Concert Woes 101

Concert industry pros trying to find answers for a precipitous drop in ticket sales last summer could find some guidance from an unusual source – a group of Boston University students.

Assistant professor James McQuivey’s research communications class, with an assist from Ticketmaster, made a fall term project of the concert ticket sales slump.

“My job is to teach these students to do research and do it in a way that helps them understand how relevant research is,” McQuivey told Pollstar. “We happened to pick this subject because I know something about it, and because my students care an awful lot about it. Undergrads go to a lot of concerts.

“So when I mentioned this subject, they just ran with it. They compiled background research and whatever they could about the state of the industry,” McQuivey continued. “I can compile background info on just about any industry, but they had a personal stake in it so I thought it was a perfect fit for them.”

A professional marketing firm helped out by supplying a representative sample of 18- to 34-year-olds to quiz on their concert-going habits. The project examined topics including consumer entertainment budgets and attitudes, concert-going trends and attitudes toward Ticketmaster. The findings were released January 13th.

While TM didn’t officially sponsor any part of the research project, McQuivey said he contacted the ticketing giant informally and asked “if there were specific concerns that people in the industry would have and want to see. And they were gracious enough to donate some of their time to brainstorm with us.”

What they found wasn’t particularly pretty – or surprising.

Of the 500 young adults surveyed, the majority said they had the free time to go to concerts, but 84 percent said they’d rather just “stay home and relax.” A nearly equal number would do so in front of the tube or with a movie rental. Sporting events and nightclubs outranked concerts as leisure activities that didn’t include vegging out at home.

With an average of $10 to $19 per week the target group spends on entertainment, the study concluded that concert tickets simply don’t fit into their spending picture.

Sixty percent of the respondents preferred to spend their entertainment dollars on movie tickets, 55 percent on DVDs and 30 percent on theatre tickets and video games rather than concert tickets.

The students also let TM know that its image could use a little burnishing, too. While most use to make their ticket purchases and find it convenient, 73 percent found the ticket prices to be too expensive – and lay part of the blame for the high cost at TM’s feet. Apparently, artist guarantees are a secret well kept from the average consumer.

With 70 percent of respondents believing that “ticket companies make a fortune,” the students came to the conclusion that “much of the attribution of ticket price is placed with the ticket company.”

The study’s findings weren’t all gloom and doom, though. Despite a strong belief that concert ticket prices are too high, 30 percent of the respondents said they recently purchased tickets costing more than $50, with 8 percent paying more than $100.

And in looking to 2005, the study found that 39 percent of 2004 concert-goers expect to spend more on tickets this year than last. On that basis, it predicts a 10 percent increase in ticket sales.

In addition, 25 percent of those who didn’t buy any concert tickets in 2004 expect to go to at least one concert in 2005. The student researchers estimate that could produce a 13 percent increase in the number of ticket buyers.

That number could be offset by another finding; 51 percent of those surveyed are less than impressed with the quality of talent hitting the stages in recent years.

But the industry can take heart that all is not lost, though it might be a bit disorienting, at least to one Boston University class.

“People out there are concerned if concerts are going head-to-head with video games, with movies; what are the alternatives that are taking money away from the concert industry?” McQuivey said. “Plus there’s the deadly rumor that nobody wants to see the artists because the artists stink,” the professor added, laughing.

“My message to the industry is, simply, people come into this concert season willing to grow the concert bottom line,” McQuivey said.

“They are mentally reserving some portion of their income that is larger than it was last year. Whether or not you get it is entirely up to you.”