Jack Daniel Betz
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The Surcharge is Too Damn High: A beautiful rant about concert ticket fees

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Illustration by Shelby Hohl

The dreaded surcharge is something most of us have grown used to seeing when we purchase tickets to concerts. In fact, they’re practically invisible to me now, because they’re so routinely applied.

Want to attend that Cure show in May at the Ascension Convention Center downtown, or whatever the hell it’s called this week? Well, get ready to cry, boy!

Lucky for you there’s a pre-sale and you get two borderline nosebleed seats for 25 bucks a piece. After all, you’re going to hear the music, not to gaze into Smith’s eyes.

On top of the $50, Toyota Center takes $16 as a “convenience fee,” then another $5 bucks under the guise of a so-called “ticket processing fee.” As if they’re paying Hakeem Olajuwon to produce calligraphed copies of your receipt printed on conflict-free gold leaf instead of auto-generating a PDF.

That means you’re paying a whopping 41% surcharge on the face value of these two very average tickets.

Right after this, you score a fantastic deal on a plane ticket to visit family on the east coast because you’re a dirty, no-good carpetbagger. Out of that $217 ticket, $36 goes to fees, taxes and surcharges, or roughly 19%.

That’s right! By percentage, there’s actually more in fees being charged to your pathetic little bank account by Toyota Center than by American Airlines. And yes, both of these are tickets I purchased.


Courtesy of wisebread.com

Think about that for a second. A company that hires pilots, air-traffic controllers, luggage-loaders and an army of highly-paid technical staff that are trained to make sure you don’t die in the sky are able to scrape by on surcharges of 19%, while Toyota Center needs double that to make the magic happen.

The disease is spreading to smaller ticket providers and venues too. I bought a ticket to go see Chvrches at the end of the month. That 28-dollar ticket contained $7.80 in fees or more than 25% of the face value. Seems awfully gouge-y to me.

I’m sure some bookers and sound guys and other event industry people will be tripping over themselves to lecture me on how ticket fees pay for important stuff, but seriously? There’s no margin in that $28? Profits are that thin?

But then again, as much as people trip and argue and rationalize, the music business is just that: a business. And for all intents and purposes, it’s an oligopoly. While multiple bookers get the opportunity to bid for an artist, but once that show is booked, there’s often a requirement for said artist to not play within X miles of a locale. This is known as a ‘radius clause’.

In the context of capitalism, it’s a strange situation. Another impresario is not going to be booking that artist in the same market at the same time, inspiring actual price competition. Me and you are at the mercy of just a few companies when it comes to national and international tier gigs.

For most US airline tickets, you can get an itemized list of where you surcharge goes. I’d welcome the same thing from mid-to-large-sized ticket vendors. Maybe then I’d understand it all better.

  • Pedro Salazar

    This is heartbreaking