Concerts are Back, and Ticket Prices are Way, Way Up

Folk Fest held the line as best as it could, but Ticketmaster has now created whatever-the-market-will-bear pricing
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Around 100,000 people walked through the gates at Gallagher Hill for the 2022 version of the Edmonton Folk Festival. This is the first year since 2019 that the festival was in-person, and despite an increase in ticket prices, people were eager to get on the hill.

Weekend passes sold out the day they went on sale in June. In 2019, weekend passes were $249. In 2022, the same pass was $270 while the cost of single day tickets jumped from $75-$95 to $90-$105.

“We like to make a small surplus so that we can reinvest in the show and some capital assets,” says Terry Wickham, producer of Edmonton Folk Festival. “Mostly what we’re doing is trying to break even and put a little bit in the bank.”

The festival sells 14,000 tickets for each day of the four-day event and 11,000 tickets per day are given away to volunteers, industry guests and children under 12. Wickham says the goal of Folk Fest has never been to charge a hefty fee for tickets, and that the 11 per cent increase in cost this year reflects inflation. Most people think they’re paying to get inside the festival, but the money made from tickets goes a lot further than that. Ticket sales go towards food, power, gas, transportation and artists’ fees. Other things to consider: Promoters of shows also have to pay for security, advertising and insurance.

Insurance has become a major issue for concert promoters and venues. Earlier in 2022, as part of a submission to the Ontario government, the Canadian Live Music Association stated that, “faced with disproportionately challenging market conditions, live music venues (and many others across hardest hit sectors) continue to struggle to find appropriate commercial insurance coverage. Although rates had been rising pre-COVID, venues have been confronted with exorbitant increases in quoted premium rates and deductibles. Even those with no recent claims whatsoever against their policies, have been unable to secure commercial liability coverage at any cost.”

In comparison to concerts at Rogers Place, the admission increase for Folk Fest is slim.

Tickets for the mostly-sold-out Backstreet Boys DNA World Tour at Rogers Place on August 26 start at $69, and average $125, according to SeatGeek. Verified resale tickets through Ticketmaster start at $274 for the upper bowl and climb to $442 for floor tickets. Ticketmaster Official Platinum seats on the floor are upwards of $600, and even more expensive in the lower bowl.

Why are Ticketmaster Official Platinum tickets in the lower bowl more expensive than floor tickets? The prices fluctuate by demand, meaning other non-platinum seats in one section could be $100, but Official Platinum tickets in the same section could be $300. Ticketmaster describes the tickets as “premium” and says the “seat program enables market-based pricing (adjusting prices according to supply and demand) for live event tickets, similar to how airline tickets and hotel rooms are sold.”

Ticketmaster and other resale sites like StubHub and Vivid Seats make it easy for event-goers to sell their tickets. But it’s hard for those who hold tickets to non-Ticketmaster events to sell theirs. Reselling platforms like Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace implemented protocols banning the selling of tickets, meaning if you want to sell tickets to a local theatre show, your best option is word of mouth.

For the first year, Folk Fest partnered with Lyte, an event ticketing software company, to create a ticket exchange platform. Festival-goers could exchange their tickets with others or sell their tickets through the platform.

If you purchased a resale ticket from Lyte, you were paying 10.5 per cent more than retail value due to Lyte’s fees. Usually, a percentage of sales through Lyte would also go to the event organizer, but Wickham didn’t want to go that route. “We don’t want to make any money on that,” says Wickham. “We never have and we never well. It’s not our game.”

The program was a success and Wickham says they received no complaints, an impressive feat for the festival’s first year transitioning from paper tickets to digital. Folk Fest discourages people from selling or buying tickets through second-party sites, but there’s no real way to prevent it from happening.

If someone happens to buy an unusual number of tickets and is caught reselling them for more than face value, Wickham says they can trace who bought the tickets and ban them from purchasing in the future. Security is also on-site to catch people selling at the door.

“We haven’t found it to be a real problem in the past, but we are underpriced, and we like being underpriced,” says Wickham. “You know it’s $50-$55 a day to go and see probably seven or eight artists that could be playing the Jubilee. So that’s a lot of value for money. And it’s our volunteers, the 2,500 people that work for free for us. That’s what keeps the ticket prices low. And they’re proud of that, so we try and keep it as low as we can.”

How Much Are You Willing to Spend?

Upcoming Edmonton shows

Greta Van Fleet, Aug. 27, Rogers Place, lower bowl: $108.95

Motley Crüe/Def Leppard, Sept. 4, Commonwealth Stadium, platinum floor: $1,396.62

Roger Waters, Sept. 13, Rogers Place, floor: $222.95

Rod Stewart, Sept. 17, Rogers Place, platinum floor: $487.90

Eagles, Sept. 20, Rogers Place, platinum floor: $1,435

(Platinum seat prices taken from Ticketmaster on August 16. At the time, there was plenty of availability. Promoters can price tickets to the so-called market, but the market might say that’s a bridge too far. – ed.)