Live Nation CEO Responds to the Cure Ticket Controversy: "You Don't Have to Underprice Yourself"

"I think the pricing of concerts in general — there's this fine line between, yes, we want it accessible, and it's a fine art and there's a price to it," Michael Rapino said on a recent podcast episode

Photo courtesy of Live Nation

BY Megan LaPierrePublished May 1, 2023

Not since Taylor Swift has an artist managed to be so deeply embroiled in contentious Ticketmaster territory: led by the all-caps force that is Robert Smith, the Cure fought tooth and nail to make their forthcoming North American tour affordable, and were successful in getting the company to issue service fee refunds for additional charges incurred on tickets.

Michael Rapino, CEO of Live Nation — the ticketing retailer's parent company — has now publicly addressed the band's ticketing strategy and the controversy it provoked.

Appearing on a new episode of The Bob Lefsetz Podcast, Rapino spent two hours discussing the situation and concert ticket prices in general.

"We were proud of Ticketmaster's side," Rapino told host Lefsetz. "We did a ton of work with Robert, making sure [tickets] were non-transferable, that it would be a face value [ticket] exchange and verified, doing all we could to put all the roadblocks to deliver his ticket prices to the fans."

The Cure chose to opt out of Ticketmaster's polemic dynamic pricing structure wherein prices increase with no holds barred due to consumer demand. Smith referred to it as "a bit of a scam." According to Rapino, the unprecedented decision to refund some of the company's infamously high service fees on the tickets was one of credibility.

"There was a screenshot of a venue, which wasn't even a Live Nation venue… that showed a ticket service fee of $20 on $20," the CEO explained. "It doesn't matter whether justifying the service fee is a good idea or not, we have an industry where we have to build some credibility back. I couldn't defend in any version that we were going to add a $20 service fee to a $20 ticket. We made a decision that we would spend some money, give back the $10, and get it to a reasonable place for those fans."

Rapino confirmed that the cost of the reimbursement was absorbed by Live Nation. "It was a fast decision," he said, "we thought it was worth the million dollars or so to send the right message."

When Lefsetz asked if Rapino thought it was reasonable to expect to pay $20 to see the Cure, he said no. "I think the pricing of concerts in general — there's this fine line between, yes, we want it accessible, and it's a fine art and there's a price to it." The CEO argued that consumers are willing to pay big money — even prices inflated by dynamic pricing — for concert tickets because they see a show as a "really special moment in their life."

"This is a great, great product that people will buy, as they're gonna buy the Gucci bag," Rapino said. "They're gonna buy moments in life where they will step up, and spoil themselves — the big screen TV and or whatever it may be."

He continued, "This is a business where we can charge a bit more. I'm not saying excessively, but it's a great two-hour performance of a lifetime, that happens once every three, four years in that market. You don't have to underprice yourself — low- to middle-income [people] will make their way to that arena for that special night."

Going against what Jack Antonoff said at the Grammys, Rapino insisted that artists themselves are the ones who set ticket prices and that an average of 80 percent of services fees go to venues rather than Ticketmaster. The CEO called the ticketing industry "an easy target" for being "widely misunderstood," but did acknowledge that there is some room for improvement.

"I do think as an industry, we probably do have to absorb a bit better and think a little smarter at what is the add-on fee," Rapino said. "Because I think, I think, although it's justified, I don't think it's justified probably at every ticket price point. At Live Nation, we'll look at the lower-end ticket prices in the theatre and clubs and say, can we also scale them back and make sure [there's] a defendable fee on a service, on a ticket price. It's been too easy to add a dollar to the service fee."

As per a new Billboard report, Rapino's total pay for 2022 rose to $139 million USD — up from $13.8 million the previous year.

You can listen to the podcast episode in full below.


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