By this point, you’re probably sick of talking about high gas prices. It’s the elephant in the room every time you think about going out, whether it’s to see a summer blockbuster you kind of can’t afford anymore or a concert by your favorite band. If it makes you feel any better (and it probably doesn’t) those bands are hurting too — even the really big ones.
With gas crossing the $4-a-gallon mark, the concert business is bracing for hard times. Despite strong lineups, Bonnaroo and Coachella failed to sell out this year. (For Bonnaroo, it was the only non-sellout since the fest launched in 2002.) According to Rolling Stone magazine, even reliable seat-fillers such as Bruce Springsteen and Nine Inch Nails are not selling out every show, and acts from Janet Jackson and Maroon 5 to George Michael and Stevie Wonder will probably face more empty seats than they’re used to.
Though we started chronicling how the high price of gas was hitting indie rockers way back in 2006 , when it was still under $4 a gallon, the mainstream media has been littered with tales of struggling bands who are finding that the once-reliable money they made from live gigs is drying up every time they pull the Econoline up to the pump.
How bad is it? According to a recent article in the live-entertainment trade magazine Venues Today, the Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion in Gilford, New Hampshire, is offering discount codes to patrons for each ticket they buy for shows this summer, with the savings adjusted daily to match the national average for a gallon of gas.
Not everyone agrees that rising fuel costs are the biggest factor for the downturn in ticket-buying. Dave Brooks, senior writer for Venues Today (to which this writer has contributed), wondered how much economic factors will really impact attendance. “Are people really going to go to less shows because of the price of gas?” he said. “I don’t think so. Maybe for destination festivals like Coachella, but I actually think in urban environments where people can take alternative transportation or carpool, they might go to more shows.”
Brooks said the magazine’s midyear report showed good numbers for the concert business so far, but he warned that “everyone is bracing” for the second-half numbers, which could show a drop-off. “Artists will definitely be impacted,” he said. “But they’ll just have to deal with it. Touring costs are going crazy. If gas is $1 more a gallon, that’s a 30 percent increase in your costs, and you can’t raise ticket prices much more if you’re not a Radiohead-level band.” Brooks said you can expect to see some venues offering carpooling discounts as an incentive to fans trying to save money.
While ticket sales will likely trend down throughout the summer, Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar magazine, said overall ticket prices will likely rise again, allowing the industry to do better than should be expected given the general downturn in the economy. “It’s going to impact bands on the subsistence level, but even the biggest tours, unless they’re assured of sellouts, are considering cutting down their production and staging to save money on the price of gas.”
Bongiovanni said the price of fuel absolutely has to be factored into a decision on whether to go to a concert, especially for younger fans with less disposable income who might find themselves spending an hour to drive out to their nearest amphitheater and idling in traffic for another 60 minutes or more before getting to their seats. “Even if you buy cheaper lawn seats, that $15 to $20 for gas may double the cost of the show,” he said.
The Los Angeles Times speculated that the one-two punch of ever-increasing ticket prices and summer after summer of big-ticket reunion tours has soured some fans on concertgoing.
The Times argued that while the rest of the music industry is adjusting to the hard times by varying pricing on digital releases (or, in the case of NIN and Radiohead, letting fans choose their price), major promoters like Live Nation are offering such tepid incentives as “fast-lane” parking options that let fans get into the venue earlier instead of lowering reviled service fees. It also lays the blame of festivals’ waning ticket sales on the sudden glut of events across the country, many of which feature similar lineups.
Marc Geiger, co-founder of Lollapalooza and head of the William Morris Agency’s music department, said the industry is already bracing for the impact of the economic hard times, and some are campaigning for lowering ticket prices and artist guarantees to help consumers out. “It’s real, and I think there will be some impact on the marketplace,” he said. “It’s not dramatic yet, but there is some softness, and something has to be done.”
Radiohead or Coldplay? Lollapalooza or Bonnaroo? Head to the Newsroom blog to tell us about some of the hard choices you’ve had to make this summer.
If you decide to brave the live-music scene, send your concert pics, videos and reviews to MTV News You R Here!