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When pandemic restrictions began to recede earlier this year, Shay Forrester was excited to resume one of her favourite pastimes: seeing live music with family and friends. But then she realized how much she would need to pay.

Before they sold out, floor tickets for Harry Styles’s two planned concerts at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena in August were priced at $980 each.

“That’s equivalent to some week-long vacation packages in Cuba,” Ms. Forrester said. “Before the pandemic, prices like this would have been unimaginable.”

As a result, the 24-year-old Ottawa civil servant has had to scale back her summer concertgoing ambitions, and she is not alone. Across the continent, fans eager to return to concert venues after two years of delays and cancellations are finding that the costs of live music events are much higher than they were before COVID-19 began to spread.

On some ticket websites, floor-level tickets for Kendrick Lamar’s Aug. 13 show at Scotiabank Arena were listed for more than $500 each as of Sunday, with standard tickets in the 300s – the farthest section from the stage – reselling for between $150 to $300 on Ticketmaster.com. Standing room tickets for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who are performing in Toronto at the end of August, start at around $880, and the cheapest seats start around $200.

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As of late June, the average ticket to one of the 100 most popular tours in North America cost US$108.20, 17 per cent more than an average ticket in 2019, the last full year of live events, according to concert data provider Pollstar.

There is evidence to suggest that the price increases are being driven at least partly by increased demand. On average in the first half of 2022, each of those tours attracted 5 per cent more audience members than in 2019, according to Pollstar, and took in 25 per cent more revenue. Over all, the industry has grossed $1.69-billion in the first two quarters of the year, despite the total number of shows being down by 12 per cent compared with the same period two years ago.

In a recent call with analysts, Live Nation Entertainment, Inc. president Michael Rapino said fan demand “has never been stronger.” He added that the live entertainment company’s retail ticket prices were up by “double digits” in the first quarter of this year compared with 2019, and that resale ticket prices on its platform were up 18 per cent.

According to the company’s first-quarter financial report, its total concert bookings through late April were up 44 per cent over the same period in 2019.

And concertgoers are spending more after they arrive at shows. Live Nation’s revenue per fan from in-venue sales of merchandise was up 30 per cent compared with 2019.

While costs to concertgoers have generally increased from 2019 levels, some ticket prices are lower than they might have been in 2021, when capacity limits put tight constraints on supply. On SeatGeek, an online ticket sale platform, the average cost per Canadian concert ticket this year is US$162 – down from US$198 last year, but up from US$145 in 2020.

“When artists returned to the stage in 2021, we saw demand for tickets well above prepandemic levels as fans just wanted to get back out to live events,” said Chris Leyden, director of consumer strategy at SeatGeek. “That pent-up demand from 2020 still puts prices above their prepandemic level, and it may stay that way for a time.”

Some cheaper tickets are still available, but finding them may mean opting to see less popular acts.

Josh Greenberg, director of the school of journalism and communications at Carleton University in Ottawa, said high ticket prices made him change his purchasing behaviour. Instead of spending a large amount of money to see one high-profile band, he has decided to see several smaller acts in intimate venues.

“I have been to shows in Montreal with tickets costing between $25 and $50, and a few more lined up between now and the of 2022, none of which are costing more than $80,” he said.

But those prices are only bargains by recent standards. A few years ago, he noted, they would have given him pause.

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