Jay-Z‘s 4:44 arena tour kicked off with three shows last week. Although the critical reception has been generally positive, there’s been skepticism about just how many about just how many people are actually seeing the show. Screenshots surfaced of Anaheim tickets going for as low as $6, an extremely low amount for an artist of Jay-Z’s iconic status—or for most arena tours for that matter. The Denver and Phoenix shows also reportedly had multiple tickets going for face value last week, plus his hometown shows in Brooklyn on the 26th and 27th still have multiple tickets available. More damning was the reported empty seats; in a parenthetical, New York Times noted that the opening night in Anaheim “did not appear to be sold out, with many seats in the upper level empty throughout the night.”
However, a Billboard report suggests the dirt cheap prices are by design and the 4:44 tour is doing quite fine. In fact, a Live Nation promoter said that this tour is Jay-Z’s highest grossing, outperforming his 2013 Magna Carta Holy Grail tour by 21 percent. Omar Al-Joulani, VP of touring at Live Nation, also offered an optimistic forecast: “This tour will be the biggest headlining tour of Jay’s career.”
Live Nation says that its success lies in its ticket strategy that combats ticket scalpers. Live Nation is putting high prices on floor seats and VIP packages, pushing the resellers to set the prices near the ticket’s face value. Increasing those prices allows for cheaper upper-level seats. The logic is that resellers can’t really increase the prices in those upper seats because, well, the consumer could spend that money to get closer seats at face value. Conceptually, Jay-Z gets that money back off the higher priced floor seats, fans with lower disposable incomes get to see an arena show, and scalpers will have to stick to LCD Soundsystem shows.
“We are seeing many creative pricing strategies and we are seeing artists find what works for them,” says Patrick Ryan from Eventellect, a ticketing and inventory company. “You generate a ton of revenue up front, but you still have a $25 price point that makes it more affordable for individuals who want to see an arena show.”
The prior reports of Jay-Z struggling to sell tickets have been disputed by attendees, too: Photos of the Anaheim and Phoenix shows suggest that Hov indeed attracted a full house. Conversely, Complex did note that Denver’s shows had floor tickets that were going for $69, which is a couple of hundred bucks too low to fit with the plan. Either way, Jay-Z does have a 10-year, $200 million touring deal with Roc Nation, so they have to make this work.