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Taylor Swift: The real reason concert tickets cost so much

Concert inflation is crazy and here to stay as ticket prices hit record highs.

Image of Australian money and Taylor Swift performing.
Are tickets for Taylor Swift's Australian shows a fair price or a shameless money grab? (Source: Getty)

Would you pay $1,000 to see Taylor Swift? If the answer is an emphatic, screaming “YES!” you’re not alone. The Taylor Swift tour is a big deal. Big.

When she comes to Australia in early 2024, the American singer-songwriter-superstar will be the first woman to headline the MCG since Madonna. Swift will sell more tickets than any woman who came before, and at far, far higher prices.

Also by Jason Murphy:

Basic tickets to see Taylor Swift cost between $80 and $380. She also offers “VIP packages” costing $350 to $1,249. These packages include posters, trinkets and a tote bag - in addition to a ticket. It is unclear whether more tickets will be sold or more VIP packages. (It is also unclear whether supply of each category can vary as they see how strong demand is).

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Last time Swift toured - 2018 - her pricing topped out at $820. The top of the pricing range has risen by more than 50 per cent. That’s quite some inflation. Seeing her costs more than ever, and also quite a lot more than her rival at the top of pop, Ed Sheeran. The British songsmith came to Australia in 2023 and sold out a lot of big shows. But his prices were well below those of his US rival. Sheeran’s ticket-pricing structure topped out at $190, a bargain compared to the lofty heights commanded by Swift.

How did ticket prices get so high?

To start with, let’s point out that getting a ticket straight from Ticketek is the dream. The prices I mentioned above? Those are just the face value of the tickets. Demand to see a Swift show is so high that there is a very big secondary market for the tickets.

In America, Ticketmaster crashed when her tour went on sale, and a senate judiciary inquiry looked into what happened. I mention this to emphasise just how popular this tour really is because you’re about to hear some big numbers.

In the US, the secondary ticket market – scalping – is legal, largely operating through a website called Stubhub. I once saw an NBA game for $10 via Stubhub, for example. It’s a great way to get unused seats into the hands of willing attendees.

But for Swift, Stubhub is offering seats at terrifying prices. You could buy Swift tickets for an arena show in Minneapolis last week for US$900-US$12,000. When she plays in LA on a Friday night in August, there are seats in the best section going for more than US$30,000.

Taylor Swift initially intended to tour Australia back in 2020, but a global pandemic got in the way. So, there’s a lot of pent-up demand for tickets. That’s the single-biggest reason her tour costs so much. She’s probably the biggest star in the world and hasn’t been on the road for a long time.

The Swift concert lasts for 3.5 hours, and she goes through 44 songs, apparently. There are 10 costume changes. So, she’s not trying to rip anyone off - you really get something for your money. But she does expect to pocket US$10 million a night, at least, and industry chat is that her tour - 60 nights in the US and 52 more internationally - will break the $1 billion barrier. The profits from it may be enough to tip her into billionaire status.

Her five shows in Australia – two in Melbourne, three in Sydney – will add significantly to her bank account despite the relative weakness of the Australian dollar. Every Australian dollar she makes turns into just 67 US cents in her bank account right now. This is another reason live music prices are so high for overseas acts. Acts are trying to make money in their own currency, not ours, so if our dollar is weak, they will lift prices to compensate.

Graph showing the Australian dollar's relative strength compared to the US dollar and British pound.
(Source: supplied) (Jason Murphy)

The Australian dollar is weak but less weak against the pound, which could be why Ed Sheeran was able to price his tour a little lower than Ms Swift. Another reason is he sets up differently. Sheeran plays “in the round”, meaning he can sell tickets in every section of the MCG. Swift, however, has to have a backstage for all those costume changes. She also provides a massive screen - to help people who paid a week’s wages for a nosebleed ticket see what’s going on.

Sheeran packed 109,000 people into the MCG. Swift will do more like 75,000. Like any business, the two pop stars face a trade-off between price and volume. You can sell less at a higher price, or more at a lower price. Is it smarter to be Swift: leave a bit of scarcity and create fervour for tickets, making it precious to have attended? Or is it smarter to be Sheeran, getting as many people through the gates as possible, knowing if they see you play, you potentially lock them in as fans for life?

Sheeran’s lower prices allowed him to visit Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and fill stadiums there as well. But he doesn’t do what Swift does. His sets are shorter and, despite some pyrotechnics, the stagecraft is not at Swift levels. His costume changes are a bit less numerous (there are none, your boy rocks a t-shirt and cargo pants throughout) the backup dancers are non-existent, and whether his songs are better than hers is a question left to the reader.

Inflation is everywhere, even for Swifties

The price of freight to get your stage and screens from place to place is a lot higher now than it was back in 2019. The cost of flights and hotels for musicians and crew is higher too, not to mention venue hire. This is no doubt why prices seem so painfully high now.

The music business publication Pollstar tracks ticket prices for concerts and it says stadium tour prices are up 22 per cent since 2019, while more humble theatre shows are up 7 per cent since 2019. It seems fewer bigger stars are controlling the very top of the game, while the lower rungs of the music industry are a little less comfortable than they were.

Even a local band costs $30 these days. While you could see a dozen local gigs for the price of a Taylor Swift ticket, fans are voting with their feet. The opportunity to be part of a massive global pop phenomenon is what’s on sale, and the high price seems to only underline just how valuable that is to fans.

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