How much is "Satisfaction" worth?

How about $170 for a cheap seat, $635 for a top seat or $750 to $2,000 for a VIP ticket that includes extras?

That, according to Ticketmaster figures, is what the Rolling Stones are charging for tickets on their current 50 and Counting Tour, which comes to Oracle Arena in Oakland on May 5 and HP Pavilion in San Jose on May 8.

Experts say the Stones' tickets reflect a savvy trend by some A-list acts toward smaller venues and bigger prices. With the insight they gain from an invigorated secondary ticket market, these performers have a new understanding of how much fans are willing to pay for certain seats.

(Jeff Durham/Bay Area News Group)

But if the Stones are once again ahead of the curve in the music business, that's probably of little consolation to their fans. Given that the bandmates are in their 60s and 70s, this is widely expected to be their final concert trek. And for many longtime fans, who would love nothing more than to see the band and its legendary live show one more time, the prices amount to a slap in the face.

"I have to give them respect for what they have done and the amazing place they have in rock, but now they seem like an embarrassment," says San Jose's Cameron Bowman. "Seriously, how much more money do they need? I feel like they are in Donald Trump/Gordon Gekko territory -- just money for money's sake."


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The Stones did release a limited number of $85 tickets for most shows on its website. But few fans were able to secure these tickets, and, thus, Bowman isn't the only one sitting out this tour. It's worth noting that tickets for the two Bay Area shows went on sale Monday and still had not sold out as of Wednesday afternoon. Promoters said both shows were "close" to selling out, but, tellingly, the seats remaining were the highest-priced ones.

By comparison, Pink sold out her recent arena show, and Beyoncé her upcoming show at HP Pavilion, in less than an hour with lower ticket prices.

Still, the Stones' eye-popping prices reflect good business sense -- singer Mick Jagger did attend the London School of Economics, after all -- and a somewhat streamlined touring strategy, say concert industry experts.

The band has for years played extended tours that stopped at mammoth stadiums seating at least 40,000 fans. But the 50 and Counting Tour features just a dozen U.S. shows, all at arenas averaging 15,000 to 20,000 seats.

"They will probably make more money playing arenas than they would playing stadiums, because the overhead costs for playing a stadium are enormous," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert industry publication Pollstar. "If the Stones average $250 per ticket and sell 15,000 seats they can gross $3.75 million from that one show."

Compare that with when the Stones played a four-night stand at the then-Oakland Coliseum in 1994. The band sold 199,285 tickets priced at $20 to $50, grossing $9.4 million, according to Bongiovanni. That means the Stones grossed about $2.35 million per night.

Rolling Stone magazine puts the Stones' take even higher -- between $4 million and $5 million per show. Billboard magazine estimates that Los Angeles-based promoter AEG stands to make as much as $100 million in gross revenue from the tour.

It all amounts to a lot of money coming in. And the Stones are not ashamed of any of it, says band guitarist Ronnie Wood. He told the British newspaper the Telegraph the band already has some heavy costs to recoup.

"We've already spent a million on rehearsing in Paris," he said. "And the stage is going to be another few million. And the lights. We feel no bad thing about ticket prices."

And they are not the only act gambling that a relatively intimate venue can yield big sales.

Prince, a musician who has no problem selling out arenas, has booked a small-venue tour that includes four shows in two nights, April 23 and 24, at San Francisco's 800-capacity DNA Lounge. All four shows sold out -- at $250 per ticket.

"I can see that there is value in (the Prince ticket prices)," Bongiovanni says. "Because you know you are going to be up close. If you are a big Prince fan, maybe that makes it worth it to you."

It's no stab in the dark. Thanks to the rise of legitimate secondary ticket sellers such as StubHub.com, artists know what people are willing to pay to see a show.

"It used to be that you would lose your counterculture cool by charging exorbitant ticket prices," Bongiovanni says. "Now there's no stigma to it."

The Stones have a history of pushing the boundaries of ticket prices. The band was one of the first to adopt a multitiered pricing strategy, with its 1994 tour, where the best seats went to those willing to pay more. Now, almost every major act uses the multitiered approach.

Meanwhile, Stones fans like Half Moon Bay's Gary Tyrrell are licking their wounds.

"I was prepared to pay $200 (per ticket) and, if I was able to get really good tickets, maybe $250," said the longtime Stones fan. But when he got online to buy four tickets, he found he'd already been priced out.

"Man, when the price came up and said $2,500, I was gobsmacked. I really didn't expect that. I will certainly check the secondary market later, but I'm not counting on being there."

Follow Jim Harrington at Twitter.com/jimthecritic, Facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.