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Why Aren’t Festivals Selling Out?

Kimberley Manderson


I’m surprised that this year’s Isle of Wight Festival hadn’t yet sold out, likewise I’ve also noticed that T in the Park 2012 still has tickets left. The biggest Scottish festival – which notoriously sells out within hours – still hasn’t sold out despite tickets going on sale over a month ago. They even emailed a friend pushing the sale of tickets.

In the absence of a certain festival giant, something doesn’t quite add up. Surely the 150,000 plus fans can’t have disappeared or suddenly become deaf? In a year with no Glastonbury, just why are the big festivals struggling to sell out? Upon closer inspection, it’s clear there are many contributing factors to the stagnating sales of festival tickets this year:


This really is Britain’s year for events. There are so many celebrations from festivals to fundraisers, carnivals to parades. Even Coca-cola are in on the action and are hosting Olympic torch concerts in London, Glasgow, Cardiff, Leeds and Birmingham. Not to mention the epic Brit-fest organised by Gary Barlow, also known as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert. Featuring British music legends Paul McCartney, Tom Jones, Elton John and Take That as well as some of pop’s major players today, the one-day extravaganza in June could be tearing people away from a weekend festival.

Economic hardship

Train fares went up a ridiculous amount in January, and alcohol, fuel and even sausage rolls are going to cost more from next month. The cost of living has risen sharply, and with the government clamping down on benefits (even on poor OAPs like Michael Eavis himself), not increasing the minimum wage in line with this, and only providing tax breaks for the rich, it seems the government has left us festival-goers (16-44 year olds, students, general young people) with little disposable income to throw away willy-nilly. That’s only if you’re lucky to be employed, as youth unemployment figures seem to be rising faster than fuel prices at the moment.

Line-up fatigue

A quick glance at the line-ups of all the big festivals this year tells you in a few seconds that a handful of the same acts are headlining most of the fests. Kasabian, Stone Roses, Killers and Snow Patrol are the main culprits in 2012. And I’ve lost count of how many bills I’ve seen Professor Green, Example, Miles Kane, Ed Sheeran and Primal Scream on. Though they are just this year’s worst offenders. Every successful act or artist from the last five years appears to be spreading themselves thinly over the whole festival season. From 2009-11 it was hard to find a festival Kings of Leon and Foo Fighters weren’t headlining. A mix of the same acts across festivals could be leaving punters with too much choice on where to go, whereas repeating said headliners year after year (or every second year as seems to be T in the Park’s forte lately) could be leaving people frustrated and looking for something more. Or just simply not willing to fork out for a bunch of acts they’ve already seen.


Although more and more festivals appear to be getting axed, there seems to be more festivals around than ever. For every cancelled fest, three more pop-up/grass roots/regional festivals take its place. With the big 10 offering the same line-ups, smaller, more niche festivals are cashing in (or trying to). Smaller festivals like Belladrum in Scotland are actually growing. Other niche festivals coming out of the woodwork as a result include Wakestock festival, which combines water sports with music, Rewind, which offers 70s and 80s acts, Parklife, Coloursfest and Creamfields which all specialise in dance music and various folk festivals seem to be on the rise thanks to the influx of indie-folk in the charts. With over 350 UK music festivals between May and September to choose from, are we all a bit too spoilt for choice? Or are people actively seeking out smaller (and probably also cheaper) festivals?

Growing festivals abroad

With the economic climate the way it is, people perhaps can’t afford to both go on a summer holiday and go to a festival. And with events like Ibiza/Mallorca Rocks or Benicassim International Festival, set in warmer climes, it can prove more beneficial to kill two birds with one stone. Beni itself is a festival giant, spread over four days and pulling in all your average headliners (Stone Roses and Florence and the Machine this year) – only it’s held in Spain in the middle of July. I can see the appeal. Also, winter festivals like The Big Snow and Winter Sessions offer music on the slopes for those in search of colder climes.

Nothing comes close to Glasto

According to Twitter, there’s simply nothing that comes close to Glastonbury. From the experience and atmosphere, to value for money and reputation, the general consensus is thatno other UK festival can top it. Many believe it offers more be it in the way of acts, facilities or festival add-ons like stalls and attractions. A lot of that comes down to the reputation Michael Eavis has built on the festival, believing that quality, not quantity draws people in. And it looks like he might be right.
At the time of writing, the UK leg of touring rock and metal festival Sonisphere has been cancelled, reportedly due to lack of ticket demand. So with a combination of economic hardship, line-up fatigue, big international events, saturation and quality issues all affecting people’s decisions about festivals, where do festival organisers go from here?

Is this the death of the music festival? Or will organisers adapt and grow?  I guess we’ll find out in a few years.

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