The Empty Show Phenomenon

Why Aren’t Fans Turning Up?

Any venturer into the world of music occasionally meets disappointment from a poorly managed, empty show. Concert-goers face small, low energy crowds at out-of-the way venues with unrecognized musicians. Many are surprised to learn that popular venues often face similar problems, even when they book high-profile talent.

In 2016, Rihanna sold out a show at Wembley Stadium, yet about 45,000 seats were left empty. That’s half the stadiums capacity! That Same year, fans who bought tickets to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, were shocked to see so many unoccupied seats. Many of these fans paid over ten times the tickets’ face value for a chance to attend. Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, and Jay-Z have all been accused of performing for an empty crowd over the past few years.

What Causes Empty Shows?

Several trends in today’s music industry perpetuate this empty show phenomenon.

Shows are too Expensive

The price of concerts is going up. Big name acts are spending more on extravagant visual effects. Many fans chose not to purchase tickets because their price—even at face value—is too high.

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Furthermore, many fans feel that artists have been releasing interesting, artistic albums. While this stylistic trend is very popular, the melodramatic image often does not match fans’ preconceived notions of large, elaborate concerts.

Booking Fees are Growing

Booking fees are growing. For example, in 2016, New York events issued tickets with an average 21% fee attached. Online ticketing providers, like Ticketmaster now charge up to 20% above face value. Resale platforms, like StubHub, charge even more, meaning that resold tickets can cost 150% of a ticket’s face value, even when prices are not inflated.


Scalping is the primary cause of empty shows. Scalpers, sometimes known as touts, have created sophisticated networks of bots to buyout events the moment they become available, pushing out genuine fans. When scalpers misjudge demand, they end up being unable to sell their tickets, leading to sold out shows with low turnout.

Scalpers also impact on the likelihood of fans attending future events. According to a survey conducted by AudienceNet/Music Ally in June 2017, 68% of the UK population said they were likely to attend fewer events as a result of money they spent buying tickets above face value. In an economy filled with countless events, the effects of scalping for one cascade through the industry, resulting in a greater likelihood of empty events.

Genuine efforts by Artists and Venues to fight scalping often force fans to work extra hard to to find a buyer, even when selling at Face Value. Faced with the challenge of selling a ticket against the efforts of the venue, ticket holders sometimes cut their losses and don’t sell their ticket at all.

Often, venues will withhold tickets from the general public or presell them to VIP clients. Since these VIP clients are often scalpers themselves, many of these tickets never end up in the hands of the fans.

Ok so empty shows happen, but in many cases the event sold out, insuring revenue for the Venue and Artist. Is this so bad?

Yes it is bad. For the venues, artists, and especially for the fans. Since the empty show phenomenon is often unexpected, venues will spend unnecessary funds over-staffing their events. Artists are often heartbroken to learn that so few people turned out for their events. Many will put on a smile—assuming they normally do—and give it their all. Many more are left visibly and verbally unhappy. Fans get the shortest end of the stick. They likely paid far over face value for an event with an unhappy artist, and dispassionate audience. Poor fan turnout reflects badly on the artist. Poor turnout and an unhappy artist reflect badly on the venue. A badly reviewed venue will attract less artists and fans in the future.

This Venue-Artist-Fan cycle is detrimental to everyone involved—except the scalpers of course.

If you are an industry professional or have any knowledge of how empty shows happen, you can contact me securely here.