The Rise Of Late Ticket Buying And What It Means For The Biz

Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP, File

In this Sunday, June 25, 2017, file photo, Bruno Mars performs “Perm” at the BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Mars was nominated for six Grammy nominations on Tuesday, Nov. 28. The 60th Annual Grammy Awards will air on CBS, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018 in New York.
Ticket-purchasing patterns can vary according to all sorts of factors [i.e. market, genre, age] but many professionals agree: more people are buying later more often. Pollstar got perspectives from across the industry to analyze the phenomenon of late-buying and different areas of the business affected.
The conversation on late-buying often starts with the advent of online ticketing. Now that tickets are available through primary and secondary ticketing websites, some say fans don’t make a priority of purchasing until the last minute because they know stubs will be available, sometimes for cheaper than face value.
Combine that with the rise of services like Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and entertainment dollars are a more sought-after commodity than ever, meaning consumers might not be as willing to commit to a hard purchase early. 
Ant Taylor of Lyte ticketing said his company believes there is a clear trend that fans are buying later. “Demand for the live market is shifting,” he told Pollstar. “Some of it is due to mobile, some of it is generational. … So we believe, fundamentally, the demand curve is shifting, fans are buying later, and event owners need new tools to ensure there is a butt in a seat.”
We reached out to Ticketmaster, who told Pollstar that it had seen a 34 percent growth in mobile ticket sales this year, a key behavior the company associates with last-minute purchasing. A rep for the company said they are working with integrations with Facebook, YouTube, Spotify and Google Assistant to actually make last-minute purchasing easier and the company has partnered with Gametime, a ticket-buying app that moves a large percentage of its inventory within seven days of an event.
More late-buying might also be due to the overall increase in the number of events, particularly in big markets. A number of agents recently told Pollstar that the live industry may be booming, but there is no longer a slow period, as even during the Thanksgiving Grind they are pushing to find rooms and navigate the festival traffic, sometimes a year in advance.
Patrick Ryan, co-founder of Eventellect, a ticket distribution and pricing company that mostly works in sporting events, said putting a ticket on sale too far in advance can often discourage early buying. 
“Why would I commit months in advance if I don’t know if I’m gonna be in the mood to go?” Ryan told Pollstar. “Four tickets … after service fees, a decent seat, [that could easily amount to] $800. 
WME’s Marc Geiger echoed this sentiment during his keynote speech at the IEBA conference earlier this year: “I don’t know one person who knows where they are going to be in seven months, nor are they available at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday to buy a ticket.”
Ryan went on to say that despite the availability of tickets online, pricing has a huge impact on a customer’s willingness to purchase early.
“I need to make sure that night of the week works,” he said. “[If] it’s a riskier purchase, I might not be able to sell it profitably. … As the cost goes up, fans need certainty they can purchase.”
Without referring to specific examples, Ryan said aggressive pricing is proving generally effective at reducing the willingness of resellers to buy large amounts of high-end seats (though it may still be leaving some gaps in the middle of the house). This means that online brokers do not inflate demand for a show by buying big portions of inventory, and explains why seats are often available through the primary ticketer at market value close to showtime.
On the flip side, when an artist wants the tickets to move quicker, they will price more modestly, making it seem like an excellent deal that fans need to move on because it is sure to run out.

Bruno Mars, after a show-stopping Super Bowl performance in 2016, started booking dates for his global “24k Magic” tour a year in advance, with the low end of tickets going for around $40-$50 in many North American markets, and the high end usually topping around $125-$150 [though in some it soared well beyond that, up to $500 in Las Vegas Sept. 2-3]. Those shows were basically packed houses and tickets were notoriously difficult to get ahead of time.

Ed Sheeran & Taylor Swift
John Davisson
– Ed Sheeran & Taylor Swift
Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift share the stage at 99.7 Now! Poptopia at SAP Center At San Jose in California Dec. 2.
Pop stars like Taylor Swift and Harry Styles are turning to services like Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan to make sure real fans get a crack at tickets well ahead of the tour, and these pop mega-stars seem capable of using the service to the fullest, though Styles’ choice of small venues left legions of disappointed fans and Taylor added second nights at six stadiums due to demand.
Lyte’s Ant Taylor gave Ticketmaster credit for Verified Fan as an effort to protect the consumer experience and ensure that there truly is a butt in a seat at the end of the day, as in recent years huge amounts of tickets have been snapped up immediately and resold on the secondary market, sometimes with astounding markups.
Taylor said it is the responsibility of all of us, as ticketing companies, to move towards the practices of the hotel and airline industries which control their inventory closely and protect consumers from secondary sites gouging them at the last minute. Those examples do price to market though, and tickets or rooms are usually more expensive the later one waits to buy.
One industry insider shared that pop fans tend to buy early – likely because of the astronomical demand – but other genres like metal and punk generally tend to buy later.
Kevin Lyman has been on the frontlines of the late-buying market for decades, running the Vans Warped Tour, which recently announced it will be putting on its last full tour in 2018. 
Lyman said he saw a decline in average age of attendance at this year’s Warped Tour, from the usual 16 to nearly 19, a trend he thinks bodes ill for the industry.
“That super young side of our demo just seemed to want to stay inside and watch Netflix,” he said. “I’ve been telling people ‘Look, if those 14-17-year-olds don’t turn into 18-21-year-olds that start going to concerts you lose them because concerts get imprinted in your DNA by the time you are 21. If you’re not going to shows by the time you’re 21, chances are they’re not gonna be that important to you.’”
Lyman speculated there are likely several reasons young people are not going to shows, including the rise in entertainment options, but also the fact that he sees so many shows are put on sale too far in advance, and tickets are then available at a discount through services like Groupon. He lamented that giving teenagers a discount after the initial onsale is actually training his audience to hold back on buying until they feel like they are getting a deal.
“Why buy a ticket full price when it might come up with Groupon,” he said. “I think we did it to ourselves in some ways. … It used to be that you would pay MORE later, as the show got closer. As the shows get closer now, it seems like so many of the ticket prices go down.”
Pollstar’s Ron Camacho, who is twenty-two-years old and recent college graduate. spoke about his own purchasing habits and said if he plans on attending an arena show, he knows he will have to buy early, but for clubs and theatres he usually assumes tickets will be available until day of show. He noted that there are probably a dozen bands he will sit at his computer and wait for the onsale for, the most recent being Arcade Fire at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif.
Arcade Fire
Chris Pizzello / Invision / AP
– Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire performs at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., Oct. 20.
“I just started going to shows a few years ago. My first show I went to [was] Warped Tour with a friend when I was 18. But I didn’t start to regularly go to concerts until I was 19. That’s because I had the money at that time, I finally made some friends who wanted to go, [and] they could pay for it.”
Camacho said one of the biggest barriers that kept him from exploring live music sooner was cost, since a $45 ticket is quite an investment for a high schooler without a job. He said even now, since he often has to go out of town for big shows, additional expenses like car rental, accommodations, gas, parking, and food make every potential arena ticket he buys a big expenditure.
“I’ve never been to a show by myself, I really don’t want to go to a show by myself. Even if I did have the money, it’s still a matter of ‘do my friends have the money too?’”
One more aspect of the late-buying question is each market itself: just as Warped Tour has a late-buying crowd, there are towns that tend to buy late.
Steve Eckerson of Bakersfield, Calif.’s Rabobank Arena said, especially for a large chunk of Bakersfield’s Spanish-language shows, residents tend to buy late. When Tim McGraw and Faith Hill came to town, Eckerson said tickets moved quick, and big tours that only come through every few years, “must-see” shows, will often buck the trend.
“I love the people that call-in three days out and can’t understand why they can’t get tickets in the first two rows,” he told Pollstar laughingly.
Interestingly, Eckerson said not only do many in Bakersfield buy late, but a substantial portion of their business is still done through the walk-up box office and not online, though that is changing.
Eckerson said he is noticing a trend for bigger shows to go on sale further in advance, but smaller shows are actually going on sale closer to the date of the performance. 
“They know people are waiting, so why spend extra money on advertising?”
Patrick Ryan said that the sheer volume of options available and the fact that if tickets are priced at market value, they may be cheaper at showtime, means that people generally aren’t being penalized for waiting. 
“People are trained to buy later,” he said. “The pricing needs to be attractive, so it’s like ‘Look, this is a good deal.’” 
“I think it’s smart for entities to introduce better pricing and not leave too much meat on the bone, but I think there’s a lot of benefits to having low prices.”
“Big picture, missing low is a better strategy than missing high because at least there was a body in the seat enjoying themselves and ideally buying concessions and merchandise”