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VIP Tour Packages In Demand, Despite Slumping Economy

Super fans shell out big bucks for "experience that lasts a lifetime"

May 19, 2009 5:00 AM ET

This summer, when Beyoncé comes to a venue near you, for just $1,000, you'll be able not only to watch the superstar perform chart-toppers like "Crazy In Love" and "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)," but see Miss B in the flesh thanks to the "I Am... Beyoncé" VIP ticket package. The price gets you inside the venue (via a special VIP entrance, of course), a seat in the front row, a chance to meet Beyoncé and have your picture taken with her, as well as a one-year membership to the singer's fan club, a collectible laminate, and an autographed tour book. For $575, you can get your own seat, right on the stage.

Aerosmith are offering the chance to hang with the band at well-catered pre-gig parties and Lynyrd Skynyrd's VIP package involves a pre-show barbecue with the guys. (Check out a guide to five of this summer's biggest VIP packages.)

While VIP ticket packages are far from new (the first were offered three decades ago), they have exploded in popularity in the last five years, according to Tamara Conniff, president of music services for Irving Azoff's Front Line Management Group, which oversees VIP ticketing for the company's stable of artists. And more artists are offering their super fans once-in-a-lifetime experiences — often for an exorbitant price. Despite the nation's current economic situation, there's still a healthy market for upscale concert experiences.

"They've been gaining more attention now, because of the state of the business and because the focus these days is more on touring as a revenue stream," explains Conniff, who says visitors to ILoveAllAccess.com looking for the VIP treatment "run the gamut, financially." But the one constant? "They're super fans," she says. "The super fan is the base you aim to serve with VIP packages. Bands want direct communication with those super fans because the super fan buys your record when it comes out, and goes to see you on the next tour."

According to Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar, VIP packages have become a universal part of touring, as musicians find its harder to make a living from the studio. "Everybody's realized there's very little money in the recorded music business, and so there is a lot of experimentation going on," Bongiovanni explains. "People are trying to figure out other products or things they can sell the public to monetize an artist's career."

Bongiovanni likens VIP ticket packages to concert T-shirts: Three decades ago, they were introduced as a new way to make money off of touring, he says, "and still, for a lot of artists today, they make as much in merchandise as they do in ticket sales. So, VIP packages are an excellent way for a band to make additional cash."

Not just any band can pull off a pricey package, Bongiovanni says. More often, it's established acts who cater to "the more well-heeled elements" of their fanbases, as well as the allegiant, who for some, these VIP packages are sometimes too good to pass up. But he admits, "Even acts that tour at the theatre-level have hardcore fans that will pay extra for something special." Aerosmith's former manager, Keith Garde, who is now president of Paid, Inc., a celebrity services firm, agrees.

"It was out of the stuff of super fandom that these [VIP packages] were conceived," he says. "Super fandom is bigger than how much money you have at any given moment. That love is something that all of these artists are blessed to have, when they have it. You get to be back where literally, no fan goes. With our programs, you get to stand on the stage."

Some people are willing to pay a premium to get that special treatment, to secure an earlier parking spot, to meet the stage crew, to have their picture taken with the band. And Garde agrees "it's only a matter of time" before VIP packages start offering fans the chance to play with the band.

VIP ticket packages are still selling despite the slumping economy because those willing to spend the money feel the offer is worth the price tag. Bongiovanni points to Alabama as one act that provided true value in its VIP package three years ago. The country stars offered a $1,000 ticket to fans on their farewell tour, and "for that money, you got to meet the band and you got an autographed guitar," he recalls. "So, if you're a real hardcore Alabama fan, it's worth it, and from the band's perspective, if there were only two people or five people a night who wanted to do that, they were okay with it because after a while, that money adds up."

The perception, Garde says, is that VIP ticket packages are "too expensive," but he says the "programs that really do the job of providing value, they cost a lot to service. We have people at every show, to make sure that they get to each part of what the VIP experience provides for. You feed people, have catered parties, you're providing drinks for them, additional security — it's expensive to do right, and what it really does is it enhances the live experience for the artist as well as for the people who are buying this things, because its an experience that lasts a lifetime."

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