COVID-19 has devastated the concert business for over a year, but all signs point to enough pent-up demand that the touring industry could soon see a post-pandemic boom.
Consumers who attended shows regularly before the pandemic seem eager to return to concert venues: Less than 15% of ticketholders requested refunds to events that weren't canceled, according to Ticketmaster. And research shows that a significant percentage of fans who bought tickets to some of the first shows amid lifted pandemic restrictions -- including tours by Bad Bunny and The Weeknd, as well as Rolling Loud festivals in Miami and New York -- will be attending either their first concert ever or their first show in two years.
New data compiled by Billboard reveal that new fans are entering or re-entering the market for concert tickets, because either they're buying tickets for the first time or are eager to participate in a communal experience after a year in lockdown. If they continue to buy tickets after the initial demand wanes, they represent an opportunity to expand the live-music business for years to come.
Historically, it has been difficult to predict trends in touring because most ticket sales data comes from shows that have already taken place. But forward-looking data suggests the concert business has a bright future in the short term -- and perhaps long after that as well.
One encouraging sign is a growing interest in festival tickets on the secondary market. Before the pandemic, festivals weren't a major category, aside from big-name events like Coachella and Lollapalooza -- mostly because they don't typically sell out. That has changed this year, as fans are eager to get out but still mitigating any COVID-19 risk that indoor shows might present.
"We're seeing a 300% increase in inventory and fan searches on our site for festivals," says Jesse Lawrence, founder of FanIQ, a ticket resale marketing and data firm. Much of this increase comes from a surge in first-time ticket buyers, adds Lawrence.
Two events that are attracting a considerable number of buyers who haven't been to a concert in a while are Atlanta's hip-hop- and R&B-focused ONE Musicfest and the wine/gourmet food-themed BottleRock Napa Valley in California. These are the kinds of "higher end, aspirational events that [customers] planned to attend in the past and aren't going to miss this year," says Lawrence. "They also have to feel safe -- meaning they're outdoors and spread out."
One trend that took off during the pandemic was the virtual concerts that fans could watch online during lockdown -- and there has been considerable debate about whether demand for livestreams will drop once touring returns. So far, according to a recent study by UTA, consumers plan to continue to livestream events and attend concerts, in the same way that sports fans watch games on TV and also see them in arenas and stadiums.
"The pandemic forced us to use new technologies that facilitate livestreaming and video calls," says Joseph Kessler, global head of UTA IQ. "Once we grew comfortable with them, we incorporated them into our lives and will continue using them after the pandemic."
Music performances were the top category of virtual events that consumers viewed during the pandemic, and 75% of those who watched them said they would continue to do so after the pandemic. But that didn't seem to diminish their desire to see more live concerts, with one in three saying they were more important now than before the pandemic, while one in four said that they would cut back on other spending to attend more shows.
Money and time limit how many concerts anyone can attend, of course, but fans are often willing to stretch their budgets when their favorite artists go on tour. As states lift restrictions on live events, new concerts are being announced at a steady pace, according to concert marketing and data aggregation company Bandsintown, which has listings on its website.
Between March and June, the number of live-music events added to the site increased an average of 31% every four weeks. The interest in those shows, as measured by online traffic, has been quickly growing but pre-pandemic comparisons suggest demand is still behind supply for now. By the end of June, the number of concert listings on the site was at 59% of its 2019 level, while the number of clicks that indicate an interest in purchasing tickets was at 46%. (The clicks, however, are dependent on the website's active users -- while event listings are posted directly to the site by artists.)
For now, the number of shows that fans can attend seems to be growing even faster than the demand to see them, which -- if it continues -- could mean more options for concertgoers but a tough situation for some acts and promoters. It's hard to know how this will affect fans, who tend to react in the moment -- they can weigh shows against one another, or even change their plans to attend one in order to see another. But, over time, demand could catch up to supply, and concert promoters, who think long term about when to put tickets on sale and how much to charge, will have to consider these variables when shaping their strategies.
This is easier said than done: It's tempting to put tickets on sale soon, and for a relatively high price, to capitalize on pent-up demand. But competition will be fierce -- and it's changing so quickly that anticipating market conditions several months from now is harder than it has ever been.