The Current

Is dynamic ticket pricing preventing you from seeing your favourite artist? You're not alone

The working-class fan is having trouble paying for a ticket to go see their working-class hero. People wanting to see Bruce Springsteen on his upcoming tour have been met with fluctuating, high prices for even the furthest of seats.

Bruce Springsteen fans have complained about tickets costing thousands of dollars

Two men with guitars perform energetically on a stage.
Bruce Springsteen, left, performs with guitarist Steven Van Zandt on July 8, 2009 during a concert in Herning, Denmark. (Claus Fisker/AFP/Getty Images)

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The working-class fan is having trouble affording a ticket to see their working-class hero. People wanting to see Bruce Springsteen on his upcoming tour have been met with high-priced tickets, sold on Ticketmaster, that fluctuate in cost for even the furthest of seats. 

"Just this morning, I saw a single ticket for $1,893 … for one seat that was on the other side of the arena," said Donna Gray, a Springsteen fan in Connecticut.

The New York Times reports some of the Springsteen tickets cost in excess of $5,000 US.

Those high prices are part of what's called dynamic pricing, a system that bases the ticket price on the demand at the time. It's used by ticketing services including Ticketmaster, but also airlines, Amazon, sports teams and Uber.

Gray runs an organization called Bruce Funds, which helps raise money to buy tickets for fans who otherwise can't afford them. She says the frustration over trying to buy a ticket has made it hard for her to even listen to the boss. 

"His lyrics always gave me something to wrap around me if it was a hard time going through something. The death of my mother, for example," said Gray. 

"But when seeing him live, or trying to get tickets to see him live, then becomes a part of a hard time in your life because you can't afford it, it's a bit ironic."

Uncertainty in costs

Dynamic pricing can not only raise the price of a ticket, but also leaves people unsure about the right time to buy, according to Bonnie Stiernberg, managing editor at men's lifestyle website Inside Hook.

"They get worried, they think, 'Oh gosh, this is going to sell out,'" Stiernberg told The Current guest host Peter Armstrong.

"So they maybe spend more than they would have normally been willing to spend on these tickets."

In an emailed statement, Ticketmaster says that 88.2 per cent of tickets to Springsteen's shows were sold at set prices. The statement said prices for arena shows ranged from $59.50 to $399 US before service fees, and the average set ticket price was $202 US.

Ticketmaster said in an emailed statement that only a percentage of Springsteen tickets are sold through dynamic pricing. (Dan McGarvey/CBC )

But Stiernberg says that's not what fans have been seeing. 

"The regular priced [tickets] got snatched up pretty much immediately, and what's left now is insane prices," said Stiernberg. 

"I certainly haven't seen anything under like $300 recently." 

In a statement to the New York Times, Springsteen's manager Jon Landau said that pricing is based on what the musician's peers are charging. 

"We chose prices that are lower than some and on par with others," he told the newspaper. 

Avoiding high prices

Stiernberg says part of the problem is still scalpers and others who buy mass amounts of tickets with the goal of reselling them for higher prices. 

"There are hundreds of tickets available for all of these Bruce Springsteen shows on secondary markets like StubHub, so clearly someone is banking on the fact that there are people out there who will pay these outrageous prices." 

Sam Weinstein says dynamic pricing is something people will have to learn to deal with. In fact, he believes dynamic pricing will likely seep its way into other parts of life. Weinstein is a lawyer and associate professor of law at Yeshiva University, and recently co-authored a paper on dynamic pricing and its potential impact on consumers.

"We are just going to see more and more dynamic pricing," said Weinstein.

"Now we see it only online, essentially. But I think there's a tech coming that will transfer it to physical stores by using certain kinds of technologically-advanced price tags." 

It's getting more expensive to go to concerts because of dynamic pricing, experts say. (melis / Shutterstock)

He says it's hard to tell now what the solutions will be, and adds that governments need to step in and come up with new legislation to regulate this.

But how to avoid paying top dollar for tickets? Stiernberg recommends not buying them when they first go on sale, and instead exercise patience and persistence. 

"Keep checking the prices regularly because they do fluctuate. And I don't think necessarily that the shows are going to sell out immediately," said Stiernberg. 

"As we've seen with Bruce Springsteen, I think people are sort of reaching a limit with insane prices and realizing that maybe it's not feasible or sustainable, and so there are a lot of tickets still available later on down the road."

Written by Philip Drost. Produced by Ben Jamieson. 

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