High ticket prices have been the subject of complaints for years. It doesn’t seem to matter what the ticket is for. Whether it’s a concert, a sports event or almost anything else, people have watched prices rise for a long time.
Some of that is the traditional griping that almost every consumer engages in. We know inflation means prices increase over time. We don’t generally like it, but people usually understand incremental increases. What’s harder to adapt to is sudden sticker shock, and from what we’re hearing that’s a concern right now.
It sure seems like ticket prices for events are way up. Part of that isn’t surprising. After a disastrous 2020 for entertainment venues, there is a genuine need to recover some revenue. Even as things open back up many venues will be hurting until they can begin to rebuild their account balances.
But there’s also a risk of overreach, and that’s our concern. Remember, people are still recovering financially, too. If venues price people out, they won’t be able to take advantage of the clear pent-up demand for events to the same degree as they might otherwise see.
Mass entertainment has traditionally relied on access to the middle class. That’s how people remember it. There’s nostalgia for times when a family could reasonably go to a baseball game without it costing an arm and a leg, or to be able to see a race in person without taking out a mortgage. We’re not so sure those days exist anymore, and there’s risk to sports’ long-term health because of it.
The cheapest regular price for tickets to a Brewers game will cost a family of four at least $22 a pop. That’s before you figure in the prices for parking, concessions, any souvenirs the kids might want, and the cost of getting to and from Milwaukee. It’s not hard to see the entire trip wind up costing something in the neighborhood of $300.
In July, NASCAR is bringing a cup series race to Wisconsin. The sport has long highlighted its humble roots and connections to fans. Tickets for Sunday alone run $85. Parking on-site is extra, though there is off-site parking and a free shuttle. The fact many fans want to make NASCAR a multi-day event adds to the costs. Think camping would be a cheaper option? A wristband runs $70, otherwise you’re staying in a hotel and that’s not going to be cheap.
It’s not just sporting events. We’ve heard of people having sticker shock for festivals this summer, too. We’re genuinely curious to see what attendance at those events is this year. There’s no question demand is there, but is fans’ sense of safety?
Our basic concern comes down to the inevitable alienation sports can create if they don’t take care to ensure costs are in line with what the majority of people can reasonably afford. There’s no question that the best way to experience a concert, a game or a race is to be there in person. The live experience can’t be beat.
But if that’s not attainable — and the spiraling costs threaten to make that the reality for a lot of families — television is a secondary option. It’s not as good. You don’t have the same electricity that comes with a crowd. But at least it’s available, right?
Increasingly, no. We’ve heard plenty of complaints this year from baseball fans blocked from broadcasts by seemingly arbitrary blackouts. There are areas of the country hundreds of miles from the nearest major-league team that are still considered home territory for multiple teams, leaving fans with few options. Unless, that is, they spring for an expensive streaming package that’s just as much a crass money grab as it sounds like.
We don’t see the sense in pushing fans away. It doesn’t make sense to us. That’s especially true when leagues face situations like what Major League Baseball seems to be heading toward. There are a lot of observers who think some sort of work stoppage is likely once the current contract with the players runs out. MLB needed years to recover from the last time that happened. It needs every bit of goodwill it can get now to emerge in better shape this time.
Venues, leagues and events shouldn’t underestimate the goodwill that can be maintained simply by keeping events at reasonable prices. Raising prices may bring immediate gains, but we urge events to keep prices reasonable. Consider it an investment in the long term.