You have to admit the timing was remarkable.
On Super Bowl Sunday, there was Justin Timberlake leading the halftime festivities, performing live for a global television audience. Then, the next morning, a slew of his tour dates were announced, including one at Rupp Arena in Lexington.
It was momentous news, especially for concert audiences that had experienced an extended absence of major arena concert activity in town. Tag the Timberlake show on to a Rupp schedule that already includes dates by Miranda Lambert, Eagles, Foo Fighters, Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, and Kentucky’s own Chris Stapleton over the next eight months and you have ample reason to believe the drought is over.
But such renewed traffic does come with a cost — often, a very steep one. Lindsay Caudill of Lexington found out exactly how steep when she looked into presale information for the Timberlake performance — tickets go on sale to the general public at 10 a.m. Feb. 19 — to discover ticket prices topping out at $227. The same for the Eagles, where lower arena seats sell for between $229 and $445.
“I won’t go see Justin Timberlake,” Caudill said. “I haven’t even given it a thought. I saw the Eagles before Glenn Frey died. That was a great show. The tickets were a little pricey — $100 and some. I was a little hesitant even then, but it was the Eagles. I’m really glad I went, but I’ve never given this new show any thought. When I saw the ticket price, I just said, ‘No way.’”
So what gives? Why are the tickets for even remotely decent lower arena seats at many major name arena concerts costing as much as a car payment? The most immediate answer is supply and demand. Especially demand. Artists and their management companies establish the ticket prices, and audiences continue to pay them. But it’s not entirely that simple.
“My experience in other markets similar to Lexington has always been, if you bring quality shows, people will go see the show,” said Tom Paquette, senior vice president of Oak View Group Facilities, which this winter entered into a three year booking agreement with Rupp Arena. “The problem, maybe, is when you bring B- or C-list artists and try to overprice them. But the top price levels for the top acts always sell first. My experience has always been people go see quality shows. That’s always the end of the story.”
My experience in other markets similar to Lexington has always been, if you bring quality shows, people will go see the show.
Tom Paquette, senior vice president of Oak View Group Facilities
Skyrocketing concert ticket prices for major arena shows aren’t entirely new. Venues in Louisville, Cincinnati and even Nashville — markets that have regularly seen far heavier concert business than Lexington in recent years — have become more accustomed to the sticker shock that ensues when tickets for select performances sail into the $200 range or higher.
“If any of our audience traveled to, say, Nashville, to see a show, they would find these tickets prices are going to be very similar there,” said Carl Hall, director of arena Management at Rupp. “So part of it is this is going to be a learning curve for our local market and what top-notch artists demand. The top priced tickets … we haven’t seemed to hit a wall of resistance for that. But there are multiple price levels for these shows. So maybe my personal budget cannot afford a $225 ticket, but I might still go see the show at $175. The Eagles have got some down to the $55 range. You can still go to a great show and be part of the live experience. It’s affordable, it’s just sometimes you can’t sit front row dead center.”
Not all major name shows at Rupp reach the extremes of what Timberlake or the Eagles are asking for in terms of tickets. Lower arena seats for Stapleton’s show, which could well become the top drawing country concert of the year, sell for $89 (although Platinum status seats close to the stage go for $241). Is there a disparity of demand between pop and country acts?
“We anticipate having a huge success with Chris’ show,” Hall said. “But that’s driven by what Chris’ objective is for revenue, what Chris’ objective is for ticket prices, what Chris’ objective is for everything. With Justin Timberlake, when he goes out on tour, it’s about the demand. There’s also the Super Bowl push to factor in. It’s just all part of the package.”
“The artists are really the ones who set the price,” Paquette added. “There are a few things that go into that decision, but it really starts with the artist and the artist’s management. Different artists are at different points in their career and have different goals. There are several factors that go into that decision, but it’s certainly not the venue that decides.”
Part of it is this is going to be a learning curve for our local market and what top-notch artists demand.
Carl Hall, director of arena management for Rupp Arena
Still, for many patrons, arena concerts are no longer casual forms of entertainment, but rather luxuries. That often translates into being more selective in terms of a seeing a show and determining what impact the cost of that night out will have on their budget.
“We’ve done this before in my family and with my friends,” Caudill said. “If you get enough advance notice about a show, a ticket ends up becoming a Christmas or a birthday gift. It’s like, ‘I was going to spend $150 on you anyway, here’s a ticket for a show six or seven months away because I can’t afford anything else for you.’ You have one big present that you can’t enjoy right now. It’s a chunk of money that you normally wouldn’t spend throughout the year on something.”
But the big certainty within the current concert economy is that major shows continue to sell. No matter how exorbitant the ticket price, an audience exists that is willing to pay it.
“It’s almost always that way,” Paquette said. “In other markets of this size that I’ve run buildings in, we’ve had similar questions. ‘Will people pay top price for a top artist?’ And the answer is always yes.”