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Check out this interesting article from Business World by Pola Esguerra del Monte that delves into the most-anticipated, the most-talked-about musical event of NEXT year and why, despite the exorbitant ticket prices, Filipino fans will do what it takes to snag their chance to see the one and only MADONNA perform live… for the very first time.

Bitch, I’m watching MADONNA

PROCESSIONAL CROSSES go stomping in the hands of half-naked men. Nuns with a habit shortage swing on poles, exposing fluttering muscular thighs wrapped with a lace band. The star, Madonna, reveals herself in these 30-second teasers for the Rebel Heart Tour no more beyond 00:10 and 00:12. As elusive as divine apparitions, her minimal exposure symbolizes the exclusivity of seeing her, The Holy Mother of Pop, in the flesh.

Proof is the cost of the tickets to her show at the Mall of Asia Arena, the lone stop in the Asian leg which is uncharted land for the iconic American singer. With the SVIP seats ringing in at Php57,750, Manila concert tickets are reportedly the most expensive in the other countries that the tour will go to.

“So start saving your pennies now,” she told Newsweek in 2012, during promotions for her previous album, MDNA, which was accompanied by a tour that same year. “Annoyed,” as the weekly put it, by the suggestion that ticket prices to her shows are exorbitant, Madonna declared: “People spend $300 on crazy things all the time, things like handbags. So work all year, scrape the money together, and come to my show. I’m worth it.”

BUSINESS MODEL
Madonna, still a pop chameleon at 56 who has branched out to such a diversity of creative work, is also her own corporation.

According to Wealth-X, she has a net worth of US$800 million. She knows her monetary value, having long immersed herself in selling herself. Experts have taken note of her entrepreneurial gift, including Colin Barrow of the Cranfield School of Management who described the pop star as a model to other businesses.

“She manages her own career, chairs her own group of companies and charts her own path based on an uncanny instinct for knowing what the public wants and what it will tolerate,” Mr. Barrow wrote in 2004. He hailed Madonna as among the “four best-planned business organizations” in the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, in Manila, Lulu Moguel, a business professor at a top graduate school, calls the business executed for the Philippine audience “an exploitation.”

“What is in the Philippines that they’re selling tickets at that price point?” she asked. “Why do we allow these people to sell us tickets at this price, when they know we’re Third World?”

She recalled a 2012 column by Jemy Gatdula in BusinessWorld, which noted that the Philippines scored an average IQ level of 86 (“borderline cretin in terms of IQ, just one level up from moron and two levels up from an imbecile.”). That, in the analysis of Ms. Moguel, may have been taken into consideration during the local concert’s market research. “With very few thinking Filipinos, and fueled by arrogance, we can be exploited by foreigners,” she said.

She added that the pricing takes advantage of the demarcation of social classes, with corporations and celebrities on the frontline. This more successful segment, after all, grew up with Material Girl.

“Most of the patron seats are paid for by corporations. Rarely do patron ticket holders pull money out of their pockets,” she said.

Maria Lourdes Lim, a tax managing partner at Isla Lipana & Co., clarified that corporations may generally claim sponsorship or ticket purchases as deduction for income tax purposes. In an e-mail, Ms. Lim said that fees paid by corporate sponsors to local concert promoters may qualify as advertising or marketing expense for promotion of the corporation’s name, products, and brand. The expense should be properly substantiated and, if applicable, subjected to withholding tax. On the other hand, the value of tickets purchased may be claimed by the corporation as deduction against its gross income either as entertainment, amusement and recreation expense, or fringe benefits expense.

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LUCKY STARS
For Ms. Moguel, local celebrities patronizing the concert will also encourage other Filipinos to do the same for them. “The industry will flourish,” she said. “In the long run, it will help celebrities recruit more audiences when it’s their turn to perform.”For his part, Star Studio Magazine editor Ian Reyno believes the ticket pricing is justified. Much like himself, local celebrities he is close to do not have qualms about the cost. “When it comes to the Queen of Pop, there are no celebrities,” he said. “We’re all fans.”

To actress and singer Cherie Gil, one of Madonna’s fans among the country’s top celebrities, the American diva is no second-rate artist. “One night to watch Madonna is money well-spent,” she told BusinessWorld in an interview.

Ms. Gil knows that the move to sell at those prices is a calculated business move. “Why would they bring a Madonna not knowing if they can sell the show or not? There’s money here!” She also qualifies that Madonna’s artistry, having evolved a long way from the lapidary Eighties, is not “pa-masa [for the masses]. She’s quite elitist, her concept. So that’s the market: people who can pay.”

When ticket pricing to the Rebel Heart concert trended on social media, netizens broke into an uproar. But whether it urged or discouraged people from getting tickets, for sure the pricing was its own unwitting statement.

“She is definitely asserting her iconic status,” said Joel Mangahis, a marketing management professional in the financial industry. “From the marketing point of view, Madonna’s target has a higher capacity to pay than the target of the younger pop singers.”

Apart from the more accomplished segment of society, the extent of Madonna’s local audience reaches younger professionals who were not even born when her zeitgeist film Desperately Seeking Susan was showing in Manila cinemas.

Alyssa Cuarto, a 25-year-old manager at a record company that produces music for digital distribution, bought tickets within the first hour of selling on the second day. By that time, seats in the Php8K category were already few and far apart. That didn’t stop her. From watching the diva — through YouTube — greet the crowds in London, Paris, and New York, Ms. Cuarto is now anticipating hearing: “Thank you for being here, Manila!”

Music Insights, a tool of Google’s YouTube For Artists initiative, reveals that the Philippines is the 17th country in the world with the largest fanbase for Madonna — with 7,335,170 total views, as of this writing. YouTube’s developers designed this as a resource for artists to map a tour, because top cities are a good indicator on where fans may shell out money to see a concert, an upgrade from watching free at home.

As such, YouTube viewers like Ms. Cuarto are lining up, carrying some bragging rights along with the privilege. “To be able to say you saw the Queen of Pop performing in the flesh, when other people are just stuck at home watching clips of her online, means that you’re one of the lucky few.”

BORDERLINES
Rolando Tolentino, University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication Dean, calls this phenomenon a “coming-into-consumerist age” of the generation of loyal fans who patronized her and now have access to financial wealth.

Mr. Tolentino, who once wrote about social hierarchy in malls, believes that a similar pattern is at play in the configuration of concert arenas.

“Anything that is highly priced caters primarily to the rich. But unlike other ventures marked exclusively for the elites, there is pop culture built into the Madonna concert,” he said. “This means that Madonna is a pop icon whose music is accessible to all. The concert therefore is even made more elitist because the rich know they can attend while the poor know they can only desire.”

After filtering those who can pay from those who can’t, inside the arena, social stratification persists.

The rich get to be up close to the star, and the poor enjoy the view from the bleachers. Other spaces — exclusive restaurants in malls, hotel buffets, high-end premieres and meet-ups with celebrities, including the Pope — have long reified class hierarchy in the country, Mr. Tolentino said.

“Intersections in society in the partaking of consumer goods are only possible if the class base has been liberalized, i.e., there is a substantial middle class in place. As it is, the middle class is supposed to account for only 20% of the population, with only one percent in class A,” he said. Given an economic boom that affords a considerable portion of the populace financial wealth that, in turn, allows the luxury of consumer purchases, there is further growth in high-end retail and consumption. “The high-end can begin to become middle-end, and, of course, new higher-end products will be made available. As for now, most Filipinos can only desire these brands and only in their dreams, to purchase them.”

As Madonna begins her tour in September, the few who can afford wait expectantly for the day they get to fill the MoA Arena. This will be the closest their money can take them to pop paradise. Cause we are living in a corporate world, and we are material boys and girls, and few are privileged to touch the star’s ray of light, for the very first time.

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