Why the TRNSMT ‘Golden Circle’ and All Exploitative ‘VIP’ Standing Areas Must Go

At TRNSMT festival on Sunday in Glasgow I witnessed one of the most depressing sights in my twenty-plus years of concert going. As the headline act, The Killers, took to the stage there was a huge expanse of empty space in a ‘golden circle’ section at the front of the stage, while tens of thousands of people who had paid good money to see the show were fenced off and squashed behind a barrier. From our stand point it looked like there was essentially two festivals: one for the rich and one for everyone else.

As it turned out this wasn’t the entire story behind this unfair segregation of the crowd. Organisers DF Concerts had advertised ‘golden circle’ tickets for the Friday night of the festival, headlined by Queen, and for a separate gig on Tuesday by Bruno Mars. The sales of these rip off ‘golden circle’ tickets have been so poor for both shows they ended up having to give them away ‘buy one get one free’, rightly angering the hardcore fans who had already shelled out full price. Despite this offer Queen couldn’t fill up the ‘golden circle’ space and I imagine it will be the same for Bruno Mars too. To separate out a standing crowd is a scandalous attempt to fleece customers out of more money and create a two-tier concert experience which discriminates against poorer fans. To see such a system fail is no surprise.

However sources at the festival and online have suggested that Sunday’s show, headlined by the Killers was not even supposed to have a ‘golden circle’ section at the front of the stage. No golden circle tickets were even advertised. A ‘VIP’ ticket was available for the day which offered access to other bars and toilets, but only multi day festival passes included the option for ‘access to the golden circle’.

It appears like DF concerts just decided not to bother removing the barrier for the Sunday show and then just made up the rules for entry to this section, without informing fans and changing their minds as the day went on. Some people who turned up early were given wristbands (rumoured to be only about 1500 people which would have barely filled a fraction of the space) and people with VIP passes were allowed in at first but then refused entry later when they left for food and drinks (there were toilets but no refreshments in this section). When I asked the security guard at the entrance if it was possible to buy an upgrade he said it was ‘sold out’, even though it was barely half full even when Chvrches (the second band on the bill) were playing. It did fill up slightly more for The Killers but nowhere near ‘at capacity’ as they then claimed.

Earlier in the day acts were playing to tiny numbers of people at the front while thousands who wanted to get up close were left stood miles from the stage. It was embarrassing and killed the atmosphere stone dead. If this decision was made for ‘safety’ reasons then it failed again because it actually caused more people to get angry, push and cause a crush than if they had just let more people into the front or just let people stand where the hell they wanted to.

And let’s get on thing clear – separating out a standing crowd should only ever be done for safety and not for profit. There are two simple ways to organise a barrier system: offer wristbands to first come, first served or operate on a one-in, one-out system. I have seen both of these systems used in the past at T in the Park and other festivals. The key point where TRNSMT failed is that you have to trust the security guards to FILL UP the sections. If it was a ‘first come, first served’ area like DF have claimed then they obviously hugely underestimated the amount of people required to fill it up and they should admit it. Leaving huge expanses of space between the crowd was in fact more dangerous because people pushed trying to get towards it, only to be met by barriers.

And let’s be clear this fiasco should never have happened in the first place because there was no need to have a ‘golden circle’ at any of these shows. The fans don’t want it and the bands suffered because of it. It was a real shame because the rest of the site was well set up compared to the unmitigated disaster that was T in the Park at Strathallan Castle, which this new festival has replaced.

And it is not just DF concerts who are guilty of exploiting fans. Similar set ups have been used at the BST Festival in Hyde Park and U2 also unfairly segregated standing crowds at recent shows. Seated concerts have been offering tiered prices for a long time, allowing those with more money to have a better experience. It is so depressing to see it creeping into standing shows and festivals. Ticket prices are already expensive enough.

As fans we have to take a stand. Even if you can afford these expensive ticket options please do not buy them. Do not allow others to suffer for your own gain. I for one am determined to try to avoid shows that try to exploit fans like this. TRNSMT festival will return next year and I hope DF Concerts apologise and announce the end of the ‘golden circle’ scam for good. It’s the least they owe us fans.

If you were at TRNSMT let me know your experience or if you’ve been victim of similar set ups at concerts and festivals I want to hear your stories.

6 thoughts on “Why the TRNSMT ‘Golden Circle’ and All Exploitative ‘VIP’ Standing Areas Must Go

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  1. TRNSMT just emailed me a feedback survey. Brazen as anything. They couldn’t address the front circle catastrophe on the day and they still haven’t. It was a monumental mess up. We were at the first weekend and it was amazing. Arrived to find the golden circle yesterday, got told by information it was first come first served and all wristbands had been given out – before anybody had even found out they needed to get a wristband. After complaining and screenshotting the website which CLEARLY states “golden circle FRIDAY ONLY” and no mention that VIP meant you got tickets we asked how much it would be to upgrade to be told the front circle was full. It wasn’t. Far from. They then told us it’d be £55 to upgrade which would make the cost of a VIP ticket more than the original selling price. We stood watching the poor staff left to deal with the backlash by the organisers face a lot of abuse then left realising the information staff were being drip fed was neither consistent or correct. After tweeting my anger and replying to others, one of the people whose tweet I had replied to messaged to say “go now! They’re handing our wristbands” so we ran and managed to get in the circle. Not thanks to TRNSMT but thanks to a fellow disgruntled employee. Even after Chvrches, the second from top of the bill there was loads of space. It wasn’t then and was never full. If i’d Paid the £55 they told me to upgrade i’d have been even more peed off.

    It was badly managed, badly organised and misinformed. Apparently they had to have the circle on Sunday because the council wouldn’t let them take it down? Well why not just open it up for free instead of manning it ? I got into the golden circle and I’m still annoyed by it. TRNSMT Are already advertising next years tickets going on sale before addressing the problems from this year. Definitely won’t be going back.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for letting me know your experience – it was so frustrating and confusing. I’m glad you got in! We ended up just making our own atmosphere and watching the big screens which was fun but not what I wanted or paid for. After the chaos of T in the Park 2015 I swore I would never go back and I feel the same way now about TRNSMT. Thanks again for reading x

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  2. Bought VIP tickets and only wanted to see killers so arrived about 7.30. Understood that there wasn’t to be a golden circle and was surprised that there was. Thought well might as well head over only to be aggressively told that I could have got in earlier but not now. Wristbands had been given out during the day FOC to anyone that asked including people that had a general admission ticket. So i paid over £100 to stand at back where at 5ft 2in I couldn’t see anything. Utter disgrace. I have emailed DF Concerts but have had no reply.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah that is just shocking. The security were changing their minds and making things up as they went along. In the end they failed because the front was so empty! And I really feel your pain about the height thing. I could hardly see anything beyond the big screen at certain points but we had been waiting since 6 when Franz came on so were at least near the barrier between the sections. I am going to send this post to DF concerts but not expecting a reply. I know another journalist is writing this story up so hopefully more attention will prevent this happening again. Sorry you had a bad experience – it really was unfair on everyone. Thank you for reading and commenting x

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  3. My mum and I were at TRNSMT on Sunday and we were told to get our bands at the start of the VIP section and that on that specific day, we could go to the VIP section and would have access to the golden circle (admittedly had no idea what this was). We explored before going to see Franz Ferdinand in said golden circle. It was rather empty at this point. We then left for refreshments and returned to be told we didnt have a gold band. Now, on entry to the golden circle, mum was told we didnt need one because we had VIP bands. We went with it (tickets were a gift from lovely brother/son as mum and I are big killers fans) we didnt look at the ins and outs of the ticket, we just trusted the staff. Naturally.

    When our entry was refused, we watched non-VIP guests with standard tickets walk by because they had received their “first come first served” golden ticket leaving VIP ticket purchasers further pee’d off because extra had been paid and misinformation given. It was all very confusing and irritating. I dont see that the plan was class related (everywhere has VIP/ special access/ desirable views etc), but i do agree that those without entry to the ‘circle of greatness’ were disadvantaged but I’ll get to that in a minute.

    The staff, i felt for. I did. There was seemingly no support for them and they were relying on someone in an office Riesling down an ear-mic trelling them what to say.

    What I will say is; the way people were being spoken to was ridiculous. Refusal of supervisors to attend, refusal to be passed to someone who could help – I had to remind one staff member I was a human being who wanted to talk and not receive a barrage of hostility as she desperately tried to make her point. I get people were angry and we played peace keeper for a bit, but we shared their frustrations.

    I know the front circle at the likes of TITP was something you queued for (remember the cattle gates?) But it was a safety measure and if you wanted to queue you did, for ages, knowing the risk of not getting in was real. It was not a profit making scheme. It didn’t cost extra. It wasnt “golden” (oh the connotations!), it was an area of the stage separated by barriers to stop crowd surges.

    Now on to my point about the disadvantage experienced by those denied entry to the circle. My mum had never been to a festival before and had never seen the killers before. I was really sad for her. She is around 5″4 and could barely see. The stage was FAR too low and it was clear that if you were in the ‘circle of superiority’, you hands down had a better view. Im 5″10 and struggled a bit. Franz Ferdinand was brilliant. You could see the performance well, it was all good. Outside the circle, well let’s just be thankful for massive tv screens. It wasnt great. Lots of people trying to negotiate themselves to be able to “kind of” see. What was that about? Never have i heard of small stage syndrome but here we are. A wee stage that needs it’s own golden circle to be fully appreciated.

    The whole thing really did let TRNSMT down. So far not even an inclination there will be an apology for the upset…. but really, I don’t expect anything less from DF Concerts. Unapologetically stubborn in every sense.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It just makes no sense as to why they stopped letting those with VIP passes in since it was nowhere near full! They could have let everyone with vip passes and then a whole heap more as well. Really disappointing. And yes I do feel sorry for the security but surely common sense should have prevailed and someone should have taken the initiative to let enough people in to fill up the space? DF concerts always seem to make mistakes with big events and it’s so frustrating. Thank you for sharing your story x

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