Money Racket? The High Cost of Israeli Pop Concerts

Concert promoters attribute high ticket prices to everything from travel costs and venue prices to the boycott.

Alon Ron

The winter doesn’t see many of the top world’s performing artists coming to Israel, but it is the time when the rumor mill gets busy spinning the news of who will be visiting in Israel during the coming summer.

The booking season was kicked off this year by promoter Shuki Weiss, who announced he was bringing American rock band Soundgarden and the Pixies of the U.K. In less than two hours ticket sales began.

Weiss seems to have a way of coaxing performers who’ve declined to come to Israel to change their minds. In 2012 he staged concerts by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who a decade earlier had canceled an Israel appearance. This year he is bringing the Pixies, who pulled out of a concert date four years earlier.

This was the opening shot of the not so well hidden competition between Israeli promoters. Since then quite a lot of other announcements have been made. Weiss announced that rock legend Neil Young would perform in Israel again, while promoter Udi Applebaum revealed that Justin Timberlake, the reigning king of pop, would visit Tel Aviv and perform.

Rumors say a number of other top-tier names are also coming this summer, including the Rolling Stones and Beyonce.

The joy of hearing your favorite performer live in Israel, however, is often diminished by the high prices of the tickets. The big local producers deny it, but it is clear that Israelis usually have to pay more for tickets at home than for the same shows in Europe or the United States.

For example, the cheapest tickets for Soundgarden’s Israel concert are 330 shekels ($95), but in The Netherlands Soundgarden tickets cost the equivalent of 276 shekels. In Luxembourg, they start at only 220 shekels.

For Deep Purple’s show the differences are even sharper: The cheapest ticket in Israel is 199 shekels while in Romania they cost the equivalent of 99 shekels and in Hungary 160 shekels.

True, in Belgium the tickets are 222 shekels, but there is only one price there for all the tickets - including the very best ones. The front rows are for those who arrive early, not for those who pay the most.

In Israel there is a wide range of prices, but the best tickets can run to 1,000 shekels. The difference in prices between the best and worst seats can reach 400 % The tickets for Charles Aznavour started at 390 shekels and topped out at 2,000 shekels.

Gad Oron, who recently brought Tom Jones to Israel, and in the past arranged concerts by Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Elton John, says Israelis are willing to pay a lot of money to stand in the front row or behind the stage.

For Tom Jones, Oron said he found that many people wanted a private parking spot, dinner with the best drinks and the best seats in the house - and he provided all this and more for 1,800 shekels a ticket.

Applebaum, whose credits include perofrmances by Cyndi Lauper, says Israeli prices are very different from those elsewhere around the world. For Timberlake, the VIP tickets in Israel may cost 1,450 shekels each, but in London and Berlin they can run the equivalent of 2,000 to 3,000 shekels, he says. If you compare the same seats and services, the prices are almost the same, he maintains.

Israeli surcharges

To the extent that there is a difference, Applebaum says, it is due to the high security costs in Israel as well as the distance from Europe. The cost of renting arenas and auditoriums are also more expensive than in Europe, says David Berkovich, a promoter and owner of the Hadran ticket agency.

Berkovich claims that without the VIP tickets subsidizing the others, there would be no performances at all.

The usual practice is to piggyback Israel on a performer’s European tour. The problem, says Oron, is that a trip to Israel isn’t really in Europe: A side trip takes five days out of the artist’s schedule.

“In Europe they travel with buses and trucks, and there is a show almost every day, but to come to Israel you need to do everything from scratch, bring all the staff, give the performance and fly out the next day. That’s why in most cases it is easier for artists to start their tour here or finish it here,” said Oron.

Concert producers say the boycott campaign aganst Israel also plays a role.

“When we propose a concert date we have to take into account that the performers will come under criticism for appearing in Israel. It may not be enough for them to give up the money involved in canceling but it’s not an easy situation and the fact is some have canceled,” says Oron.

That’s why he proposes that the government help subsidize some of the costs or provide cancellation insurance, which no private sector company would agree to do. Every time a star performer graces a stage in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, Israel scores points aganst the international boycott movement.

Of course, the long-term solution to cheaper concert tickers is peace in the Middle East. Then, touring performers could come on buses and trucks, moving from place to place around the region just like in Europe, says Applebaum, and prices would drop. “It’s my dream to one day make a peace festival in the region,” he adds.