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  • Payton Eken

Why Are K-Pop Concerts in America Not Selling Out?

America’s love of live music transcends many barriers, and the love of K-Pop has grown over the years. The amount of groups and artists who have begun to tour the USA has increased tremendously, especially after 2022, when COVID-19 restrictions were loosened in America earlier than most countries. Korean artists took advantage of this, after not being able to have any live shows for two years domestically or abroad, and began scheduling tour after tour in the USA. But many of these shows have been showing ticket sale numbers that result in some shows on the tour being canceled, and even entire tours being scrapped. Recently, the newly debuted girl group TripleS canceled their Chicago and Reading, PA concerts due to low ticket sales. Loossemble, the newly debuted group from ex-LOONA members, is set to perform at the Kia Forum in Los Angeles, a venue with a capacity of 17,500. However, half of the seats have been blocked off, and only 2,500 had been sold as of September 4th. Why are these tours not selling the tickets they should be, and is it the fault of the fans or is there another power to point fingers at?

One major reason for low ticket sales is pricing. Ticket prices have soared in recent years, and with the current state of the American economy, people are not willing to spend insane amounts on nosebleed seats. One example is Seventeen, a K-pop group that toured the United Center in both early 2020 and summer 2022. A VIP seat with similar benefits jumped from $325 (VIP Silver) to $540 (VIP) in 3 years. Nosebleed seats are not much better either. The very last row in the United Center for Enhypen is selling for $109.50 before fees ($145 with all fees and taxes). Casual listeners and fans alike are not willing to spend triple digits for the worst seat in the venue. When it comes to fans as well, many want the best seat in the house or nothing at all. If they cannot be within the first 10 rows, they may not even attend. It is flawed logic, but it has surged since the pandemic. Many fans have been attending shows for a chance to be “noticed” by the artist while on stage, disregarding the entire show and the people around them (but that is a story for another day).

Pictured: Seventeen (2020 vs 2022) seats for the same price

Artists not selling enough tickets is also the result of streaming culture. K-Pop fans are notorious for streaming, listening to songs on repeat, or using strategic ways to boost their position on the charts. These streaming methods and constant use of streaming do boost their position on charts temporarily and may increase their monthly listeners on American platforms such as Spotify, which tour organizers look at when booking venues. Inflated streams and numbers can affect venue selection. If a group has an insanely successful song that is being streamed like crazy by its fanbase, charts for a few weeks, then never charts again after that, their monthly listeners will skyrocket on Spotify. If a song goes viral on social media, such as Fifty Fifty’s Cupid, their monthly listeners will increase just from the single song, not their entire discography. A group may not have a solid fan base established in America, yet their Spotify stats say otherwise due to streams. Tour management will use this data to choose venues that are way too large to accommodate their fanbase, leading to ticket sales being in the 20–40% range of total sales. Smaller venues are available, and larger venues can have sections blocked off as well, yet the streaming numbers are inflated to make it seem that these venues can and should be filled.

Oversaturation is a large issue in more than one way. As mentioned, in 2022, many groups began touring again as restrictions were lifted. Tours began happening fast, and it seemed every other day a new group was planning a tour. This year it is the same, and the groups who toured last year are back again, some without even releasing new music. CIX, a boy group, toured the USA in May 2022, playing venues ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 seats. In early 2023, they decided to tour America again, playing venues with double the capacity after only releasing one mini album and not showing much growth in their fanbase. The Chicago show in 2022 was mainly filled, yet in 2023 the venue was half empty. Fans are not willing to Spend insane amounts for another tour when the setlist will not be much different, and 2. See a group again when other artists they have not seen before may tour soon. In October 2023 alone, nine K-pop acts will have shows across the United States. It slows down in November to only 6, and even less in December. With many Western touring acts, shows are announced months, sometimes up to a year, in advance. For K-Pop concerts, ticketing happens sometimes, maybe one month before. For overseas shows, it is usually about 2 months before tickets go on sale. In Korea, however, ticketing can be as late as a few weeks beforehand (for Seventeen in Seoul, general ticketing was 16 days before the concerts). This lack of time means people are unable to request time off from work, find travel and lodging accommodations, and even get the funds needed for a concert ticket in time for the sales to begin.

Another factor in oversaturation is where the concerts are being held. Many artists are having multi-stop tours, some in over ten cities. Many artists have played in 5–6 US cities. While getting experience and exposure to new fans in new places is amazing, one thing the K-Pop industry relied on for many years was the fans' willingness to travel. If your favorite artist of all time was only playing four shows in the entire country, most people in the USA would have to travel to get there. Most people do not live within the city limits of New York, LA, Chicago, and some Texas cities (usually Houston or Dallas). This allows these venues to fill with people from not only city limits but outside as well. Seventeen’s Be the Sun tour only had one stop in the Midwest: Chicago’s United Center. While in line, many fans were sharing where they had traveled from to be here: Kansas, Nebraska, Michigan, Canada, and every midwestern state was being represented because this was the closest fans from these states had to see Seventeen, so they had to travel. Many groups are now going to multiple midwestern shows. Louisville is a recent K-Pop hotspot, as are Kansas City, Minneapolis, and Detroit. Fans no longer have to travel to one spot, so the demand is spread thin. Instead of every fan from the midwest filling up and selling out one venue, each venue around the midwest is selling to their respective audience and rarely selling enough.

So who is to blame? Should fans be selling their souls for these shows, even if there is no guarantee of a good seat? No, not at all. The fans are not to blame for shows not selling out. The fans are the ones buying the tickets that have been sold in the first place. The blame falls on the management team behind the tours. They are the ones renting out the venues, creating the tours, and determining the pricing. Ticketmaster has become a scapegoat for many concerts lately; their unfair practices being the subject of a Department of Justice investigation. However, many issues people have with Ticketmaster are unavoidable or fall into the hands of the tour management. People complain that concert ticketing is being done on Ticketmaster when it is legally obligated to, as many venues in the United States have contracts with Live Nation (Ticketmaster’s partner company). Fans complain about tickets being marked up as platinum when the tour management has the power to allow or prohibit this practice from happening in the first place. Some artists have opted out of platinum pricing; however, it is a way for people to make more money, so it is rarely seen. The tour managers have the responsibility to know what venues to book, what cities to visit, and how to price their tickets in a way that will sell out and get their artists the appropriate exposure.

Top Photo: Loossemble's Chicago Show

Bottom Photo: TripleS' Chicago Fanmeet, scheduled after their Chicago concert was canceled


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