The JAY-Z tickets selling for $6 a pop on StubHub don’t reflect soft demand for his tour: they’re actually a sign that the hip-hop star has successfully priced ticket scalpers out of the game by charging market rates for the best seats in the house.
Just three dates in, JAY-Z’s "4:44 Tour" is already the rapper’s highest grossing solo tour ever, promoter Live Nation tells Billboard. Average gross for the 4:44 Tour’s completed shows is up 21 percent over his 2013 Magna Carter Tour — Live Nation said the Honda Center show in Anaheim, Calif., earned nearly 49% more than the same stop in 2013.
"This tour will be the biggest headlining tour of Jay’s career,” says Omar Al-Joulani, VP of touring at Live Nation.
Sales for the rap mogul's tour represent a paradigm shift in concert tickets: by more aggressively pricing front row seats, VIP experiences and platinum tickets, concert promoters are getting increasingly more skilled at commanding high prices and record grosses from their best seating inventory. That’s bad news for ticket resellers — by pricing tickets closer to actual market value, JAY-Z and Live Nation are capturing more revenue and creating little room for brokers to mark up the best seats.
Conversely, the strategy takes pricing pressure off the upper-level seating sections. Priced out of the top tier, many ticket brokers are stuck buying and selling tickets in the upper bowl. And since consumers can still choose between buying the same seat on the primary or the secondary, many brokers end up selling off tickets below face value, taking a loss.
The result: a seven-figure per night gross for Hov and a lower get-in-the-door price for fans looking for a deal. In the last year, artists including Tool, Radiohead, the Weeknd, One Direction, Coldplay and U2 have all presented sellout shows with both $500+ tickets for the best seats, and $15 get-in-the-door tickets on sites like StubHub.
In fact, the highest grossing event of 2017 — the Aug. 26 fight between Floyd Mayweather and Connor McGregor in Las Vegas — was also dogged by rumors of slow ticket sales because of low prices on the secondary market, only to post a staggering $55.4 million gate.
Further adding to pressure on the secondary is Live Nation’s strategy to release large blocks of tickets prior to Jay taking the stage. Al-Joulani explained that the 4:44 Tour sells eight to 10 percent of total tickets on the day of show — the Las Vegas concert at T-Mobile Center (Oct. 28) saw 1,480 tickets sold with 24 hours of JAY-Z taking the stage without any tickets marked down in price, a record for an arena show in Sin City. Al-Joulani says the rapper has already sold more tickets than the entire Magna Carta Tour, and that’s with 30 more shows to go.
“This might be the future of ticketing,” explained Patrick Ryan with ticketing and inventory company Eventellect. “We are seeing many creative pricing strategies and we are seeing artists find what works for them. You generate a ton of revenue up front, but you still have a $25 price point that makes it more affordable for individuals who want to see an arena show.”
There’s also more inventory than unusual because of JAY-Z's circular stage and in-the-round configuration that extends the live experience throughout the entire arena, opening up every seating section in the venue with four large, double-sided video walls hanging from the ceiling designed to lead the audience's eye toward the stage.
“It’s meant to be a mix between a big, scenic impact and a visual aid for those sitting in the higher seats,” explains Willo Perron, creative designer behind JAY-Z’s 34-date 4:44 Tour.
The round stage also presents its own challenges. Backing up only brings him closer to the audience, with center stage his furthest point from the edge. With no band to weave through (they’re off stage) and no corner to take cover, the 47-year-old rapper takes the stage tonight (Nov. 5) at Denver's Pepsi Center surrounded and engulfed by his fans.
“Many artists discover that it’s quite difficult performing on a circle stage, especially alone,” explains Perron. "We looked at different ideas and drew up a few designs, but we liked the round stage the most because it extended the album narrative of stripping everything away and having to be present in the moment,” creating maximum visibility and vulnerability for JAY-Z, who begins each concert with the 4:44 opening track “Kill JAY-Z,” a personal pep talk that deconstructs his "Big Pimpin'" persona.
Perron, who has 20 years of experience in tour design and stage production for acts including the XX, Kanye West and Rihanna, says JAY-Z’s 360-degree stage creates a unique opportunity to engage the audience with grainy, live mixed video elements that help the rapper tell his story.
"It’s an opportunity for fans to be immersed in the show and not be distracted by something happening on a computer,” he says.
Even from the highest seats in the arena’s upper bowl, fans are "looking at the stage by way of video instead of staring at a screen,” Perron explains. “We’re utilizing video so that we can still create a visually stunning show without taking away from the performer."
This article originally appeared on Billboard.