Katie McPhee, Eventbrite’s head of marketing for the UK and Ireland, talks ‘VIP’ festival tickets.
2018 was an exceptional summer for the UK. It saw the festival and outdoor concert season basking in images of crowds enjoying themselves in the sunshine.
Outdoor spaces and parks have been transformed into temporary communities and villages, where people have gathered together to enjoy the event and take advantage of the many other experiences on offer. The images we’ve seen have been sunny, sometimes dusty, without a rain cloud in sight.
However, one cloud on the horizon has been the response to ‘golden circles’ by artists, especially when they are impacting the atmosphere of their sets. At Mad Cool in Madrid, Queens of the Stone Age stopped mid-song and insisted music lovers were moved forward, and post-TRSNMT Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand said the only place for a ‘golden circle’ was at the back.
Premium offerings at festivals and live events have become an increasingly important revenue stream, and the trend seems to be accelerating. Opening wider dialogue in the industry on how to respond to the rising demand for VIP, without creating a divisive atmosphere between haves and have nots, is key. We need to keep developing outdoor events, where a memorable experience is had by all, regardless of ticket type.
The ‘golden circle’ challenge for outdoor standing music events
This isn’t about upgrading the comfort – it reduces the opportunity for music lovers to get close to the bands they’ve come (and paid) to see. Unless they pay more to get nearer to the front, golden circles push fans further back to the areas with less than optimum views. Fans may decide to pay extra to get ‘premium’ standing space, but if there is an additional layer in front of them – which in some cases has been sparsely populated – that is frustrating.
Having the chance to get your own good view of the main stage, wherever that may be, is part of the music act that they rightly thought they’d already paid for.
Smaller independent festivals can have a no-differentiation approach. They opt to create an environment in which the artists spend time in the public areas, watching other gigs and collaborating as well as taking to different stages to give value-added experiences such as workshops and signing. Combined with fair access to the music, this can serve a purpose in satisfying demand for a more bespoke experience.
Where VIP works: getting what you pay for
Roughly half of over 90 European festivals we reviewed offer a VIP package, with the UK having one of the highest shares of around 75%. Most popular features on offer are upgraded bathrooms, fast track entrance, and access to ‘restricted’ areas. More niche offerings include pamper zones and fast track routes around the outdoor event itself.
Camping upgrades are one example of where the ‘get what you pay for’ model is accepted and largely non-controversial. Attendees understand that clear logic of paying above and beyond your ticket price for everything from a luxury yurt to a quiet spot with more space or a hassle free, pre-pitched tent. Event creators can also sleep easy, knowing they will not be left with a huge clean-up bill or images of abandoned tents.
Meeting the call for luxury
An average European music festival ticket now costs €144, and with this price tag attendees naturally expect a more luxurious experience. The industry has adapted to understand that speed of entry, ease of food and drink options can be as important as the music, arts and entertainment programming at the event itself.
VIP presents a growth area for those running outdoor events and festivals, but as we’ve seen this summer, if artist and crowd expectations aren’t appropriately managed, it has the potential to damage the reputation of an event. Demand for VIP packages and upgrades in Europe is here to stay – and this demand needs to be creatively embraced so it enhances, rather than distorts, the festival and outdoor event experience.