It’s June 2018 and Taylor Swift is due to play the City of Manchester Stadium. I have two tickets to the occasion and it is fairly safe to assume that a slightly underwhelmed partner is to accompany me with less enthusiasm than myself.
Despite the presence of non-fans, Taylor didn’t indulge the mixed audience. There were no covers of Lady Antebellum songs or stage sharing with James Bay. It was almost as if the entire show was tailored towards Swifties, the assumption being that those with tickets had paid for such an experience.
Because there isn’t an alternative to such a show. This was the one off opportunity. My partner didn’t say, “I don’t think I’ll get value for money seeing Taylor Swift at City’s stadium – why don’t we see a Bay City Rollers tribute act at the New Inn instead?” There is no equivalence.
The New Wave of Tickers
There has been further movement within the beer industry in the last couple of years to keep taking influence in styles (copy) of drinking from other countries. The need to create division between traditionalists and wheel re-inventors continues and the latest wall built is the “All-in” beer festival ticket. Taking the tired old design of buying entry into a venue and paying for *just* what you consume, the “All-in” ticket allows you unlimited access to all beer available once a nominal fee has been prepaid. It is a design seen at a few festivals across the world for Whalez Bros, which instantly justifies its appearance on these shores.
They are festivals for this generation’s version of Good Beer Guide tickers.
The visibility of this new ticketing system for beer festivals has polarised opinion online, unusual in this industry. Those intimidated by change are intimidated by the change. Those with experience of other festivals using the system are used to the benefits. There are pros and cons to the system and each individual will be able to present argument for each side.
It is difficult to come to conclusions. At present, the “All-in” festivals are limited to just a few and if you disagree with the premise and structure of the pricing then the easiest conclusion is to not buy a ticket. Nobody is forcing anybody to go to beer festivals. If it isn’t for you or you see no value in it then don’t go and ignore the Fear Of Missing Out.
One thing that these tickets unquestionably are not, though, is inclusive.
Beer Festivals are for Beer Drinkers
Heavy exposure has been placed on the value of friendship and community within the beer industry at present. Many state that the best beer festivals they attend are better due to the people, rather than the other mitigating factors. Beer festivals are social outings and occasions for sharing with friends.
It is for this reason my partner often accompanies me to festivals. Not being a huge alcohol drinker, her consumption often stops often three or four small pourings. We spend the days with some of our favourite people and amongst friends we have made together in the beer community. Strangely, none of those friends ask why my partner has bothered to attend unless she is skulling sixty of the rarest beers from across the world. The entry fee was the right amount to justify being here. From this point it is about spending what you consume.
I’ve been to numerous beer festivals over the years with friends who exist well away from the beer bubble. Once there, they will probably drink a similar amount to myself, there just won’t be any social media activity running parallel to it. There will be little care for one-offs and unicorns but the experience shared will be thoroughly enjoyed.
Just as with my partner, I’ve been with that group of friends to numerous festivals: The Manchester Beer & Cider Festival, Indy Man Beer Con, The Independent Salford Beer Festival, the local rotary club festival, etc… I cannot convince them to join me at Dark City or BeaverEx or even a new festival from Cloudwater – the Friends & Family & Beer festival to beheld in March.
What is the common difference between those two sets of events?
I keep hearing/reading people answer hang-ups about “All-in” tickets with “but why would you want to come if you don’t like beer? Beer festivals are for beer drinkers.” It is woefully ignorant. It is ignorant to assume those people are not drinking beer. It is ignorant to assume they place the same value on rarities as you may well do. It is damn right ignorant to assume that everybody in Taylor Swift’s audience is a fan.
The Perception of Value
As Brits we have an inane desire to judge value for money with false equivalences. “Twenty pints in the local,” “return flights to Germany,” “A steak dinner for two” are just some of the negative examples put against an “All-in” ticket for a beer festival I have heard this last week (one of those three was by myself.)
“It is how much I spend at other festivals overall,” “Cheaper than a night out in Manchester,” “About the same as a Copenhagen festival,” are some of the positive equivalences placed for balance’s sake (again, at least one made by myself.)
Value for money is our passion and a change in the usual terms and conditions moves us away from our comfort zone and creates discussion. Again, opinion will split and arguments can be made for both sides. On a personal level, those arguments can only be made as an individual. It is as an individual attendee that I can see the logistical merit in the “All-in” ticket, that I can see the value for money, that I can see the opportunity to try lots of new flavours.
If, as an individual, you cannot then there are a great number of festivals that can cater to your different needs. There are a lot of beer festivals and there are certainly enough that they work for different markets. If you find one model doesn’t work for you as an individual then it is okay to just not attend.
It is as a partnership that I have been critical of the “All-in” design. By default it rules my partner – or even non-beery friends – from attending.
Somebody has already asked what the difference is between getting them a ticket to a Taylor Swift concert they didn’t want to go for £100 against a £45-£60 festival ticket, that they may not get a great deal use out of but can at least still accompany me to the event. It was a really interesting point that I didn’t have an immediate answer to without some thought.
I guess there are numerous factors, one being the afore mentioned lack of equivalence. Music gigs are often single opportunities, even if new albums are toured in a few years’ time. Unlike my insistence that one can find a different beer festival with a suitable pricing structure, one cannot find a comparable music artist at a different venue for a similar experience. That isn’t how it works.
On a more personal level, I don’t have much of a problem with attending beer festivals alone, just like I don’t with pubs. Ignoring the fact that I’m likely to bump into somebody or strike up a conversation, I’m perfectly comfortable sitting alone through proceedings if necessary. I’m still attending Dark City in a couple of weeks with an “All-in” ticket, but my partner is not due to the ticketing structure. Whilst I would prefer it if they could come, we accept the restraints can’t make this happen. There is no way on earth I would, personally, attend a Taylor Swift concert alone.
But the real reason is simply because they are two very different situations within a relationship. Accompanying somebody you love to something you don’t have much interest in because it will bring them joy is basic stuff. Not attending a beer festival that has priced you out is not the same thing.
Despite the many discussions occurring at present, the only reason for conversation around the future of “All-in” beer festivals is the future. If new festivals designed to suit this ticketing structure are created then there really isn’t a problem. An issue arises if more existing festivals adopt it.
The structure clearly divides opinion, so existing festivals changing over from a different token system are clearly showing their hand. They are settling their preference and target audience. Perhaps this isn’t a problem but, in environments that continually boast about their inclusivity, we are making beer access more exclusive. If people will happily attend other events but not yours because of specific detail, how have you made it inclusive?
They are designed specifically for a limited number within an already niche market who place value in trainspotting and pomposity. Within that group sales are high so the ticket design is justified, but it can never be described as inclusive, especially when made comparable. It is for the beer bubble alone and that is okay – just don’t describe it differently on the promotional material.
Taylor Swift didn’t put on a concert that catered to fans of Motorhead or Five Finger Death Punch or Mobb Deep. It didn’t exist to make every single person in attendance happy. That seems okay. It was for those that wanted to be there. Things can exist that aren’t suitable for all. Just don’t pretend or argue that they are.