The Rolling Stones most probably need no introduction. At least those born anytime between 1950 and 1980 should know the band, with Mick Jagger as its lead singer, and some of their widely known hits like (Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, Start me Up, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, and Paint It Black. By continuing to perform after the 1970s the band has given better chance for younger generations to become its fans as well. It is the longest acting rock band ever (since 1962, albeit some changes in their original line-up).
- They are now four: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charles Watts, and Ron Wood (the first two have written most of the band’s songs). Wood replaced (1975) Mike Taylor who has recently returned to perform with the band as a guest.
Therefore, when it was announced this spring that the Rolling Stones will have performed in a concert for the first time in Israel on 4 June 2014, the news were received with great excitement and anticipation. But then came a snag: the ticket prices declared were higher than Israeli rock fans apparently expected. The concert took place in the city park of Tel-Aviv in an area similar in form to an “amphitheatre”. There were three types of tickets. A small portion were allocated for standing on the lawn in a close area in front of the stage (“Golden Ring”), priced 1600 NIS (US$460) for a ticket. The vast majority of tickets allowed standing on the lawn stretching from behind the Golden Ring to the back slopes of the “amphitheatre”. Each ticket cost 700 NIS (US$200). Additional VIP tickets with extra perks offered sitting places on a staircase-balcony situated on the right-hand side, facing the stage, for the price of 2700 NIS (US$770). A total of 50,000 tickets were offered.
Rock fans have made mainly two types of complaints: (a) that tickets were more expensive than demanded for other concerts of foreign artists performing in Israel this year and in the past few years; (b) they were more expensive compared with prices charged in concerts of the Rolling Stones in other countries (e.g., 2012-2013 “50 & Counting” tour and the current 2014 “On Fire” tour). Those price comparisons were used as a basis for consumers to claim that the ticket prices in Israel were unfair. The anger was directed towards both the local organizing agent and the Rolling Stones. Social activists ran a protest campaign in social media to persuade fans not to buy tickets. It most likely explains the sluggish progress of ticket sales until the day of the concert. All that time in the run-up to the concert there were talks that not enough people were buying tickets. Eventually, the amphitheatre was filled-up with 48,00o spectators, including the VIP balcony (a sigh of relief is permitted).
Consumers frequently judge the fairness or unfairness of a price in question based on comparisons to prices paid by others (e.g., friends), to prices paid by oneself on previous occasions, and to prices paid in other outlets for the same or similar products or services. Such comparisons are not easy to make, varying in accuracy and level of relevance. A key criterion for the relevance of a comparison is the degree of similarity between cases for which prices are compared — the more similar cases are on their non-price aspects while the prices are non-equitable, the judgement of unfairness is expected to be stronger.
- When comparing with the prices for other rock or pop concerts consumers attended in the past, we should take into account factors such as: (1) the other artists used as reference; (2) when the other concerts took place (e.g., this year, three years ago); (3) the venue for the concert (e.g., a park, a football/basketball stadium, a concert hall). Further attributes extend from a difference in venue: seating or standing tickets, distance from stage, and flat versus rising ground or balcony. For example, standard tickets for standing in the same park at the concert of Paul McCartney cost 500 NIS, but that was five years ago. Niel Young, however, will be performing at that park later this summer, and standing tickets cost less than 400 NIS. In another case, Cliff Richard performed last year at Tel-Aviv basketball stadium: tickets for sitting on the flat floor of the basket field cost about 1000-1500 NIS while tickets in the first rows of the tier balcony facing the stage cost about 650 NIS. Arguing for unfairness is therefore not straightforward.
- In comparisons to concerts of the Rolling Stones in other countries, differences associated with the venue of the concert are again important. In addition, one may also need to account for differences in standard-of-living and purchasing-power-parity (PPP) between countries. Fans in Israel, for instance, were angered that tickets in countries like the US or UK where standard-of- living is higher than in Israel actually cost less when translated to shekels. Let us consider a few cases in example: (1) Ticket prices for concerts in Rome (22 June) and Paris (13 June) range from “standard” €78 (~US$110) to “premium” €150 (~US$210), nominally and relatively less expensive; (2) In the concert at Perth Arena in Australia, scheduled for 29 October this year, tickets for standing in the Tongue Pit adjacent to the stage or for seating in the flat area at the centre of the arena cost A$580 (~US$540) whereas tickets for sitting on the lower rows of the tier balconies more distant from the stage cost A$376 (~US$350) — while some place arrangements may be more convenient in Perth, overall the tickets are not less expensive than in Israel; (3) In fact, complaints about the relatively high prices the Rolling Stones charge have also been voiced in other countries — for instance, an article in The Telegraph criticised the high prices for the band’s concerts in London in November 2012 during their 50 & Counting tour (prices ranged between £95 and £375 [~US$150-600] with VIP Hospitality tickets priced £950! [~US$1520]), requiring the Rolling Stones to defend the prices they charge (Ron Wood explained they invested millions in arranging the stage). Truly, there are not many active bands today like them.
In a cognitive, calculated decision process, according to the theory of mental accounting (Thaler), a consumer would evaluate the value to him or her of attending a rock concert based on some attributes or benefits of the band performing (e.g., how much the songs are liked, their singing and music-playing, and the show given at live concerts). Expressed in monetary terms, it is the highest price a consumer is willing to pay that would be equivalent to the psychological value to him (similar to the concept of reservation price in economic theory). The difference between the monetary value of equivalence and the (normal) price the consumer is asked to pay denotes the acquisition utility for the consumer.
- The normal or ‘list’ price is often not the actual price paid due to special deals and discounts put forward — a difference between the normal price and the discounted actual price denotes the additional transaction utility a consumer can gain. For instance, customers of an Israeli mobile telecom company could buy their tickets for the Rolling Stones concert at prices 100 NIS lower than the official prices. (Some fans had a chance to buy standard tickets at half price of 350 NIS in a contest organised by the band.)
This methodic way for deriving a (perceived) value and reaching a decision may run out-of-order when trying to apply it to a rock or pop concert. Music as a form of art evokes emotions that are likely to disrupt sensible calculations of value. Moreover for devoted fans of a singer or a band, adoration and affective attachment are likely to influence their decision process more strongly. The fans of the band may find it difficult and disturbing to analyse their experience of listening to the music or attending a live concert in the way required to derive a well-founded value or utility. When the experience is about enjoyment, excitement, and getting carried-away by the music, the monetary value or the price fans are willing to pay can be expected to receive a boost upwards. They could perceive a reasonable acquisition utility even with the premium near-stage or VIP tickets.
But many other fans who feel close to rock and pop music, who may be greater fans of other artists of these genres, could also be strongly attracted to attend the concert because of the extraordinary opportunity to see and hear the Rolling Stones performing live in Tel-Aviv. Consumers may sense the historical significance of such an event, not to be missed. That could act as an emotional inducement for these fans to elevate the price they are willing to pay high enough to buy at least the standard type of ticket. It took until an hour before the concert to ascertain that there were indeed enough of them to fill the amphitheatre in the park (with some help from discounts).
Two important ways of approaching price were considered above: one is directed inwards and focuses on the perceived value of the target service, a rock concert; the other is directed outwards and compares the target price with prices for other cases or episodes that seem similar to the consumers and through which they judge the (un)fairness of the target price. Both avenues introduced challenging problems for the rock concert; it probably could have not occurred without the emotional component of the decision process. However, it does not have to spoil the event itself for those who bought tickets. Price may continue to pre-occupy the customers’ minds in the gap period between the time of buying the ticket and the day of the concert. When the event arrives customers “close” the mental account; they may either conclude the value obtained from their ticket acquisition or shift their attention fully to the event and the benefits it delivers, the more desirable way for them to avoid conflicts of value.
The concert of the Rolling Stones was wonderful. Mick Jagger was fantastically energetic on the stage (admirable in his age of 70+), and Keith Richards looked especially joyful. Jagger also demonstrated nice skills in expressing himself in Hebrew to the delight of the local audience. The band performed the songs mentioned above among others (19 in total); unfortunately Jagger did not sing their beautiful song Ruby Tuesday, but he performed another ballad from their repertoire not appearing regularely in their concerts, Angie.
- Given the enthusiasm of the audience, the spectators did not let price issues spoil the celebration. There were other two factors that threatened to hinder the enjoyment. First, there was a heat wave that evening with high humidity — but that could not be anticipated and was beyond human control. It just had to be tolerated while drinking lots of water. The second factor was entirely due to human behaviour — spectators lifting smartphones above their heads in attempt to record on video episodes from the concert. The quality of images captured on the little screen (e.g., from a distance of 200m+) and the enjoyment spectators feel doing so is left for debate elsewhere. Meanwhile those screens waived above “stole” pieces from the field-of-view of the spectators behind who tried to escape them — what a shame.
The Rolling Stones did everything in their power, and they had the power, to make spectators happy for the money they had paid to the last shekel. Price did matter in making the decision to purchase and it even threatened to spoil the concert. However, that was true during the run-up period until the concert started on 4 June at 21:15. As the performance went on the spectators could easily forget about the price. The price effect was mitigated or vanished, leaving the spectators with pleasure of the music and performance of the Rolling Stones and particularly Mick Jagger. One may think of other artists who can achieve this outcome, but the Rolling Stones are definitely on the top list. It remains a specially good experience to remember.
Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)