‘There is no safety net’: music festivals in UK raise ticket prices as costs soar

Organisers grapple with increasing financial challenges amid ongoing effects of Brexit and the pandemic

British music fans expressed dismay this week as Glastonbury announced that the cost of tickets for next year’s event will rise from £265 to £335.

Emily Eavis, co-organiser of the not-for-profit festival, said: “We have tried very hard to minimise the increase in price on the ticket but we’re facing enormous rises in the costs of running this vast show, while still recovering from the huge financial impact of two years without a festival because of Covid.”

It is likely that Glastonbury is the canary in the coalmine, as many festival organisers grapple with increasing financial challenges.

Paul Reed, CEO of the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), said the concern over transferring the financial burden to the consumer was shared across the sector: “Organisers are very mindful that there is a cost of living crisis. I think festivals by their very nature want to be inclusive of all parts of society, but they run with incredibly tight margins at the best of times – it can be 10% or less in terms of your potential profit margin – and costs are going up by 25%-30%, so ultimately something has to give.”

Many of the rising costs stem from the ongoing effects of Brexit and the pandemic. Supply chain issues continue; many events professionals retrained throughout the lockdown periods, meaning the available workforce is far smaller than at the beginning of 2020. With demand increasing as the festival market grows, labour costs have swelled. Even so, many festivals honoured their 2020 prices for ticketholders returning in 2021 and 2022, despite a dramatic rise in inflation in the interim.

New challenges, such as an increase in artist fees to account for higher post-pandemic touring costs, add to the financial strain. Meanwhile, fluctuating fuel prices mean that the cost of operating generators and transporting infrastructure to sites is unpredictable.

“This is something that is unique to festivals because you build the entire thing from scratch,” says Marina Blake, creative director of Brainchild, an independent festival that had to cancel this year due to a combination of increased costs and slow ticket sales. “In the past, there’d be a quote including hire fee and transport costs right at the start. Now, they’ll give you the quote for the equipment but not the transport costs until the week of the event, which means you don’t know what it’s going to cost you, but you know it’s going to be more than you’re expecting.”

The risks, she says, are too much to bear during a time in which consumers’ financial habits are changing constantly: “We’d sold out every year for the last four years; I felt as if our demand was the only thing I could count on. Now, the people who usually buy tickets are going out less and spending less money.”

While all festivals are affected by increased financial strain, it is the smaller ones such as Brainchild, Reed says, that will be hit hardest. “There is no safety net there,” he says. “They are simply more vulnerable.”

Field Maneuvers, a boutique dance music festival, has launched a crowdfunding campaign to cover the losses accrued this year. As well as missing out on two years of income because of cancelled events and keeping tickets at 2019 prices despite 2022 costs, the festival was hit by losses at the bar after a third of ticket-holders failed to turn up. The result was a £40,000 debt. “It’s been an incredibly tough year for us financially,” says co-director Ele Beattie.

The Field Maneuvers team were left with two choices, says festival co-director Leon Cole: large personal debt, or crowdfunding. “As nerve-racking as it was to ask for people to donate when we are all experiencing a cost of living crisis, it has been amazing to see our crowd rally around us,” he says. “It has actually gone from being a terrifying experience where bankruptcy was on the cards to a really heartwarming one.”

Reed believes the festival sector is resilient but feels there should be more government assistance going into the 2023 season. He emphasised the need for a reduction of VAT on tickets – something that was offered during the pandemic but which has subsequently risen – as well as additional emergency support similar to the culture recovery fund that reached some businesses in 2020 and 2021.

“The government’s view is that we’re operational now, but it certainly hasn’t been a return to business as usual,” he says. “Festivals generate £1.76bn for the UK economy each year. These efforts would help to kickstart the industry and pull money back into all of the local economies that the events serve.”

Some festival organisers are exploring ways to keep their events inclusive as costs rise. We Out Here, an acclaimed festival celebrating jazz and club music curated by DJ Gilles Peterson, has historically offered concession tickets for people in social enterprise schemes across the country. Although costs for next year remain “a complete unknown”, says director Joe Barnett, the festival believes such a scheme is more important than ever.

We Out Here is not the only festival trying to keep its event financially accessible. Earlier this year, Outlook festival launched a pay-as-you-feel initiative to break down economic barriers for fans, while Shambala has introduced a pay-it-forward scheme, where punters and artists can contribute to festival access packages for those who cannot afford it next summer.

Schemes like this are a small beacon of hope for fans anxious about their summer 2023 partygoing. “We really don’t want to run a festival that’s only affordable to really wealthy people in very fortunate situations,” says Barnett. “If we get to that point, it’s going to be very difficult to maintain what has been so special about We Out Here.”

Courtney Barnett performs on the Park Stage at Glastonbury festival 2022.
Courtney Barnett performs on the Park Stage at Glastonbury festival 2022. Photograph: Dawn Fletcher-Park/Sopa Images/Rex/Shutterstock

Golden ticket: five festivals that are worth the pounds

Glastonbury festival
Previous cost: £265
Now costs: £335
Glastonbury is a five-day music and arts festival taking place in Somerset. For your money, you’ll get access to more than 3,000 performances across 30 stages, with appearances from some of the biggest artists in the world.

Reading and Leeds
Previous cost: £265.45
Now costs: £259.20
Sister festivals Reading and Leeds run over three days and host high-profile names in mainstream music, spanning indie, rock, pop-punk and hip-hop. While there are no other arts programmed, there are seven stages across each site.

Green Man
Previously cost: £210
Now costs: £235
Green Man is an independent family-friendly festival in the Brecon Beacons. There are 10 stages and tents, and if music’s not your thing, there are also talks and scientific workshops.

Download festival
Previously cost: £250
Now costs: £310
Download is a five-day rock and metal event, based in Leicestershire’s Donington Park. It is a camping festival that hosts about 100 acts each year. Previous headliners include legends such as Kiss, Iron Maiden and Slipknot.

End of the Road
Previously cost: £190
Now costs: £235
End of the Road takes place over four days in Dorset. The ticket price gets you access to five stages of alternative music, with additional areas dedicated to comedy, films and workshops.

• This article was amended on 24 October 2022. A previous version misnamed Leon Cole as “Leon Davies”; he is the co-director, not “coordinator”, of Field Maneuvers.

Contributor

Safi Bugel

The GuardianTramp

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