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How About a Little Promotion, Mr. Promoter?

As I write this, it's the July Fourth weekend. Corn is knee-high, but the music touring biz which should be showing a healthy growth spurt by this time

As I write this, it’s the July Fourth weekend. Corn is knee-high, but the music touring biz — which should be showing a healthy growth spurt by this time — is not a pretty picture. In fact, the summer of 2004 may end up among the worst touring seasons ever. So far, the big Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears tours have dropped out and Lollapalooza (a surefire hit in years past) flopped out — all from a lack of sales.

Ticket sales are down, so what’s up with that? Promoters can point to the economy or a thousand other excuses, but meanwhile, other sectors in entertainment are doing just fine, thank you: CD sales are up, even with the emergence of new platforms for legal downloads; major (and even minor) league baseball is packing ’em in; movies are enjoying a banner year; and video game sales show no signs of slowing. So why the slump in live music shows?

It’s certainly not for any lack of artists and the ticket-buying fans who love them. And there’s no shortage of great venues or first-rate sound and lighting companies to support the shows. However, is a floor-level seat to see Sting worth $115? Or how about a Who ticket for $190? And once you figure in the parking, a $45 T-shirt and the ticket purchase service charge (I wish someone would clue me in on where the “service” part of that comes in!), your evening of fun could easily set you back $300…$400…or $500 — not including dinner or even cheese nachos and a Budweiser. To be perfectly fair, you could opt for a couple of lawn tickets and probably get by for under $100, but the picnic atmosphere loses a lot of its charm when you’re sitting a quarter-mile from the stage, watching a video screen, listening to delay towers, and 10 minutes into the show, some drunk spills a bucket of beer on your blanket. “Sorry, man.”

Hey, I don’t expect the concert experience to return back to what it was like in 1969, when I could plunk down three bucks and catch Santana and the Grateful Dead, or The Byrds and Fleetwood Mac at The Fillmore West. How about a little value added to today’s $100 tickets? Tours may be sponsored by Miller Beer or Ford Trucks, but other than some promoter taking in a bunch of cash in exchange for hanging some banners, such tie-ins hardly benefit the consumer.

The concert industry could learn a lot from other industries. Fast food pumps up its sales via promotional giveaways: free action figures, souvenir glasses, etc. Pro baseball has “free hat” days and even $2 bleacher ticket coupons in Pepsi 12-packs. Live theater has done well with half-price day-of-sale ticket kiosks in Times Square, Leicester Square and elsewhere.

Although it’s rare, this has happened in live music: Bill Graham Presents was enormously successful in a recent promotion, where a sale of lawn tickets for 60 shows were offered at $20, resulting in 50,000 sales in one day — a million dollars, hardly chump change. Add in the extra parking, concessions and merchandising revenues and the economics come easy: There’s a lot more money to be made from a packed half-price stadium than a half-filled house at full-pop. With a little smart thinking and good old-fashioned promotion, a savvy promoter could have SRO venues, which would be good for everybody.