A FREE OZZFEST: What does it mean?


The blogosphere and internet forums are abuzz with the latest news that this year’s Ozzfest is going to be free. Even those outside the metal community are talking about this groundbreaking move by the festival’s promoters. What does it all mean? How are the economics going to work? Will it be a massive success or a huge failure? MetalSucks.net examines the issues confronting a free Ozzfest and offers some industry-insider opinions.

The first thing everyone is talking about is money. How are they going to fund this thing? Running two stages and paying the stage-hands required to set it all up and tear it all down is NOT cheap. Factor in sound, lighting, salaries for stage-hands, catering, buses, etc etc, and I would estimate you’re looking at about $50,000 to $75,000 per show in costs. This doesn’t even include the fee that the promoter has to pay to rent the venue for the day ($25,000 to $50,000? Hard to know). Long story short: it ain’t cheap. How will they pay for all of this, and, since the promoters have to eat, how will they make a profit?

My guess is that this year’s Ozzfest is going to be similar to the Warped Tour model of recent years. Warped Tour has continually been able to keep ticket prices extremely low (around $30) by selling massive amounts of advertising around the venue and allowing these advertisers to have tents / vending areas. Kids seem to be willing to put up with being bombarded by ads in order to see a ton of bands all day long for a cheap ticket. Not to mention, this leaves cash available for merch and other bullshit purchases, which are EXTREMELY profitable ($30 for a t-shirt? These shirts probably cost $2 or $3 a piece to make, tops).

Sharon Osbourne has already indicated that bands will not be paid this year, which may seem like a big deal but really isn’t when you consider that most bands lose money on these big package tours anyway. That’s a pretty big cost cut for Sharon and Ozzy, where past headliners have been paid astronomically (Iron Maiden — a reported $185,000 per show, System of a Down a reported $325,000 per show). There’s a saying in the industry that’s it all about the headliner, and everything else doesn’t matter. Fortunately in this case, your headliner (Ozzy) is also the promoter. Problem solved. Furthermore, what band in a support slot is going to turn down playing in front of tens of thousands of people every day, even without pay?

Will second stage bands still have to “buy on,” that is “pay to play” as in the past? Sure it’s all about the exposure at festivals like this… But how can you expect a band to lose THAT MUCH money from a summer of touring? With bands these days making less and less from actual record sales, touring is their bread and butter.
Bands will be allowed to offset touring losses by playing other shows in the same cities as Ozzfest on off-days or even that same day (time permitting). This is very rare in the concert industry and generally looked upon as a big no-no. When bands sign contracts to do a show, these contracts generally include what is known as a “radius clause” indicating the the band is not allowed to play within a certain radius of said city (usually 60 – 100 miles) within a specified amount of time (usually 60 days before and after the show date). This is designed to benefit both the band and the promoter/club, so as to not dilute the band’s audience over more than one show, ensuring that attendance at the one show is maximized (bands make more money this way). So the question becomes, will this hurt Ozzfest attendance and will it hurt attendance at these other shows?

My guess is that usually it won’t. In the case of Ozzfest affecting off-show attendance, I think there will be enough interest in Ozzfest due to the wide variety of bands on the bill that there will still be plenty of folks willing to pay $15 or $20 to see their favorite band in a smaller and more intimate setting the next day. Since Ozzfest is free anyway, some people may just skip the early part of the day knowing that they can see their favorite band in a much cooler setting the next day. In the case of off-shows affecting Ozzfest attendance, there may be a segment of people that chose only to see their favorite band in a club. But at a free Ozzfest ticket, why turn that down?? May as well go. And the promoters know that these people will still spend money on merch, concessions, and the almighty profit-monger: beer. And even if these people do only attend the club show, the number of people that fit in a club is a tiny percentage of Ozzfest attendees. And again, with a free ticket, there will be plenty of other eager concert-goers willing to take the ticket just because it’s free; and of course they’ll spend money on merch, food, and beer.

Press releases from Sharon Osbourne seem to indicate that there will indeed still be physical tickets, and that you will have to get them through the Ozzfest website or sponsor websites. This seems fair enough, and I think we can also expect the “send in 3 Pepsi caps for your tickets” type of marketing.
Since tickets are indeed free, will there be a demand for them? Will the buzz and coolness factor of the event being free lead to huge demand for tickets, or will just the opposite happen — since it’s free, people won’t perceive value and won’t feel the need to go out and get their tickets right away? Hard to say here, but I think that having the right bands on the bill will create plenty of demand no matter what.

Speaking of which, here’s an off-the-cuff short list of bands that are available for this year’s Ozzfest (i.e. they didn’t do Ozzfest last year and/or are currently supporting new albums): Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall, Chimaira, Lamb of God, Sevendust, Chevelle, Mastodon, Trivium, Lacuna Coil, Stone Sour, Machine Head, Korn, Linkin Park, the Deftones. It’s a pretty solid crop. It’s hard to imagine some of the bigger acts on this list doing a tour where they don’t get paid because they could just tour on their own just as well. But you never know.

For free, who wouldn’t go to this? Sign me up.


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