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VOL. 39 | NO. 24 | Friday, June 12, 2015

Playing big outdoor stadiums costly, risky

By Tim Ghianni | Correspondent

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Tickets still are available from most on-line brokers for The Stones' ZIP Code Tour stop in Nashville.

And while the band should reasonably fill the LP Field, it is not without risk that they’re playing stadiums this time around, according to Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar, a trade publication that covers the international concert business.

“In any given year, there’s only a handful of acts that can play outdoor fields. Sometimes they play indoors because of lower overhead,” he says. “They do that because the cost outdoors is going to be astronomical (compared) to a show at Bridgestone.

“When you are indoors, you get in and out in one day, and you don’t have to worry about the weather. And because you can charge a premium for the best seats, artists can get millions from an indoor show,” he says. “The problem with stadium shows is, unless you sell out, it’s hard to make money out of it.”

He says that if the Stones, for example, “only sell 40 or 50,000 seats,” they may not make any money.

“It may look full, but the profit is in the 20,000 seats not sold,” Bongiovanni says. “That happened to U2. They went out and did stadiums and at the end of their tour, they didn’t make money.”

It’s a pretty simple formula for failure. “Outdoor tours require multiple stages leapfrogging the country, setting up for the city where they’re going next.

“Indoor concerts: The load-in is in the morning and the load-out at night, with a far-smaller crew to do it.”

A Stones outdoor concert – with all its inflatables (phallic or otherwise), screens, ramps and glitz – there could be at least “a week’s worth of labor” just handling the stage,” he says.

While such a big show at the stadium is rare, he says the market for concerts here has remained strong because of Bridgestone and says it can only improve with the addition of the Ascend Amphitheater.

“There are a lot more acts that can play that kind of facility, can come closer to selling eight to 10 thousand tickets” (Ascend actually seats 6,800) versus a hockey or basketball arena where the artists must sell 15-20,000 tickets to make money, he says.

And then there is the matter of ticket pricing.

Of course those who “must” see The Stones are first to order tickets and they pay full price. As the top-tier ticket-sales slow, prices are adjusted and “there may be people sitting behind you who paid a lot less. You never really know.”

And now, as days close in on the show, the “secondary ticket market” – online resellers – begin their big push.

“The internet has allowed it to grow exponentially,” says Bongiovanni. Curious? Simply take a look at the number of online outlets offering inflated ticket prices to see Keith, Charlie, Ron and Mick.

“The acts no longer look at the scalpers as the enemy,” he says. “Some artists actually feed tickets to the scalpers. Some artists will do anything they can to hide the fact it happens.

“It’s a bit disingenuous,” he says. “Some artists don’t feel comfortable with the big price tag next to their names on the ticket and don’t want to be accused of gouging the public.”

Instead they divert tickets to the secondary market, he says.

For example, acts may sell the $100 tickets at face value to the scalpers and make their money while the scalpers take those tickets and make their profit by selling at a higher level. So, if you’ve ever wondered how all those guys outside and on the Internet have tickets for sale for any show or sporting event, don’t worry. It’s now an acceptable part of the game.

He notes that he does not know if the World’s Greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll Band works with the “secondary market” or not. It’s a closely held secret between performer and broker.

That’s one reason that for some shows tickets are “sold out” almost as soon as they are made available. A large number of them already have been diverted to the sometimes-gouging brokers. Then “by the time all the media and celebrities are taken care of there might be only 1,000 or 2,000 available to the actual public,” Bongiovanni says.

Again, he’s not saying that is happening here, although there was a lot of complaining about the scarcity of tickets shortly after the “official sales” began. Of course, they began turning up quickly “for sale” at a wide variety of outlets.

Bongovanni laughs. “One thing about scarcity is that the grousing about price gets quiet a little more quickly,” he says. “When you can’t buy something, suddenly you are able to pay more for it.”

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