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Mix Live Blog: Higher Road Expense

FOH engineer/Mix blogger Steve La Cerra discovers another surprise side-effect of the pandemic: More concert security.

Blue Öyster Cult, doing its thing on stage. Photo: Steve La Cerra.

A few days ago, when I was settling a show and reviewing expenses with the promoter, I noticed that the expenditure for security looked kinda high. When I asked about it, he explained that his concert security costs have tripled in the past year—and it’s not because patrons are getting rowdier. It’s because venues that have implemented Covid screening protocols need increased security. I must admit, I hadn’t really thought about it until that moment.

This particular venue has the following Covid health protocol in place (you’ve no doubt seen something similar):

Proof of current vaccination or a negative test for COVID-19 within 72 hours is required for all public performances. Please be sure to bring this with you as well as a photo ID. Proof of current vaccination must include either TWO doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or ONE dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The negative test results must be officially dated within 72 hours of the event you are attending.  

Guess who’s responsible for verifying vax status as each patron enters the building: the concert security team (not me, thank God). In this particular venue, that’s 800 people whose docs need to be verified—and that’s nothing when compared to a venue that normally hosts pro and college sports.

Couple this with the fact that the venue was state-owned and therefore already had a bag-check policy at the door, and you come up with higher expenses (not to mention a really slow walk-in). Security workers need to be paid, and the result on the settlement sheet is a significant bump in operational expenses as compared to a night at the same venue, pre-Covid.

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The question then becomes, “Who’s paying the bill?”

In this case, the venue picked up the tab and promptly passed it off to the promoter, who was renting the building for the day. That leaves the promoter with a few options: they could eat it, pass it off to patrons in the form of a higher ticket price, or possibly charge it to the artist against either their guarantee (not likely) or a potential bonus point (much more likely).

That’s a tough decision. Part of a promoter’s job is knowing the artist’s demographic and finding that “sweet spot” of ticket pricing to ensure that sales don’t suffer. As the band’s manager has said, “If it was easy, we’d promote the shows ourselves.” But it’s not, so we don’t.

Unfortunately, the concert-going fan will likely bear the expense. It will be interesting to see if ticket prices—which are already in the stratosphere for some acts—fall back to earth a bit as Covid restrictions are lifted and the amount of security required for a production can be reduced to pre-pandemic levels.

My guess is that prices won’t fall for the foreseeable future, especially since the demand for live entertainment is on the upswing as the Covid fog slowly rolls out of our way.