million in 2019. The momentum doesn’t appear to be slowing, with ticket sales in the first quarter of 2024 higher than they were this time last year. 

Just 1,5

One big thing that artists and promoters could do is open up more tickets to their fans. A significant chunk of a venue’s capacity is often held back for presales that only a certain exclusive group may even get access to — VIP guests, music industry managers and agents, corporate sponsors, the media, and more. A 2018 Government Accountability Office report noted that between 10 to 30 percent of tickets for big concerts were sold through presales rather than general sales; for major artists at huge venues, that number could rise as high as 65 percent. In 2009, an investigation by Nashville’s NewsChannel 5 found that, after presales and other holds, just 1,591 tickets for a Taylor Swift show were on sale to the public for a venue that could hold 13,330 people. In 2019, Live Nation even admitted that it kept tens of thousands of tickets for a Metallica tour from being sold at face value by putting them directly on resale sites.

Pascal Courty, an economist at the University of Victoria, contends that lack of transparency is a huge issue. “It’s very rare that the public knows how many tickets are actually sold,” he tells Vox. While it’s true that there’s stratospheric demand for pop superstars, the practice of withholding so many tickets from the public — gating them behind credit cards, for example — certainly doesn’t help.


Elizabeth Alume, 27, spent several thousand dollars flying from Seattle to Las Vegas and Los Angeles to see the K-pop group BTS (she’s far from alone in traveling to see a favorite act; a Stubhub report last year revealed an 80 percent rise in 2023 of US-based customers buying tickets to international events on the platform). While the travel and tickets were onerous, she knew the clock was ticking on the band’s compulsory service in the South Korean military. But while the flights and hotels were several hundred dollars each, the main expense was buying resale tickets to see them over multiple days — $2,200 in Vegas, $1,600 in LA. 

The ticket resale market — where hoarded supply meets unprecedented demand — might be the biggest issue facing fans today.

How resellers beat out the fans

These days, buying a ticket for a major concert takes preparation. At a minimum, you need a calendar alert with the ticketing site ready on both your phone and laptop. For the most popular shows, it might mean signing up for the sale ahead of time — like with Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan system, which requires users to register before the sale begins with a phone number and email address. The company then “uses algorithms and unique data analysis” to separate the bots from the real people. (Proving that you’re human is no guarantee you’ll get the chance to buy tickets, though. For the hottest shows, Verified Fans are placed in a lottery, and only those who are selected receive an access code for the sale; others are shunted to a waitlist.)

Ticketmaster places all these hurdles on the way to a purchase with an eye toward stopping professional resellers — the networks of scalpers who snap up tickets with the goal of reselling for a profit. The precise metrics Ticketmaster uses to check that someone isn’t a professional reseller are a secret, but there are some clues. “It seems like if you’ve seen the artists in the past, you have a better chance of being selected,” says Jason Koebler, a co-founder of the tech site 404 Media who has reported extensively on ticket scalping. “If your credit card and your registered address with Ticketmaster is near the city that you’re trying to see the show in, you have a better chance. If your Ticketmaster account is older, you have a better chance.”

The problem is that determined professionals can still jump these hurdles.

Today, according to Koebler, there exists an entire black market where people sell Ticketmaster accounts, including ones that have been “aged” to look more legit. Ticket brokering — what disgruntled fans often call “scalping” — is a longstanding, professionalized industry. (In Ancient Rome, scalpers would hawk tickets to the best seats in the Colosseum for gladiator fights.) They hold conventions and lobby for favorable legislation. The amateur reseller might not have the money to buy up heaps of Ticketmaster accounts, but what Koebler calls “industrial-scale” resellers certainly do.

“Let’s say I want to see Taylor Swift in LA,” he explains. “As a normal fan, I enter the lottery one time with my one Ticketmaster account. Then you have a ticket broker who enters the Verified Fan lottery 20,000 times with 20,000 Ticketmaster accounts.”

This same unevenness of resources and dedication is true of pretty much any method of buying hot concert tickets. A presale offered as part of a credit card’s reward program? Serious brokers won’t just have one card with such entertainment perks, as a fan might, but all of them. A presale intended for an artist’s official fan club? Trivial for scalpers to pay the membership fee and also join. There are also places online where scalpers can buy presale access codes, skipping credit card sign-ups. Ticketmaster has made attempts to tamp down on bots, but the software sophisticated resellers use continues to evolve. Scalpers invest a pretty penny into buying professional-grade tools that make them faster and allow them to buy more tickets than one sluggish human could, like subscription-based web browsers where each tab acts like a brand-new user waiting in a virtual line. They have troves of burner phones and credit cards on hand. Stopping these resellers is a constant cat-and-mouse game. While ticket resale isn’t illegal — only a few states have restrictions capping resale prices — using bots is. But enforcement against the resellers who use them has been lax.

This means that, in practice, attempts to crack down on scalpers have made it a lot more cumbersome for everyone — including real fans — to buy tickets. The disastrous initial rollout of tickets to Swift’s tour last year left many fans unable to buy tickets at all. Going head-to-head against a scalper, you’re not likely to win out. “You’re competing against people whose livelihoods depend on being able to buy and sell these tickets,” says Koebler. 

Flipping concert tickets is basically a way to print money for the adroit reseller, which is why the scalping industry is a thing in the first place. Non-VIP tickets for Swift’s North American tour stops last year ranged from $49 to $449, while resale tickets for these shows sold at an average of $3,801, according to a Pitchfork analysis. Tickets to her shows were so valuable that even regular people got in on the game: Stubhub noted that the overwhelming majority of Eras Tour tickets for sale on its site last year were from new accounts — which indicated that they weren’t professional ticket brokers, but fans who decided they’d rather make a small fortune than attend. Scalpers are a big problem making the concert-going experience worse — but at the root of the chaos is unmanageable, roof-shattering demand that has warped beyond recognition what people are willing to pay for a show.

Could the solution to soaring resale prices be … higher ticket prices?

To deal with white-hot demand, artists can try to play more shows at the biggest venues. If that's still not enough, artists and Ticketmaster often opt to hold a lottery where at least everyone has a fair shot at attending. 

Unfortunately, “fair” lotteries for popular tickets don’t have a great track record because the profit motive is too heady. Courty, the University of Victoria economist, calls this the “fair price ticketing curse.” If you don’t want scalpers to take advantage of lotteries, there needs to be follow-through on ensuring they don’t end up grabbing a bunch of tickets. But Courty says that’s complicated. “You have to start to audit all the sales accounts, you have to look at who the buyers were, who the resellers were — and they could often be out of jurisdiction,” he says.

The secret third option to pour some water on fiery demand is not exactly popular, but it is simple: Make the tickets more expensive on the primary market. 

It’s easy to see why artists are reluctant to set their prices to what a ticket would sell for on, say, StubHub. Fans would rightfully complain, and many musicians do want to give all fans the chance to come to their shows. But one surefire way to deter scalpers would be to raise prices and narrow the margin that a reseller could make by flipping a ticket. (Theoretically, there’s a ceiling on what people would pay for concert tickets, and surpassing it would quench demand.) There’s a logic to doing so for artists: If a ticket sells for $100 on the resale market compared to $50 on the primary market, “the scalper’s making more than you are from your art and your labor,” notes Koebler.

One surprising thing

Believe it or not, economists say that one way to stabilize some of the extremely high resale prices for popular concert tickets is to raise the price at which they’re originally sold. You can attack the supply-and-demand problem from two sides: boost the supply (artists could play a bunch more shows at the biggest stadiums in the world) or tamp down demand (charge high prices that turn a lot of consumers away).


Courty’s proposed solution for an actually fair concert lottery is making the experience more like booking flights. The ticket is tied to your name, and if you have to cancel, the ticket is returned to the original issuer, who then offers it to the next person in line. The problem is that, obviously, resellers would likely fight any such measure, and there’s a bigger operational cost for ticket providers and venues since they would have to confirm that the initial buyer’s identity matched the person who shows up at the venue. 

As long as there isn’t legislation making scalping impossible, and there remains a huge gulf between what artists are charging and what people are willing to pay, resellers are going to be very motivated to ruin the concert ticket-buying experience.

The race to snag a spot is so cutthroat that some fans advocate for a system based on merit — well, what they consider merit — rather than luck. The most devoted fans, who have streamed the most hours of someone’s music, who have bought the most albums, vinyls, and merch, should be given priority. But it’s not clear that this is more fair. Time is also a luxury, as is having the financial means to buy merch. The discourse points to the level of resentment generated by lopsided supply and demand: Who truly deserves to be front row at a Taylor Swift concert? If you have the most money to spend? The most time to dedicate? If you’re busy with work when a concert sale drops, do you just resign yourself to missing the show?

Huge pop stars are already trying their best to book the highest-capacity stadiums, or adding extra shows to ease some of the demand. But for a select few, like Taylor Swift, fans’ desire to see them feels insatiable, and there’s a physical limit to the number of shows we can expect an artist to perform.

“What we’re talking about is access to a human being, more or less,” says Koebler. “The space is limited. The time is limited.”


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