Every summer a number of air shows take place in the UK, such as those at Farnborough, Cosford and the Royal International Air Tattoo. Some of these events prove to be extremely popular and successful. For example, over 50,000 people attended the event at Cosford on Sunday 9th June to watch a five-and-a-half-hour flying display, including the Red Arrows, a Vulcan bomber and a RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, which featured Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster aircrafts.
The event was so popular that some people who had paid £25 for a ticket failed to make it to the show ground because they were stuck in a 9 mile traffic jam! The popularity of these events does raise an interesting economic question. Why do so many people pay to attend when it is possible to watch much of the air show from outside the showground? If people can enjoy the benefits of watching an event whether or not they have paid then we might expect the majority of them not to pay.
Air shows seem to have some of the characteristics of a public good: i.e. to some extent the consumption benefits are both non-rival and non-excludable. By non-rival it is meant that one person’s use or consumption of the good does not decrease the quantity available for somebody else to use or consume. If one person watches the Red Arrows fly by, it does not decrease the ability of others to watch them. Contrast this with a product that has the characteristic of being ‘rival’ such as a hamburger. If someone eats a hamburger, it reduces the amount that is available for others to enjoy. The good is ‘used up’ during consumption. Other people cannot eat the same hamburger!!! Many sporting and music events share this characteristic of non-rivalry. For example if somebody is watching a band playing live at Glastonbury it does not stop somebody else from enjoying the benefits of watching the band. The performance of the band is not ‘used up’ like the hamburger when a person watches the show.
The major difference between Glastonbury and an air show is that the event organisers at Glastonbury can prevent people who have not paid for a ticket from enjoying the show. The event is excludable, as fans have to enter the show arena in order to see the bands. However, as one contributor to an internet discussion site commented:
Air show organisers are at a particular disadvantage compared to other show organisers because the key elements of their show can be seen for miles.
Another contributor added that:
Unfortunately being an air show by its very nature it’s very public – the planes are in the air for everyone to see for free for miles around.
In other words, air shows have the characteristic of being non-excludable, as people can benefit regardless of whether they have paid or not.
These public good properties seem to be causing problems for an air show in Welshpool that appears to have an issue with a number of non-payers watching the event. The organisers recently stated that:
We can’t stop people watching from the hillsides, but perhaps we can make them understand that they need to come to the show and pay.
The previous year the organisers had sent people out with buckets to collect voluntary donations from those sitting on the hillside. However they found that:
People were not for giving much at all and it was noticeable how much copper was in the buckets we’d used and there were hardly any notes.
One solution being proposed in order to generate more revenue is to increase the entry fee, which is currently £5, in order to compensate for those who are not paying.
Bob Jones Memorial Air Show urges people to buy tick BBC News (9/6/13)
How to make an airshow pay PistonHeads, (9/6/13)
Free or should you pay Talk Photography, (9/6/13)
An organisers view Airshow, (9/6/13)
Cosford Air Show pledge over traffic chaos Shropshire Star, (10/6/13)
RAF Cosford Air Show – Home RAF Cosford Air Show, (12/6/13).
- What practical problems does a show such as Glastonbury face in trying to make the event excludable?
- In the blog it explains how one person watching a band live does not have a negative impact on the pleasure other people will derive from watching the same band: i.e. it is non-rival. Is this always true? Can you think of any circumstances when watching a live band might become a rival good?
- What term do economists use for goods that are non-rival but are excludable? Think of at least three examples.
- What ideas might the organisers of an air show adopt to encourage people to pay and enter the show ground area?
- Can you think of any strategies that might be used to increase the number and size of the voluntary donations made by those who watch the airshow for free from a hill-side?
- What are the organisers assuming about the price elasticity of demand for the air show at its current price if they claim that increasing prices will lead to an increase in revenue?