Live Event Ethics: The Open Letter To Paul McCartney

Ryan Ritchie, an LA witer, has written “An Open Letter to Paul McCartney Regarding Ticket Prices” in which he raises an important topic of societal ethics. His lament in part,

I had this great idea. I would surprise my parents with tickets to your Friday show at SoFi Stadium. Naturally, I would also be in attendance. The tickets would have been ideal because Mother’s Day just happened and my mom’s birthday is May 21.

…I don’t think my parents — individually or as a couple — have been to a concert. Ever. … wanted to change that by surprising them with tickets to your show. It would have been great…[but] sadly for us, when you look into that sea of 70,000 people Friday night at SoFi, we won’t be three of them because your prices are too expensive for my surprise gift. According to Ticketmaster.com, tickets for section 526 — which appears to be the absolute worst seats at the venue — are $190 each. Or, if we want to sit in section 539, tickets are a steal at $174. Let’s, Paul, for the sake of argument, say I want my parents to, you know, actually see you, so I buy three seats in section C129. Those seats are $450. Each. And, as Ticketmaster reminds me, “+ fees.”

I can’t surprise my parents with tickets to see Sir Paul freakin’ McCartney only for them to sit halfway to LAX. That’s like giving a child a toy without batteries. A $600 toy, mind you….Conservatively, if I bought the cheapest tickets, I would be looking at $700 to take my parents to your show and sit far enough away that we will not be able to see you. To be frank, Paul, that sucks. I don’t want to spend that kind of money to stare at the big screens that I am sure will be on stage. Certainly, you’ve heard of YouTube. My parents and I can get the same experience tomorrow morning for much less money.

Paul, serious question: What the fuck?.

“What the fuck” indeed.

It isn’t just Paul McCartney tickets either. Tickets to all professional entertainment events are so high that the average American can barely afford them. When my professional theater company was still breathing, we had as part of our mission to charge as little as possible, and to keep prices in a range that allowed a family of less than elite means to attend a live theatrical performance without having to sell the car. This was unusual in the Washington, D.C. theater community, and is rare everywhere else in professional theater. The situation is similar in professional sports.

It is not merely greedy of the producers of such entertainment to maximize prices, it is stupid. Baseball is a prime example. The sport is fighting to maintain the interest of young fans, and the best way to do that would be to make it easy to actually attend games. There is little similarity between the experience of attending a major league baseball game and watching one on TV: the in-person experience is far richer, and far more fun and memorable. When I was a lad, I could pay 75 cents and sit in Fenway Park seats along the third base line that now cost about 80 bucks. One summer, in high school, I went to four games in a week. The teams should all want to have affordable seats that allow kids to do that,  but they don’t. Neither does Broadway. Live professional-level entertainment is rapidly becoming elite like the ballet and opera, only affordable by the wealthy.

If you want social stratification and a loss of community further feeding societal division and conflict, this is an excellent way to get it. Sitting in a theater, stadium or arena surrounded by fellow human beings is a unique and irreplaceable human experience that has bound societies together for centuries. If there is a substitute, I don’t know what it is; it certainly isn’t social media.

Every little trip down this road erodes societal bonds a little bit more. It isn’t Paul McCartney’s fault: I bet Ryan Ritchie is correct that Sir Paul doesn’t even know what his concert tickets cost. McCartney is a billionaire and about to turn 80; he doesn’t perform for the money. He could, however, try to reverse the trend. It’s a lot better use of his time and money than hanging out with PETA.

We all need to sit in the dark together, feel each other laugh, and gasp, and applaud the same things. That’s how we learn that all the other stuff we fight about is secondary to being human beings.

As with so many other aspects of life, we seem to be sliding in the wrong direction, with no brakes in sight.

Ritchie concludes, “You wrote the soundtrack to my life, to my parents’ lives, to so many people’s lives, but even you, Paul, can’t convince me that any concert is worth $190 a ticket to sit as far away as physically possible.” But that’s missing the point. Whether it’s “worth it” or not, society suffers by not making is possible for as many people as possible to be part of a memorable, emotional, transporting experience with their neighbors around them.

The problem is easy to fix, if the right people cared.

 

13 thoughts on “Live Event Ethics: The Open Letter To Paul McCartney

  1. How would this work in practice? If the market supports a price of, say, $190 for seating in a particular section but it is offered for sale initially for, say, $50, doesn’t that just encourage resellers to purchase all of the $50 tickets as soon as they go on sale and then turn around and sell them for their actual value of $190?

    I know their are people who already make a living doing something like this. Generally, whenever an effort is made to interfere with a market, it causes more harm than good.

    • DD
      Your arbitrage example has merit but fails to allow for some others who could never afford the “market” price would get some seats. This type of arbitrage could be mitigated using non transferrable QR codes instead of paper tickets or they could adopt the airline model of assigning names to tickets and then charge ridiculously high change fees.

      Highly inelastic products or services like heart surgery or a rare opportunity to see a Beatles concert can command high prices because of so few good substitutes; this is one of the reasons we have enacted laws limiting antitrust an monopolization behaviors. While not the same as the Morgans and the Rockefeller, McCartney sells a product no different than offering rail cars to haul grain.

      I am betting that a large share of these ticket revenues wind up in the pockets of promoters, venue operators, insurers, and an array of others who provide relatively little value to the experience.

      • With Sir Paul and baseball too, eventually the demand will go away, prices will fall, and in the case of baseball, the event will be a shell of it’s former greatness. I think it already has to be with Paul, he’s 80 some, right?

        The way most people consume music is online, spotify, itunes, and I know I’ve found great stuff via youtube. If you enjoy music for its own sake, look up Rick Beato on YouTube, “What Makes This Song Great.”

        In those, and other, episodes he’ll talk about artists who block the content, and this keeps people from learning about their musical greatness (I like about 3 Beatles songs, but I recognize they are great). He talks about old songs and bands that kids know about, and some of the older bands they know, but not The Beatles.

        Now, won’t matter to Sir Paul, he’ll be dead and won’t care.

        Baseball has a couple problems, and I keep wondering when the bubble will burst.

        The ridiculous A-Rod contract phenomena (his was the first) has to be having an impact on stadium pricing – I wouldn’t pay the price for either Wrigley or the ballpark in San Diego, and like Jack says, there is NO comparison to being at the ball park. I have to think the lucrative TV money at some point won’t be there.

        It’s not like other sports where all of the action is captured within the camera’s purview.

        And the modern game lasts as long as a football game, despite the fact there are 10 times as many played. I knew a guy who played college ball, and they tend to think the game is about them not the fans – I think it’s why the games last so long.

        Last time I paid attention, the D-backs would fill about half the stadium. When I was young, Aneheim stadium would be largely filled and the Angels were nowhere near as good as the Dodgers.

        If you can’t fill the ball park, TV viewership can’t be that far behind, can it?

        Lot of momentum in both baseball and Beatles music, I’d be curious to see what the current demographics are for each. Older people have more money to indulge, but by definition are a shrinking market.

  2. Here’s the thing: Whether you like it or not, it’s still all about supply and demand. Demand for something like a show headlined by Sir Paul will be very very high, and the supply of seats is a certain fixed number depending on the venue. Even with the price set high, the show can and probably will be a full house.

    So you can change any of three things, and there will be natural, inevitable consequences to each of those changes.
    1) You can reduce the demand by substituting a lesser headliner. If *I* were the headliner instead of Paul, the house would not fill up and the natural consequence of that would be falling ticket prices. (In fact, you’d probably have to PAY people to come in and hear me sing and even then probably not fill the house.)
    2) You can increase the supply by using a larger venue. Frankly this is raison d’etre of a stadium concert to start with. That would drive the prices down but one could argue that there is a corresponding reduction in the quality of the product.
    3) You can lower the prices without any other changes to supply or demand. Here’s where it gets sticky because you are actually increasing the demand with the lower price. The inevitable consequence of this is that there will not be enough tickets available to sell to everyone wanting to buy tickets. So SOME method is going be used to decide which potential concert-goers are actually allowed to buy a ticket and which are not.

    So pick your poison:
    First-come-first-served? (Sorry, it sold out 2 minutes after they went on sale. You can’t go.)
    Random lottery? (Sorry, you’re not one of our lucky winners today. You can’t go.)
    Arbitrary selection? (Sorry, you don’t know anyone associated with the artist. You can’t go.)
    Some sort of merit-based decision? (Sorry, there are 50,000 other people better at X than you are. You can’t go.)
    Some soft of need-based decision? (Sorry, there are 50,000 people more in need than you are. You can’t go.)

    In every method you choose, the end result is that you can’t go and you have no choice in the matter.

    What you actually have, Mr. Ryan Ritchie, is the most fair result possible: You can choose to go, but you must be willing to make a monetary sacrifice that is commensurate with what others are willing to pay . . . or you can choose not to. But the choice is still yours.

    I’m not saying that there aren’t problems with the current way event tickets are handled and sold. There definitely are. Scalpers and other forms of reselling are a big problem. Sometimes the ticket prices are set too high–for any number of reasons–and the venue is way below capacity.

    Buy arbitrarily lowering the prices is no solution to the problem at all. It’s just a transformation into a different problem: not being able to get tickets AT ALL. Is that really better?

    –Dwayne

    • I agree with all of this. Only extra comment I would add is that Ticketmaster is now taking the role of the scalper by being a monopoly on ticket sales and using their power to strong arm producers and venues to use their services. I’ve bought tickets with almost a $100 in fees each, when in the past I was able to stop by the ticketing window at the venue and by them at the stated price.

      Maybe as mentioned above the fairest option is a lottery. The Olympics works like that, but even then you can scalp them after the fact since no one is actually checking the tickets match the attendant.

  3. I also wanted to get tickets to Paul McCartney in Fort Worth. $190 for the worst seats would have been cheap. I would have paid a little more to get closer. I was expecting expensive ticket prices. Apparently it’s been a few years since I bought tickets on Ticketmaster; I was NOT expecting the new “dynamic” ticket pricing. The ticket prices change as you are literally trying to find seats! Within moments ticket prices were $300+. I never had a chance. At least start out with a set price. By comparison, when airlines sell their seats, they have different buckets of ticket prices—if you buy early you get a cheaper price, when all the lower cost seats sell out then you pay more, and so on. BUT at least the ticket prices don’t usually change by the second, while I’m making a purchase. Yes, I know that airline tickets don’t usually sell as fast as a concert, but this dynamic pricing at Ticketmaster just feels like a money grab—a rip-off.

  4. I think there is truth to many of the comments before me. Events nowadays are indeed expensive to go to and I do think a lot of it is due to 1) new costs like security and promotion and 2) greed.
    Still, I don’t think dropping prices arbitrarily will hep the situation; as others have said, it only makes the reseller market richer.
    Those with less just have to make do in other ways. For Broadway shows, for example, it was less than a decade ago that my friends and I would line up in the sun or rain for hours to get rush tickets for $20-$30. Alternatively, you can still enter daily lotteries for tickets in the same price range. If you don’t/can’t put in the time, then there are always community theatres.

  5. I won’t pay major artist or major sport league prices.

    I had the good fortune to see Prince about a month prior to his death, though. I am not a huge fan but the opportunity was singular. He announced a pop up show at a reasonably sized venue (a performing arts centre) on short notice and with a no-ticket transfer requirement – you had to show the credit card you used to buy the ticket. Just Prince and a piano. Price was reasonable and all seats were amazing. I understand his last tour was like this.

    You could be picky and decry the elitist nature – not everyone has a credit card. But, it kept the big money out of the hands of scalpers. I guess that is something.

    Some artists get it and some don’t when it comes to prices and scalping, etc. Many who do get it just don’t have the negotiating power that Prince had or Sir Paul has.

    So glad to see some love for Rick Beato here. But of course that would be the case.

  6. I watched a video of Dave Chapelle mocking his NYC audience for paying the massive fee for his show. The tickets were only $80 for his much smaller venue in Atlanta the week before. He told them that they could have booked a flight to Atlanta, stayed in a nice hotel, eaten some good Southern food at fine restaurants, and seen his show there for less money than they had paid to watch him in NYC. His audience laughed! It wouldn’t surprise me if Chapelle made a similar amount/ person in Atlanta as he did in NYC.
    (1) The solution is to stop going to shows that are this expensive. If there are enough people willing to pay that type of money, that is the price it will go for. It doesn’t mean you have to pay for it. I would like to own a Corvette. There isn’t much reason why a Corvette costs more than a family sedan, but there is demand for it at a higher cost, so it costs more. Calling for an ‘income normed’ price on Corvettes will just result in them being scalped in a variety of schemes. Just accept that this is out of your price range and move on. If you think it is morally wrong that they charge that much for the Corvette, the don’t buy one, don’t buy Corvette-branded merchandise, etc. Same for Paul McCartney. There are a lot of good performers at a lot of venues that are MUCH cheaper. If there really are enough people to support these shows at that price, fine. If not, they will lower the prices. During the baseball strike in the 90’s, one strategy for the owners was to lower the cost at the ballfields (most of their revenue came from TV) to increase local support and use that to justify not paying the outrageous demands of the players. That approach was violently rejected. If you really think it is wrong to charge this much, stay away from the ballpark AND stop watching it on TV. Then, they can either try to get more marketshare or go bankrupt.
    (2) On to the Chapelle example above. How much corruption can we handle in this country? As mentioned above, most of the ticket price probably goes to middlemen who provide little. This is corruption and we accept too much of it today in America. When we have an infrastructure bill, why do we accept that 60% of it will go to pet projects and stuff that doesn’t involve infrastructure? Why do we accept it when the media tells us that we have to include ‘human infrastructure’ in the infrastructure bill? No, we don’t. We need the bridges and roads fixed, we don’t need another 38 failed education initiatives to support more government employees. Why do we accept the fact that we could probably fire 50% of the federal employees and get MORE work done, yet we don’t demand they be fired? I worry that the cost of corruption is causing this country to implode. I look at Social Security as an example. I am worth more dead than alive to my family and have been for over a decade. If I die, they will get more from Social Security than I make. Why is this? I have life insurance. If I die, they will be OK just from the life insurance. They don’t need the extra Social Security. Why would there be such a thing? We have this because some people aren’t responsible and don’t by life insurance for their families (see Alexia Occasio-Cortez’s father). So, we put in place a program to help a small number of irresponsible people and the only way to help that small number of people is to pay 10x that much money to people who don’t need it. How long can this go on before the whole system collapses? When we can’t continue to print money out of thin air because we can’t handle the resulting inflation. Inflation, you say…

  7. A few years ago on the occasion of my father’s 90th birthday, I sought tickets to a Yankee game. The pricing for 4 tickets was over $1000.00. These were not on a lower level. Professional sports and entertainment are now only for the elite and wealthy. I for one will not be a party to this elitism. A pox on all of them. BTW I do not believe that Mr. Mccartney or any other celebrity is unaware of what these prices are. For the most part, they get a cut of the house.

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