Search This Blog


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I wouldn't buy a £50 ticket in a £30 economy

Happened to catch a tea interval conversation on Test Match Special between Jonathan Agnew and the bloke in charge of the Oval during yesterday's England-Pakistan test match. The subject was the poor attendances we've seen during internationals in other parts of the country finally starting to affect the London matches. The Bloke, who was very reasonable and perfectly happy to accept criticism, admitted the evidence seemed to be pointing to the fact that the prices might be too high. The cheapest ticket to attend a London Test for just one of its five days was £50.

He let slip that he'd always believed that if people would pay £30 they would pay £50. This is a classic example of how prices rise in a boom. The people setting the prices - whether they're the people running the Oval or the managers of your favourite indie rock band - keep pushing the price until they feel the market begin to push back. They do it in bigger increments all the time. It's not hard to see their reasoning. They've got to make up for massive shortfalls elsewhere, whether it's the drop-off in record sales or attendances at county matches, and they argue that £50 for six hours of top class sporting entertainment seems reasonable, certainly compared to whatever you have to pay at Chelsea or Arsenal or the Grand Prix.

This is not how the customer sees it. The customer, generally male, sees it as £50 each for him and possibly his wife; then maybe another £50 for two offspring; add in the general expenses of a day out (transport, parking, food, drink, unforeseens) and it's not hard to spend £200 on what could turn out to be a weather disrupted day of no great distinction without any winner at the end of it. And here it's not like football. Our man could spend £200 and return home with a family which is less happy than the one he went out with.

It's the same with rock bands. You might be able to demand £50 for your absolute favourite performing at the top of their game in a perfect venue. Problem is that a lot of the time you're delivering the act you've always kind of wanted to get round to seeing performing a ho-hum set in an unsympathetic venue with rotten sight lines. People don't go home from an unsatisfactory day or night out saying, oh, well, you have to take the rough with the smooth. They go home feeling angry and swindled.

Part of the answer, of course, is for the £50 ticket to go back to being £30. At £30 you might be prepared to take the risk. For £30 you might be prepared to give the event the benefit of the doubt. It ultimately makes a kind of sense for the promoters too. Already in the USA this summer they've been slashing the prices of tickets for big stadium shows because they have to get people in there to buy the tee shirts and to pay for the parking. Otherwise they're stuck with hugely expensive real estate with nobody in it. There's a piece about this in the latest issue of The Word.

While the web has had a deflationary effect on most things over the last few years, with live entertainment it's pushed prices in the other direction. This seems to be at an end. You can't go on charging £50 when everybody out there knows it's a £30 economy. Not unless you're going to be able to guarantee the experience.