Ticket buying habits for entertainment events appear to have changed amid COVID-19

The deluge of bookings heading into 2023 is immense, but ticket buyers are acting differently.

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Pent-up demand for in-person arts and entertainment is fueling a busy fall season, with an entertainment calendar filled with events of all sizes.

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“The saturation of the market right now is just unbelievable, I have more shows for September and October than I’ve ever had,” said Mo Tarmohamed, owner of the 1,000-seat Rickshaw Theater in Vancouver.

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Laura Ballance of Laura Ballance Media Group, who manages communications for the PNE, echoed Tarmohamed in noting that the PNE amphitheater is at capacity. The 7,000-seat venue was packed for the full series of this year’s Summer Nights at PNE and has shows booked through November.

“To put into perspective how busy we are, the remaining bookings for 2022 are greater than our total number in 2019,” Ballance said. “We have set site records for September, October and November and Spring 2023 is almost complete.

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“There is obviously a big appetite for live music, we saw it this year too with the PNE.

But presenters are noticing ticket buyers are adopting new habits as COVID-19 continues to affect the community. While many trendy or megastar bookings sell out quickly, tickets for smaller artists or events move much slower, even until shortly before the event.

“The ticket buying landscape in 2022 is completely different, people’s disposable income for leisure has declined, facilitating strong growth in last-minute purchases,” said Zack Herbert, talent buyer for Canadian concert presenter Timbre Concerts.

“Obviously there are artists like Phoebe Bridgers, who sold out two nights at the 2,700-seat Orpheum almost the moment the shows were announced, but for so many others, we are seeing this big spike in the last two weeks. This puts real pressure on predicting what shows will do.

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Herbert attributes some of these changes to the fact that there are still many tickets in circulation purchased in 2019 that have yet to be redeemed. But as prices rise and disposable income falls for many, doing business as usual will no longer be the case.

Mo Tarmohamed, owner/operator of the Rickshaw Theatre.
Mo Tarmohamed, owner/operator of the Rickshaw Theatre. Photo by Mo Tarmohamed /.jpg

Tarmohamed isn’t complaining about being more reserved than ever, but he wonders if the market can handle the level of saturation he’s seeing.

“In a way, it’s just awesome,” he said. “But I’m worried that some shows that would normally go very well may not be performing as usual due to the large number of upcoming tours. We will face several shows on the same evening, which will certainly have an impact on attendance.

Filling new dates for tours that were postponed before the pandemic is putting such demand on the limited supply of venues in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland that some tours that would have been certain to come here are now skipping through.

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Notable exceptions to the Lower Mainland concert schedule include perennial favorites Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, indie darlings Pavement and Marcus Mumford’s solo tour of Mumford & Sons.

Herbert notes that some acts avoid crossing the border into British Columbia, although many of the same artists keep Toronto and Montreal dates on the books. Additionally, many of these fall dates are still satisfying events originally scheduled for 2019 or brief openings in 2020/21. This skews the quality of ticket sales, as many of these events may already have sold out, even after repeat bookings.

Herbert and Tarmohamed both note that there has been a bizarre change in the number of drops – the actual number of attendees at a performance. Whether it’s because people have become conditioned to opt out of an evening’s entertainment if they feel even slightly “off” about it, or because advance bulk purchases for groups can now include those who left town – ticket holders did not show up is a development no one saw coming.

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“Shane’s Drunk Tank Pink tour recently came to the Rickshaw with 500 pre-sales and 100 of them didn’t air,” Hebert said. “Twenty percent of shoppers who don’t show up, that’s impossible to fathom. Significant no-shows are being reported everywhere. There may be a link to ticket prices – we haven’t seen that kind of drop for the more expensive seats of Phoebe Bridgers – but it still puts real pressure on talent buying decisions.

In an environment where operating expenses are above pre-pandemic levels for everything from air travel to accommodation and food, budgeting can be difficult.

Kevin Tobin, artistic director of the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival, says larger-format destination festivals are a bit better positioned to sell tickets in advance. The annual weekend of music ranging from well-known artists such as Jann Arden or Five Alarm Funk to emerging Aboriginal singer/songwriter William Prince regularly attracts over 20,000 people. This year saw a record attendance of over 5,000 people on opening night following the best advance ticket sales figures the event has seen in its 30-year history.

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“It was my first festival as an AD after 20 years at the Saskatoon Jazz Festival, and we had great early sales in December, before anything other than the dates were announced,” Tobin said. “My scheduling strategy was to mitigate any issues we might have had with international artists, as well as working from an original 50% capacity limit. It couldn’t have gone better and we will continue with ticketing very early in advance.

Even so, the struggle to balance the books at the end of the year could leave the content selection a victim. The 150-seat Presentation House Theater in North Vancouver is recording historically high sales for its specialized youth programming. Its box office sees a change in buying habits for more difficult material.

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“What we’re seeing at Presentation House Theater is that people are eager to come back, but they’re slower to book,” said communications manager Doris Pfister Murphy. “I think after a few years of conditioning they are less likely to pre-purchase for something that might be canceled or that they might not be able to attend due to a cough or something. thing. The biggest box office comeback we’ve seen is people opting for interactive, guided theater for the young adult shows we’re known for, but the new, more serious content isn’t doing as well.

Whether we laugh or cry until the new year remains to be seen. For now, ticket buyers are acting differently, and presenters are trying to find ways to work with that.

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Jennifer R. Strohm