The money behind Made in America
Tickets to Made in America may seem steep, but there are a lot more factors to consider than you might think.
The success of last year’s Made in America festival, produced by Live Nation and curated by Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, has the City of Brotherly Love welcoming this year’s encore show with open arms. However, most major festivals attract some level of controversy and Made in America is no exception. For some, it’s the grumbling cynicism over yet another commercialized, corporate event. For others it’s the locals’ contempt for rowdy, drunken partiers. In the case of Made in America, it’s the ticket-prices, and it’s whether or not the concert should be made free.
Ticket prices continue to be a heated topic, with some fans feeling that devotion is void without taking a major hit to one’s bank account. Kid Rock has even been turning heads, setting his shows at $20 per person, and recently calling the Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake tour—now set at $200 per ticket—“highway robbery.” One can certainly raise the debate on overpaid artists, questioning the integrity of those who sing for the common man and then milk him for profit. One can even suggest that a corporation could eat some of a concert’s costs for charitable purposes. However, looking at last year’s economic return of Made in America to Philadelphia, and the logistics of how and why a multi-million dollar show should have ticket sales eliminated, one has to ask: Is this really a concern?
Last summer, Jonathan Valania, the Editor-in-Chief of Phawker.com wrote about the issue in his critical piece “Set Made in America Free!” in which he stated, “In a city as impoverished as ours, it is unconscionable to fence off public space and charge the citizenry of Philadelphia the pricely sum of $95 a day to stand on land they already own.” Clearly, one can see a bit of absurdity in Ticketmaster’s now $168.70 cost of one 2-day pass for Philadelphia’s Made in America. However, before doubling over in rage, let’s take a moment to think of potential long-term benefits.
Jill Michal, the President and CEO of United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey explained how their sponsorship for Made in America has had a two-fold impact for the United Ways of the Greater Philadelphia area, Southern New Jersey, and Lancaster, PA. On one side, Michal said that the concert has allowed “new channels to engage people in philanthropy.” However, the concert also had a more direct influence. “The social benefit, the money that was raised for us, which was over $300,000 for just this local community, was put back into education initiatives,” said Michal. The investment has helped to support United Way’s work with the Economy League in what Michal called the Education and Talent Development Initiative, which focuses on key parts of the educational system, such as early childhood education, dropout prevention, workforce readiness and more. “This work is about bringing a larger group of people together to set higher-level community goals, to be able to start to build the data and infrastructure around it, so that we can actually look at a dashboard and then really build and implement strategy, to deliver on some of this work,” she said.
n addition to charitable efforts, last year’s Made in America concert also indirectly generated $10 million in revenues to local hotels. Cara Schneider, who works in Philadelphia tourism, also told NBC Philadelphia that hotels were running at 96% on Labor Day weekend. This relates to another fact that may sound harsh, but is significant: It is awful to charge Philly locals to stand on their own property, but the locals are not necessarily the ones booking hotels for the weekend, scouring the area for kitschy restaurants, contributing to future tourism, etc. Yes, giving back to the community does mean benefiting locals, but often this has to do with much more than giving them a weekend of free tunes.
Still, let’s skip over the fact that last year Youtube.com and Pandora live-streamed this festival online for free. Let’s also set aside the fact that if each of the 36 reputed artists on the bill lowered their individual ticket worth to $5, tickets would be more expensive than their current price. If tickets were made free it could benefit the city of Philadelphia, tremendously. Going back to the matter of tourism, those reimbursed for tickets may be more likely to put the money they didn’t blow on tickets and VIP passes into local restaurants, museums, and more. However, the biggest words that we’re missing in this debate are “cost” and “incentive.”
In shifting Made in America to a non-profit event, observing the show’s costs doesn’t just mean the $500,000 in expenses that Live Nation reimbursed to the city last year. It doesn’t mean accounting for the 36 artists on the bill, their airfare, their lodging, etc. It doesn’t even mean looking at the general cost of construction. What you’re potentially facing is over $10 million in returns from ticket sales that can no longer be contributed to these costs, or to other events throughout the year. This isn’t to say that a company like Anheuser-Busch can’t afford it, or that Beyoncé can’t take a pay cut. In fact, the image boost might have its own beneficial returns. However, considering the positive impact of this concert, we want to think about the main incentives to bringing it back year after year. When the incentive is multi-million dollar returns, it almost become foolish to ask why Live Nation, Anheuser-Busch, and Jay-Z wouldn’t turn Made in America into an annual event. Demanding a non-profit makes the issue a bit more complicated.
It is important to question the necessity for rising concert costs, but as a society we also have to look from multiple angles at what it really means to request that a for-profit event be made free. It’s not just an issue for Philly music lovers, but for the relationships between this city and the sponsors, performers, and producers of these events. As someone who won’t pay more than $60 per show, I would love for Made in America to be free. However, if being stonewalled by a nearly $200 ticket means several million dollars wind up back to the city, I’m not terribly concerned.