First, Justin Bieber postponed his June concert in Toronto, then The Weeknd was sidelined by the Rogers network outage a few weeks later. Shawn Mendes pulled out of dates at Scotiabank Arena several days before showtime, while the New Kids of the Block canceled an appearance a week prior.
Concerts are resuming after two years of pandemic restrictions in Canada, but for music fans who often travel far and wide, a triumphant return is anything but certain. Some of the biggest artists in the music industry have pulled out of Canadian shows days – sometimes hours – after the start, leaving ticket holders who have traveled a good distance with flight and hotel bills that often cannot be refunded.
Usually, circumstances are beyond the performer’s control – ranging from illness to technical obstacles – but concertgoers who’ve shelled out big bucks for a night that doesn’t happen say the sting may linger.
“You’re basically making an investment and hoping for a gain,” said Jill Krajewski, a Toronto-based culture writer who has reduced her attendance at shows since the pandemic began.
“It’s a bit of a lottery ticket.
Postponements and cancellations aren’t new to the concert industry, but as ticket prices soar, the cost of gas and food skyrocket due to inflation, and promoters work hard to get people back into theaters, some fans say a negative experience could affect if they plan on going to another show anytime soon, especially one outside of their hometown.
It’s a debate Tracy Smith will face the next time she considers buying tickets.
Earlier this month, she flew to Toronto from Atlanta in hopes of seeing The Weeknd kick off his After Hours til Dawn world tour in his hometown. It wasn’t until she was queuing to enter the stadium that she learned, in a haze of confusion, that the show could not move forward due to the Rogers network outage.
“Nobody really knew what was going on,” she recalls. “The lines were getting longer around the block.”
Concert tickets for her and her daughter cost $800 in total, while she says a flight and hotel package costs an additional $2,800. Tickets are refundable, but Smith does not recover the rest of his expenses since the cancellation occurred on the day of the event.
That’s what bothers her the most, she says. Smith stayed at the Rogers Center hotel, but because The Weeknd canceled an hour before showtime, she had already checked in. She contacted Rogers to ask for at least a refund or partial credit – arguing that their network outage cost her money while she remained on their premises – but said the company had not responded. .
“It caused tears,” she added. “And it makes me want to travel less to go to shows.”
Such experiences are common at major concert centers across the country that attract superfans and families from other provinces, or in the case of The Weeknd, from as far away as Europe and Australia.
Eric Alper, a music publicist and industry player, said the cumulative attention from the cancellations is not helping an industry that is still trying to get back on its feet.
“From a fan perspective, there’s a bit of bad taste in someone’s mouth with the constant cancellations,” he said.
“They don’t just hear about the cancellations in Toronto, or whatever city they are in, they hear about the cancellations in Barcelona, Paris and the United States by reading about it on the internet. It all has to be consumed in someone’s mind and make the issue much bigger than three or four shows.
Nicholas Li, who monitors spending habits as an assistant professor of economics at Toronto Metropolitan University, is less convinced that trouble awaits concert organizers.
“I’m certainly sympathetic to people who find the whole experience infuriating; one thing consumers don’t like is huge uncertainty,” he said.
But he added: “I think there are so many pent-up requests that (it’s) less of a concern that people are put off by the experience of a costly show cancellation.”
Alper isn’t so sure the bad experiences this year won’t lead to problems in the future.
He suggested 2023 could play out “in two ways” – fans could return in droves for live shows or show waning interest in uncertain events.
He points to recent gigs he’s worked on that he says were “sold out” ahead of time, but only saw 70% of ticket holders show up in the evening.
Ticketmaster was criticized in 2020 for changing its policy to no longer offer refunds on postponed concerts. The “hassle” and uncertainty of this experience was not well received by some consumers and Alper speculated that it might impact future ticket tales.
“For some people, maybe a (postponed concert) date just isn’t right for them… their financial situation has changed drastically or they may have been laid off,” he said.
“Maybe they’d rather get their $1,000 back right away. And I think it’s only fair that they get it.
In these unstable economic times, the question remains open whether the gig industry can afford more blows to its reputation.
Short-term research from market research firm Ipsos released last week indicates that Canadians plan to cut entertainment spending as inflation hits a 39-year high.
Research found that 25% of Gen X consumers say they limit their entertainment activities, compared to 15% of baby boomers.
Looking at spending patterns in August, middle- and upper-income Canadians say they plan to cut their spending on entertainment outside the home — at events like movie theaters and concerts — by 21%.
With such uncertainty, Krajewski says she thinks of musicians trying to cater to the safety of their fans, the business interests of their record labels wanting them back on the road, and their own need to pay the bills.
“They’re doing their best in a very precarious time to travel, let alone sing indoors,” she said.
“Everyone is rolling the dice right now trying to have a good time. Be kind if it doesn’t work.
David Friend, The Canadian Press