Want to see Madonna‘s Madame X show in New York? No problem. As of yesterday there were about 3,000 tickets available to one of her 17 shows at Brooklyn’s Howard Gilman Opera House. Same for her shows in Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Miami — fans can still buy tickets directly from the “Medellin” singer through Ticketmaster for all 48 shows on her intimate Madame X theater tour in the U.S.
That’s normal. A lack of sellouts for what some would consider a once-in-a-lifetime experience doesn’t mean that Madonna’s tour is “tarnished” as the New York Post claimed yesterday. Similar things were said about Taylor Swift‘s Reputation tour, which went on to be the highest grossing U.S. tour of 2018, as well as Jay-Z, whose 4:44 tour was the highest grossing of his career.
The truth about Madonna’s ticket sales are more complicated than a Page Six headline and foreshadow changes to the way tickets are priced and sold that will ultimately reshape how the music industry views success in touring.
In Madonna’s case, on Monday, Live Nation released about 3,000 unsold tickets to the public. Madonna sold 31,000 tickets during the presale for her 17 New York shows and the tickets left over represent 8.8% of available ticketing inventory for the New York run. With exactly three months to go until the first show on Sept. 12, there’s little doubt the iconic artist will sell the remaining tickets says Arthur Fogel, chairman of global music and president of global touring at Live Nation, which is promoting the tour.
So why is the media piling on like Madonna has been canceled if she has sold more than 90% of her tickets for the New York shows?
“In life, the only guarantees are death, taxes and the New York Post takedown piece on Madonna,” jokes Fogel, who has battled the tabloid over its negative coverage of her tours going back to 2008’s Sticky and Sweet Tour. (That tour was described as a flop by the Post and to this day holds the record for highest-grossing tour by a female artist with $408 million in ticket sales.)
“We started with seven shows” for Madonna in Brooklyn, Fogel says, “then added five more to get to 12 shows then added another five to get to 17. I’m adding shows because it’s a flop? Is that some kind of new business model that I’m not familiar with?”
In fairness, Madonna’s tickets prices are part of an even evolution in how concerts are priced, although the Queen of Pop has always charged more for tickets than her contemporaries. For decades, an artist’s ability to quickly sell out shows has been the barometer of success, although as the secondary market matured, artists are increasingly realizing that it usually wasn’t fans that created instant sellouts. It was brokers. And in recent years it’s also been bots buying up tickets they think are underpriced and then relisting them on sites like StubHub and Viagogo for double and triple face value.
The concert business has been watching and, seeing how much money is being made on the secondary market, has increasingly shifted to more aggressive pricing strategies to earn more money for artists while also making it difficult for scalpers to resale tickets for a profit.
For Madonna, that meant charging $1,650 plus fees to sit in the front row, $1,350–$700 to sit in the front orchestra section, $550 per ticket to sit in the mezzannine section and $359 to sit in the rear balcony. Many of her longtime fans were not happy with the pricing, but “if she were to put them on sale at half the price, they would immediately be bought up by brokers and listed on StubHub,” says Patrick Ryan with Eventellect, a ticket pricing and distribution company.
Instead the tickets are priced at what end consumers are willing to pay and sell slower than in the past with more lead time out to move the pricier platinum tickets and VIP packages. While the shows might not technically sell out, Madonna is going to make far more money than anyone else playing venues that size and will likely walk away with one of the highest grossest theater tours in history.
Fogel says more than 100,000 people registered for Madonna’s Verified Fan presale for the Brooklyn shows. Ticketmaster then “scrubs those accounts and kicks out known scalpers and people using multiple credit cards to buys tickets,” he says.
Live Nation allows the remaining presale registrants their crack at buying tickets and “at the end of the process, there’s some tickets left,” he adds. “And those tickets were put on sale yesterday because the registrants we’re all satisfied. So out of 17 shows, 34,000 tickets available, there’s a few thousand tickets left. So fucking what?”
Fogel would not state how Madonna’s 34% purchase rate from Verified Fan registrants compares to the service’s average, but did note brokers often flood the zone with thousands of fake account to break through the Verified Fan presale. Fans also register and don’t buy tickets, often because the lower priced tickets they requested get bought up first. Instead of buying the more expensive ticket, many just don’t buy anything,
Ryan says he wasn’t surprised by the high prices and thinks the tickets will sell, but added that Madonna probably could do more to promote the tour.
“She’s not going to be playing in front of an empty balcony, but she needs to do something because she has been largely out of sight,” says Ryan.
Madonna performed at the Billboard Music Awards and Eurovision, but Ryan says the singer needs to get back into the celebrity news cycle to get people talking and raise more awareness about the concerts, which he likens to Bruce Springsteen‘s Broadway series last year.
“She doesn’t have 75 million followers on Instagram (she has 13.8 million). She’s been very quiet. Guys like Bruce Springsteen don’t have huge social media followings, but he plays and plays and plays and that builds a lot of momentum because people are talking about it on social media. She’s kind of been out of sight, out of mind and she’s got to get out there,” Ryan says. “Stir the pot a little — maybe make out with Britney Spears again at an award show or date Shawn Mendes or one of the guys in BTS. If she does something big this summer to get into the news, her ticket sales will take off.”
Fogel says he’s not worried about selling the remaining tickets and says he might even expand the tour to throw off the haters.
“Maybe in New York I’ll add a few shows just to fuck with the Post,” he laughs.