Message In A Bottle

Posted on 4th September 2007

Recently someone posted to the Birmingham Perl Mongers mailing list trying to sell their tickets for The Police at the NIA. When I originally heard that The Police were getting back together I was delighted, as I never got around to seeing them in the early 80s. Then when they announced the tour I was eager to get tickets. Unsurprisingly everywhere sold out within minutes. Unless you were one of the privileged few, and I mean privilege in terms of your affluence, then you stood no chance.

What is wrong with ticket prices these days? The Police tickets were over £50 for the cheap seats and over £150 for good seats. The guy who posted on the list had been charged £144 for 2 tickets and these were in the upper tiers, not even on the floor! Seeing as fans bought them, there is obviously a demand, but it's one of the reasons why people are buying less music these days. Greedy promoters, record companies and many bands themselves are taking as much from their fans as they can get, at the expense of other smaller bands, who can barely get anyone to see them for £5.

The Police are not the only ones, every major band that has toured the UK playing the 10,000 seater venues in the last few years has started to charge exorbitant fees to see them. The cheapest ticket for the NEC Arena I've seen in the last few years has been over £30. Even Crowded House, who are playing later in the year are the same. When they last played a full UK tour, I saw several dates up and down the country, as the tickets were around £15. I won't be going to see them on this tour because it's just too much to pay. There are plenty of bands that I would love to see again, Peter Gabriel, Yes and others, but ticket prices are rarely priced to make me feel like I'll get value for money. I've seen several comments about the rip-off of ticket prices, but the rip-off doesn't end there.

The venues are also guilty of ripping off fans when they charge over £3 for a small bottle of Panda Cola, that can be bought in the corner store for about 40p and probably from the local cash'n'carry for about 5p a bottle. I can understand a slight markup, but when fans are being ripped off to the tune of several hundred percent for very basic food or drink, it's a joke. Especially when you are banned from taking food and drink into the venue.

Once upon a time I used to go to around 100-200 gigs a year, up and down the country. In my late teens and early twenties I wasn't on a big flash salary, in fact my first proper job was working in a warehouse. I could afford to go to the gigs as they were roughly the same price as an album at the time, about £10. Rather than buy an album, I'd buy a ticket to go and see a band. More often than not, I'd actually pay nearer £5 and see gigs in smaller venues such as Rock City in Nottingham, Princess Charlotte in Leicester, The Roadhouse in Manchester or The Marquee in London. Top name bands would tour those venues in preference to the big Arenas so they could actually see the fans.

I can understand why some bigger named bands would want to play the Arenas, as it means they get to play to more fans with fewer dates. Some bands don't actually like touring, so playing a UK tour of 7 dates is often preferred over one that might take 3-4 weeks. But why should that mean you now have to rip off fans and double, triple (or worse) your ticket prices. That £50 you're charging for a "cheap" seat, means that your fan is sitting so far back they need binoculars to see you, they rarely hear decent quality sound, they have to sit awkwardly on uncomfortable plastic seats and cannot get up and dance or jump about as they get told off by security staff and ejected from the venue if they refuse to sit down.

There are some bands who I greatly respect for taking the time to play venues where they can reach the fans. Nine Inch Nails could easily play Arenas in the UK, but they don't and only charge £22.50 a ticket, which considering their status, I feel is quite reasonable. They also give value for money, as in addition to their performances recently they were giving away USB memory sticks with a song from Year Zero on it at gigs. Prince has even started giving away albums at gigs. The Cure usually play the larger Arenas now, but the last few times I saw them at the NEC tickets were around £18. Considering they play for nearly 3 hours, that is most definitely value for money. I wonder how long The Police will be on stage for? If they play more than 90 minutes I would be very surprised. It's not been unheard of for major acts to play an hour (mostly solo artists from what I've heard) and head off to the hotel.

If you're going to charge stupid money for tickets, give people a reason to feel like you actually value their faith in you, give them a show that is out of this world, give them something to remember for years to come. I would love to see The Police, but I won't be seeing them on this tour. It's been reported that they are recording another album, so I suspect they may tour again. I hope that the next tour has more reasonable ticket prices and that the prices for this tour are only because they knew they could get away with it for reforming. I seemed to recall that The Eagles dropped their prices on tours after reforming, so it's a possibility.

In the meantime I'm looking forward to seeing Henry Rollins in January and Jello Biafra next month. Both are doing spoken word tours and both are charging less than £20 to see them :)

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