Average Concert Ticket Prices: 1981-2005

This was a central exhibit in a ten-year, exhaustive class action lawsuit against former Live Nation parent Clear Channel.

It focused on the markets of Denver and Los Angeles, and attempted to prove that monopoly control was unfairly driving ticket prices into the stratosphere.  It was ultimately rejected and tossed by a federal judge for a number of reasons.

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The breakdown was constructed by University of Wyoming professor of Economics Owen Phillips, who was (understandably) unable to delve into the details with Digital Music News.  In the long-running battle that ultimately consolidated markets like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Boston and Denver into one suit, Phillips pointed to consumer damages of $21 million in Denver, and $71 million in Los Angeles.

Clearly, prices are elevating, but a California federal judge roundly dismissed the research based on a number of problems.  For starters, rising prices doesn’t necessarily indicate monopoly control, especially if Clear Channel and Live Nation are routinely presenting more popular, in-demand artists.

Other counterarguments included a skew towards rock concerts, instead of the broader sector.  And, a disregard for important developments like digital downloads (which theoretically boost awareness, and therefore, demand in concerts).  All of which means this research didn’t meet the criteria for monopoly control.

But there are bigger issues to consider, including why this legal warzone happened in the first place.  Because beyond the relatively narrow scope of concerts, there lies tremendous competition from anything regarded as ‘entertainment,’ including eating out, going on vacation, or simply watching the big-screen at home.  Which raises the following question about concerts, and the constellation of fees, parking fees, and $13 beers:

If the consumer is willing to pay, is it really overpriced?

(btw, those interested in the deep dive of legal documents should start here: Live Concert Antitrust Litigation, Case No. 06-01745, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).)

6 Responses

  1. QSDC

    According to the “Westegg Inflation Calculator”…

    What cost $14 in 1981 would cost $32.75 in 2008.

    The cost of a ticket in Denver has only slightly out-paced the cost of inflation. I think it’s primarily top acts in the biggest markets that are drawing the astronomical ticket prices.

    • Ignacio

      I would be really surprised if this was not inflation adjusted?

      • Faza (TCM)

        I wouldn’t, ‘coz I’ve seen plenty of research that forgets this seemingly obvious step.

        I just did some completely non-scientific research into how much this year’s ticket prices (for LN promoted shows) would cost in 1981 dollars and here’s what I found:

        – Iron Maiden at Irvine Meadows Ampitheater – prices range from $15.80 to $61.83 in 1981 dollars, mid-point $38.82

        – Def Leppard (same venue) – $7.90 to $59.26, mid-point $33.58

        – Journey at San Manuel Ampitheater – $13.00 to $60.41, mid-point $36.71

        – Rush at Honda Cener, Anaheim – $29.55 to $73.88, mid-point $51.72

        – Van Halen at STAPLES Center, LA – $11.66 to $59.06, mid-point $35.36

        Prices adjusted for fees, where info available (all except Van Halen).

        The average of the mid-points (chosen to average out the price ranges) for these five shows is $39.24, which is nowhere close to the $50 average ticket price given for 2005. Plus, all of the above are top level shows by major artists and thus towards the top end of the market. By way of comparison, Florence and the Machine at the Hollywood Bowl would cost from $15.60 to $43.46 (mid-point $29.53), while the Black Keys at STAPLES Center would cost $15.60 to $23.51 (mid-point $19.56). Figuring these two into our average, it goes down further to $35.05.

        This is not meant to be an accurate reflection of an inflation-adjusted average ticket price, ‘coz I don’t have the time for that. However, it should be apparent that if we assume that the data is presented in ’81 dollars, then – adjusting for inflation – $50 in 2005 ($58.91 in today’s prices) is more along the lines of what we’d expect to pay for the best seats at a top-tier gig, not the average ticket price. I don’t know what the composition of data used by prof. Phillips was, but it stands to reason that there will be more cheap tickets in it than expensive ones. Therefore, the average price for all concerts this year in 1981 dollars is likely to be considerably smaller than I’ve calculated.

        Unless, of course, the data is presented in 2005 dollars. Can anyone can shed a light on whether the average gig in ’81 cost $5 plus change? I find $12 much more likely to be honest.

  2. EthicalFan

    If the consumer is willing to pay, is it overpriced? Yes. Concert going in America has moved from a great past time enjoyed by a wide spectrum of society to a primarily upper-middle class and wealthy person’s experience. That is too bad. The real issue is that piracy has sucked the profits out of the music economy so there is tremendous pressure for artists and the people they employ to make their living playing live.

    • Versus

      That dreaded word…”consumer”. We are more than consumers.

      Beyond that, this “consumer” can no longer afford to attend concerts of bands now which were far more affordable 15 years ago. Tickets to Bryan Ferry and Dead Can Dance shows, for example, easily topped $100 direct from the venues, and of course would be even higher from re-sellers.


      – Versus

  3. Jesse Douglas-Tesch

    If the consumer is willing to pay, is it really overpriced?

    Except that people aren’t willing to pay them. They ARE overpriced, which is without a doubt one of the key factors as to why total attendance has been dropping.