Ticket Sales Slump for Western Acts

APThen-First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev posing with Deep Purple after a Kremlin concert in February.
The once seemingly insatiable Russian appetite for Western music is showing signs of subsiding, with several big-name acts struggling to sell concert tickets in the region this summer.

Long after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, surging numbers of international acts have ventured here in recent years to serve pent-up demand. Sergei Melnikov, general director of promoter Melnitsa, said the number of 10,000-plus-capacity shows by Western artists in Russia had tripled in the last three years.

But this summer, acts including Kylie Minogue, the Sex Pistols and Lenny Kravitz have all struggled to sell tickets, with local promoters blaming market saturation, rising costs and the high fees demanded by artists for a number of loss-making events.

"The supply of shows by top Western acts exceeded demand this summer," said Dmitry Zaretsky, senior talent booker at SAV Entertainment, which organized Kravitz's June 14 concert at Moscow's 20,000-capacity Olimpiisky sports complex and co-organized Minogue's concert at the same venue two days later.

Minogue has proved a hot ticket elsewhere in Europe this summer, performing seven 18,000-capacity shows at London's O2 Arena. But only a half-capacity crowd turned up for her gig at Olimpiisky, according to Mikhail Shurygin, president of promoter NCA.

NCA, which also promoted Minogue's June 18 concert at St. Petersburg's 14,000-capacity New Arena, coorganized her Olimpiisky show and took a loss on the concert, Shurygin said. NCA also lost money on the Sex Pistols' St. Petersburg gig at the 6,000-capacity Yubileiny sports complex.

"People have enough cash to spend on tickets," Shurygin said. "But if there are too many similar concerts one after another, they can't attend [them] all. Still, our understanding is that [Minogue] did better than other acts at Olimpiisky at about the same time, such as Lenny Kravitz and Nelly Furtado."

Zaretsky declined to give exact numbers of tickets sold, but said Kravitz's sales "weren't good." He blamed high artists' fees for cutting into promoters' profits and driving up ticket prices. "Western stars demand higher fees in Russia than, say, in Europe," Zaretsky said, although he added that the "costs they incur here are also higher."

Hotel rooms in Moscow are among the most expensive in the world, with many rooms priced in the $1,000 range per night.

Melnikov claimed that top Western artists demand 20 percent to 30 percent higher fees to play in Russia than elsewhere in Europe.

"One of the biggest problems is that new [promotion] companies, operating on cash from investors, offer artists unrealistically high fees," Shurygin said. "Unfortunately, agents sometimes opt for higher fees rather than established companies."

Such fees are normally passed on to the consumer, with tickets for Minogue's Moscow show ranging from 1,000 rubles ($41) to 30,000 rubles ($1,230) for a VIP package. By contrast, tickets for the Dec. 17 show by veteran Russian band Nautilus Pompilius -- the only domestic act scheduled to play the Olimpiisky -- are all priced at 1,500 rubles ($62).

But Neil Warnock, chairman of London-based booker the Agency Group -- who has been taking rock bands to Russia since the '70s and will have Deep Purple on tour here in October -- said promoters had only themselves to blame.

"You should know your market," he said. "If you allow the artist to be overpriced, that is the promoter's fault. If the artists want a zillion dollars, promoters have the option to say no."

However, SAV's July 18 Metallica show at St. Petersburg's 25,000-capacity SKK Arena sold out, demonstrating that Western acts can still command big audiences, provided their timing is right. Promoters now plan to space out shows by international acts. But most remain confident that the market will bounce back, especially as ticket sales for domestic artists have held steady.

"Within three to five years, Russia's live market should stabilize," Melnikov said. "Easy-come, easy-go companies will leave -- and Moscow will not be different, in terms of artists touring, from, say, Paris."