First: Hearing Bruce Springsteen live in concert last week was fantastic, and I’d buy tickets again.
I paid nearly $175 apiece, including fees, last July for semi-nosebleed seats at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla., a few hours from where I live. Not bad, I thought at the time. And I got to see Mr. Springsteen, appearing fit and feisty, as he opened with “No Surrender” and then rocked his way through his catalog for about three hours.
But next time, I’ll seriously consider waiting until closer to the show to get tickets.
By now, the infamy of last summer’s initial ticket sale for the tour is familiar. Working through Ticketmaster, the Springsteen tour used “dynamic” pricing, a system in which prices fluctuate with demand as you shop. Preregistered fans had to wait in a queue for the privilege of watching prices surge before their eyes — well into the thousands of dollars for prime seats. (The ticket chaos was even worse a few months later for Taylor Swift devotees.)
Here’s what I learned from the experience.
About two weeks before the concert, I got an email announcing that more tickets were being released — including “excellent” floor spots. On the night of the event, as the lights dimmed for the show, I could see rows of empty seats — mostly in less desirable sections behind the stage, but also sprinkled throughout better areas, including where I was sitting.
Ticket News, which covers the ticketing industry (and makes money if you click through links to ticket resellers and make a purchase), reported that dozens of seats for $20 or less were available on a resale site in the days before the Tulsa concert. “Verified” resale tickets were also available on Ticketmaster, though there was an apparent minimum price of about $74, including fees. If you had bought a ticket but couldn’t go to the show and opted to sell your seat through Ticketmaster, you probably faced competition from bargains elsewhere.
Ticketmaster Under Scrutiny
The ticketing giant has come under fire after it botched the rollout of tickets to Taylor Swift’s tour last year — a failure the company blamed on bots.
Why endure the hassle of a frenzied presale only to find tickets available later? And to realize that, if you can’t go, an obvious route to sell your tickets — via Ticketmaster — may not give you the best shot of recouping at least some of your money?
It’s enough to make you stay home.
I’m glad I didn’t. I got my money’s worth, and had a great time with old friends. But others may not have fared as well. Dave Clark, the editor of Ticket News, reported finding floor seats days before the Tulsa concert priced at a couple of hundred dollars plus fees — and near seats that a fan had kvetched about on Twitter during the presale because they were priced at more than $1,700.
“For the average consumer,” Mr. Clark said, “it’s really hard to figure it out.”
Ticketmaster said in an email that demand for tickets on the tour has been “extraordinary.” It also said that the low-price tickets for the Tulsa concert were from resellers who “may have misjudged the resale market” in the city on a Tuesday night.
Mr. Springsteen and his manager have previously defended the pricing, saying the average ticket price was in the “mid-$200 range,” which, in their view, was fair and affordable.
Here’s my takeaway: If you want tickets to a big, highly promoted arena show, whether it’s Bruce or Beyoncé, set a budget and register for the sale. If there are tickets you can afford, buy them. If not, log off and bide your time. Decent seats may well be available at better prices when the concert date nears. (Demand is usually highest when tickets first go on sale.) If you register, you’ll generally be notified if more tickets go on sale. Or you can simply set a calendar reminder to check availability as the date approaches.
There are risks to waiting, of course — most obviously, that you’ll be shut out. You shouldn’t assume that ticket sales in big city markets with higher demand will behave the same as smaller markets. But, for instance, on Thursday morning tickets were plentiful on Ticketmaster for that night’s Springsteen show at the Ball Arena in Denver, including $160 before fees on upper levels (less if you sat behind the stage) and $1,150 for the coveted “pit” area in front of the stage. On the resale site StubHub, upper-level seats were as low as $135 plus fees, and at least one pit ticket was available for $764.
More Springsteen shows were recently announced for late summer and fall, and prices for some tickets appear to have moderated. Late last month, according to NJ.com, tickets to see Mr. Springsteen in New Jersey this fall were available on Ticketmaster for $59.
Still, waiting simply isn’t workable for fans who must travel to a concert, said John Breyault, a vice president with the National Consumers League, an advocacy group that supports efforts to break up Ticketmaster and its parent company, Live Nation Entertainment. If you delay until just before a show, ticket prices may have fallen, but airfares are likely to be higher and hotel rooms may be scarce.
Rafi Mohammed, a pricing expert who says he has seen Bruce Springsteen in concert about 40 times, wrote in Harvard Business Review that the star’s “energetic performances have yielded the greatest dollar-for-dollar value in concert history.” You can decide if you agree.
Here are some questions and answers about concert ticketing:
Can performers and ticket sellers ban resale tickets?
The rising star Zach Bryan aims to do that with his current tour. Working mostly with the ticket seller AXS, Mr. Bryan has said he is keeping prices at $156 per ticket and setting a “no transfer” policy to avoid inflated prices through the resale market. Ticket holders can generally resell for face value through the official tour marketplace, but tickets bought through other resale sites won’t be honored at concert venues, according to the tour website. Mr. Breyault, the consumer advocate, says banning resales often fails because ticket brokers still find ways to hawk the tickets. They may arrange, for instance, to meet the buyer at the event to scan digital tickets. And some states have laws that ban restrictions on resales.
Are there proposals to regulate ticket sales?
Ticketmaster’s botched Taylor Swift sale led to Senate hearings and a proposal by President Biden to limit or better disclose ticketing fees and to require disclosure of so-called holdbacks that shrink the supply of tickets available to the general public.
Tour organizers, Mr. Breyault said, often hold back large blocks of tickets from initial sales for the benefit of groups like fan club members, credit card loyalty program participants and friends of the band. They release any leftovers later. If shoppers had better information about the number of tickets available to the general public, he said, they could at least make informed guesses about their chances of buying tickets during the initial sale and whether it was worth their time to try.
Such rules have been proposed before, unsuccessfully, in Congress and in several state legislatures, Mr. Breyault said.
Where can I complain if I have a bad ticket-buying experience?
You can file a complaint with your state attorney general’s office or with the Federal Trade Commission.