Last week it took less than an hour —only two or three minutes according to some accounts — for Ticketmaster to sell all of its primary tickets to Adele’s forthcoming 56-concert tour of North America. That fact is indeed astounding and was duly awarded its moment. But equally astonishing is the idea that so many fans were ready to buy tickets for the British artist’s tour in December 2015 when the concerts won’t be staged until the fall of 2016. Did anyone pause to wonder whether life would get in the way before then? Isn’t a date nine months out a part of the unknowable future for most people nowadays?
Not many years ago, concert tickets were typically released for sale perhaps a month before a show, maybe two. As Basem Boshra of the Montreal Gazette has noted, a nine-month lead time has become the norm for major musical acts like Maroon 5, and not only those as big as Adele.
“Concert tickets now go on sale so preposterously early that buying them has practically become an act of faith,” he wrote recently.
Why is this happening? Why are consumers being sold their summer concert tickets even before Christmas?
Industry experts say a few factors are at play, all of them rather prosaic for such a glamorous business.
Profit lines and data plays
For one, concert and festival promoters are often eager to get the profits from a massive show on the books sooner rather than later, perhaps to cover losses in a bad year. For public companies especially, like Ticketmaster’s parent company Live Nation, the goal might be to show growth now, in the current fiscal year. A big act that’s expected to sell out can make that possible.
In the concert business, it’s also true that the early bird gets the consumer’s discretionary dollar. As ticket sales rise and bands make more of their rockstar income from touring than anything else, it has become increasingly important for artists to get their “announce” out before the competition. Being first means getting the fans’ attention and a good portion of the budget they’ve earmarked for concert experiences before other acts can fight for their share.
Pushing tickets to a show far, far in advance of its curtain time also allows a company to fine-tune a major marketing campaign, or scale it back. When a show doesn’t sell out right away, the long window before the event buys the promoters weeks or months to generate buzz and change tactics as needed. If seats are gone in a few hours or days, however, the marketing budget can be slashed and the capital spent on a different event.
And while some may find it difficult to commit to a date that’s almost a year away, hardcore fans don’t seem to have that problem, says Amy Yong, a New York-based research analyst for Macquarie Bank. For the artist, getting that early commitment makes it all the more likely that fans will be able to plan accordingly, she says. In other words, a cousin’s wedding or a nephew’s briss won’t get in the way of an evening with Taylor Swift’s squad — not when Swift’s people sent the save-the-date first.
High attendance at a live-event venue is key, of course, since bigger crowds mean more sales of $50 t-shirts and outrageously priced parking spots. These days, it’s the revenue from such purchases - not music sales - that keep musicians in diamond-encrusted Barbie dolls and Tribeca lofts.
The long lead time before a show also gives a company like Live Nation more time to drive awareness to other artists that a particular customer is likely to be interested in, says Yong.
When customers buy tickets to an event, they hand over a treasure trove of data about who they are, what they like, how old they are, and how they can be contacted. They become easy targets for pushed “deals” to future events.
Finally, says Yong, the ability to profile ticket buyers makes it possible to drive sponsorship and advertising campaigns using extremely precise information. “The more data they have on you, which takes time to sift through, the better they can communicate to sponsors and ad buyers, like a Coca-Cola or Procter and Gamble, about exactly who is going to this concert,” Yong explains.
Yong predicts that the data entertainment companies are gaining through pre-sales, combined with advancements in mobile technology, will one day allow concert companies to collapse the primary and secondary markets. Many people would like to make it impossible for scalpers to auction off tickets for Adele at prices in the thousands-per-seat range, as happened last week. “The trick will be to price the tickets more efficiently the first time around,” Yong explains, and dynamic pricing will play a role in that.
Let’s hope that future doesn’t also introduce ticket “surge” charges.