Have festivals got too expensive for young fans?

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Young music fans have snubbed the Reading and Leeds Festival this year – is a stale line-up to blame? Or are rising tickets costs, fraudulent selling and ticket touts finally turning off cash-strapped youngsters?

The Consumer Price Index, the Bank of England Base Rate – these, and many other measures, show us what state our economy is in.

But if you want to know how bad things are for young people, look no further than ticket sales for the Reading and Leeds Festival this year.

Many weekend tickets are still available two months after going on sale. This is an astonishing development for a festival that normally sells out in hours.

Fans have been quick to blame a lacklustre line-up. Clashmusic.com highlighted how the headliners of current festivals – particularly Reading and Leeds – remain largely unchanged from a decade ago. It implies that organisers may be resting on their laurels.

“Look at this list: The Strokes, Pulp, Muse, Elbow, Eminem, The Streets, Mogwai, PJ Harvey… all bands that are playing a major role in festivals in 2011, all bands that played a major role in festivals in or around 2001. Has nothing changed in ten years? Why are we still going to see the same major acts? Is the supposedly healthy festival scene actually a bit stagnant?”

Young fans are asking the same questions, particularly when ticket prices have risen so dramatically. Reading/Leeds can cost well over £200 to attend today, compared to the average asking price of just £90 ten years ago. There is also the massive booking fee and all your potential expenses to consider, such as parking tickets (£5 in advance, £10 on the gate at Reading/Leeds), the cost of other transport and pocket money for food and drink. By the time you’ve got home and had a much needed shower, you’ll be lucky to have change from £300 or even £400.

It is little wonder that ticket prices for Reading/Leeds have outgrown the pockets of young customers.

“Ticket sales are starting to show people have less money,” says Scott Williams of Efestivals.co.uk. “The reason Reading and Leeds haven’t sold out is not just because of the headliners but because their demographic is school leavers and they’ve now got nine grand a year debt when they go to college.”

Tim Fahey, of the Virtual Festivals website, agrees. “Reading and Leeds is seen as a sort of a rite of passage for young music lovers and it may be out of their price range.”

The “Strictly Reading” fan website believes the festival (primarily targeted at the 18- 25 year old market) has been blind to the financial woes of young people. The website compiled a list of the most expensive festivals to attend this year and Reading came top of the league.

“Money is tight, especially for Reading and Leeds typical festival goers: teenagers and young adults…This has caused young festival goers to either look away from festivals as they can’t afford to fund them this year or to be more selective with their money, choosing just one major festival.”

Yet festivals are not on the wane. Isle of Wight, T in the Park and V Festival have completely sold out this year, with smaller events enjoying healthy sales. The king of them all, Glastonbury, had weekend ticket prices approaching £200 – but that didn’t stop the event selling out within hours.

All this is a far cry from the free festival that Michael Eavis, a dairy farmer, established on his land in Somerset in 1970. Now Glastonbury, alongside the other top 199 festivals in the UK, contributes around £450 million to the UK economy each year. Festivals have grown into an industry worth over £1.4 billion, according to figures collected by Mintel in 2008. Considering that there were some 670 events of this type that year, compared to over 900 this year, that figure will have massively increased in the past four years alone. As record sales have diminished, live performing has become a vital revenue stream for musicians and an important promotional tool.

Festivals have also played host to legendary moments in music, such as the famed Nirvana performance at Reading/Leeds in 1992, making them unmissable events for young fans and a central part of youth culture. Demand for festivals exploded – but so did the cost of running them.

Inflation, policing costs and the sheer of expense of managing big events (such as maintaining high standards of health and safety) have inevitably pushed up ticket prices. Compounding the problem are online touts, who buy up tickets in bulk and flog them on the internet at much higher prices. Touting itself has grown into a lucrative business for those that can get their hands on golden tickets; one study followed a tout who made around £28,000 last year just by selling tickets for events like the Take That tour, Rugby Union matches and more. The tickets, on average, sold out at twice or three times the original face value, but a few fetched over £1000.

But it isn’t surprising that the industry hasn’t done much to stamp out touting. Festivals have cut costs by selling exclusively online and sell out quickly this way, giving the organisers the cash flow they need to pay suppliers and provide the festival that was promised. When refunds are non-existent and demand high, customers have been prepared to pay the higher market price of these tickets. Even when recommendations have been brought in and legislation called for, it is difficult to clamp down on those who hide behind the internet and often operate from abroad, especially without punishing genuine fans who can’t make events and wish to sell on tickets.

A tout could make as much as £28,000 last year just by selling tickets to the Take That tour, rugby union matches and more

Secondary selling websites, such as Seatwave and Viagogo, have sprung up to allow people to pass on tickets to desperate fans who couldn’t get them first time round.

But last summer, tickets for major events, such as the Whitney Houston and Ricky Gervais tours, began to appear on secondary websites for half their face value. Some fans are increasingly reluctant to buy up expensive tickets far in advance of these events. Many are worried about being sold tickets that don’t even exist. Fraudulent websites cost the UK £168 million last year and left many fans disappointed and out of pocket.

Touts, meanwhile, have become savvy enough to realise when people won’t pay top dollar. To avoid a loss if tickets aren’t sold, they are staying away from events that miss the mark – like Reading/Leeds. 

By the time Festival Republic, the organisers of the festival, got round to launching its line-up in March, tickets had already been snapped up for countless alternatives, some much cheaper.

‘Strictly Reading’ concurs. “Reading’s minimal hype and decision to launch its line up last (again) seems baffling.

“Isle Of Wight, T in The Park, V, Glastonbury and Foo Fighters at Milton Keynes bowl were all sold out in advance of the Reading/Leeds line up launch…In this economic climate, the idea that Reading/Leeds without so much as whimper let those festivals announce first, knowing full well they had a weak line up, is simply lunacy.”

Another issue is that so many festivals are now courting older fans who have more cash to splash. Some of the measures introduced to lure in wealthier punters include family friendly events, more diverse musical acts and sophisticated accommodation choices (large teepees and gypsy caravans, anyone?)

But young people are wising up to the touts, fraudulent sellers and inflated ticket costs – all to see some of the same acts from years gone by. For many, it just isn’t worth the hassle.

These are my tips for avoiding rip-offs and scams, spotting the online bargains and even getting tickets for free. 

Volunteer at your favourite festival.

Reading/Leeds are looking for people to fill their “CATs” (Campsite Assistant Teams), who help people pitch their tents, inform them about the line-up and give out directions. Volunteers serve three 8 hour shifts in the festival and gain free entry, plus access to a volunteer area with camping facilities, cafe, bar and showers. You have to submit a refundable deposit of £225 and be over 18 to take part. More information is available at the festival’s website. Other festivals run similar schemes, though some fill up very quickly.

Check out smaller festivals…

Many are free! Others don’t sell out quickly, if at all, and often have a more intimate atmosphere than the big names, but with a fair share of star acts worth catching. They can offer enticing ticket deals to draw in new customers too. Believe it or not, Hop Farm Festival was selling raincoats for £10 and throwing in free tickets to the festival last summer. Check out the Efestivals website – the list is growing all the time.

…but beware the risk of cancellation.

When festivals don’t sell enough tickets, they often have no choice but to pull the plug. Some people are still waiting on refunds for festivals cancelled last summer. If a festival is particularly small or hasn’t been staged before, proceed with caution.

Consider a day ticket.

This is a canny move if you live near enough to travel to and from the festival. There are often more available and can be a much cheaper option. Latitude day tickets cost £100 less than the full weekend deal.

Shop around for tickets if they are sold out.

The value of tickets is not necessarily the same on all secondary websites. Not everyone who sells is a tout and some reasonable fans pop up and sell at more or less face value. But take into account the transaction fees charged by these sites as well as postage and packaging. 

Beware of websites that are not on the official list of resellers.

Safeconcerts.comprovides a vetting service on its website. Many festivals don’t send out tickets until a week or two before the event. Any websites asking for lots of cash far in advance of the event should be treated with suspicion. Fraudsters can also operate on reputable exchange websites like scarletmist.com – tell-tale signs include sellers offering tickets for multiple events. Do your research and be careful before handing your card details over to anyone who can’t be contacted or verified.

It can pay to wait.

If you can’t get music tickets for the right price at first, don’t buy straight away. Big acts often announce extra dates for tours, whilst touts can overestimate the demand for events and lower their prices in time – this pattern has applied to reunion and comeback tours in particular.

Try your luck at competitions.

There are so many that offer the chance to win tickets, it’s worth a punt. Look for online competitions, particularly on social networking pages of festivals and sponsors, and save phone charges.

Get in touch with Iona – tweet @ionayoungmoney or leave a comment below.

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