How Much Longer Can People Afford To Attend Festivals?
“Last year was a really odd year, you had events that had rolled over and line-ups that had changed – maybe somebody who was good in 2020 wasn’t so hot in 2022,” says John Rostron, the CEO of the Association of Independent Festivals, a trade body that represents over 90 UK music festivals. “You had a lot of people who thought: ‘We’re all coming out of COVID, everyone’s going to want to go out again,” and they were plying the areas with all kinds of events.
This “saturation” was particularly evident in dance and electronic circles. According to statistics from Resident Advisor’s in May 2022, just before the summer festival season kicked into full swing, there were 66% more electronic music festivals than in 2019, which comes despite the UK festival market being worth around £600 million less than in 2019 (£2.6 billion in 2020 compared to £3.2 billion in 2019).
But to do so, the festival has had to raise its prices – the cost of a ticket for what would have been the 2020 edition set a punter back £169 plus a booking fee; but current third release tickets are at £209 and booking fee — with more expensive tiers to come. And Field Maneuvers is absolutely by no means alone, many British festivals have had to raise their prices.
One of the first and largest dominos to fall came when the UK’s most eminent music festival, Glastonbury, announced its ticket prices for 2023, which rose from its 2022 price of £280 plus booking fee to £335 plus booking fee. The jump in price caused a widespread gasp among many observers, with some even questioning whether it would mean weekend festivals would be the domain of the rich from here on out.
In a statement on social media, co-organiser Emily Eavis explained the rise in price. She wrote: “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, whilst still recovering from the huge financial impact of two years without a festival because of COVID.”
Boomtown, with a capacity of 66,000 people is one of the largest music festivals (particularly in electronic music circles) in the UK. It also raised its ticket prices to hovering around the £300 mark, with its fourth tier of ‘citizenship’ tickets costing £295 plus booking fee. It’s a big number, but the festival’s founder Luke Mitchell says it’s worth it. “We spent a lot of time understanding where the ticket price should sit,” Mitchell explains. “We felt the value could have been higher, the value for money is really good – when you break it apart, the price of a ticket is about £300 for five days, with access to 60 stages and hundreds of artists every day, it works out to about £60 a day.
So what exactly are these costs that have gone through the roof? Perhaps most presciently, in the same way our household energy bills have increased dramatically in the past 12 months, so has the cost of fuelling a festival. Global energy prices soared in the past year, in part due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Europe’s subsequent attempt to shift from relying on Russian gas, with the Office of National Statistics (ONS) recording that gas prices increased by 129.4% and electricity by 66.7% in the 12 months leading up to January 2023.
On top of the fuel, it’s also the people who power the village who are also more expensive for organisers. Festival production involves a lot of highly skilled workers, with specialities in lighting, sound, logistics and far more. With the majority of these people working on a freelance basis, they found themselves out of work during the pandemic with no furlough support from the government.
“There’s an increase in cost because there’s a labour shortage,” he continues. “And that’s one of those elements that ticket operators have been having to look at – [they ask] ‘can I pass all of that on? Probably not.’”
So in a tough landscape, where it’s clear that some festivals are unlikely to survive into the , what can be done to protect them? The answer is unanimous across the board – reduce VAT. In 2020, the UK government cut VAT rates for hospitality and events to help the struggling industries survive the lockdowns and slashed incomes, which proved to be a vital lifeline for many. “In our first year, we got away with it and we survived because the VAT was cut to 5%,” says Doherty.
It’s something that Rostron and Collins as industry representatives are pushing the government to do, although any hope of achieving their goal seems somewhat distant at this stage. “We talk about tickets being expensive – 20% of the ticket price goes to the government in VAT,” says Collins. “In most countries across Europe, they have a cultural rate of VAT on tickets, which is somewhere between 1-2% all the way through to 20%. There’s a great way the government can do something that’s culturally good, eases the pressure of costs on festivals, reduces the price of tickets to the customer – it wins in so many areas we’re talking about.”