Live and on fire in 2013, the touring business is hottest it has been in years.
For the touring industry, these are now —officially— the best of times. "The concert business is basically on fire," says veteran agent Dennis Arfa, president of Artists Group International (AGI).
Anecdotal information from virtually every stakeholder in the live music business—including buyers, sellers, venues, vendors, ticketers and other ancillary providers—confirms the touring industry has been having a banner year since last spring.
|2013: The Year in Music|
THE YEAR IN MUSIC 2013: Main
Bruno Mars: Artist of the Year
YEAR-END 2013 CHARTS:
Hot 100 | Billboard 200 | Tours
Now Billboard's own metric, the Boxscore chart, validates these boom times from a numbers standpoint, with the most positive and promising trends of this century.
The dark days for the industry that marked the close of this millennium's first decade are not only firmly in the rear view, but now appear to be an anomaly, as 2013 Boxscore reports soared to a record level of $4.8 billion in gross ticket sales worldwide. That's up nearly 30% from last year and up 9% over the biggest Boxscore year ever—2009—the year before the touring bubble burst after a decade of growth.
In 2009, warning signs were plentiful as grosses outpaced attendance and a handful of mega-tours belied an industry with a distorted value proposition and disenfranchised fans.
But, four years later, all signs point toward continued growth as the industry remains focused on providing value and customer service, international markets continue to open, new artists are developing solid foundations and selling tickets across several genres, and new-media marketing tools come to bear in quantifiable ways.
Unlike Nielsen SoundScan figures, Boxscore numbers depend on the consistency and accuracy of reports from promoters, venues, agents and managers, and represent just a fraction of the overall value of the live business. Therefore, if Boxscore only shows us a slice of what's actually going on out there, the metric is still a useful barometer for gauging the overall health of the industry. If nothing else, Boxscore brings numeric context to what those in the trenches have been telling us all year—and those two metrics don't always run in parallel.
But this year, numerous indicators, including the Boxscore chart, point to a robust business that is still very much in growth mode. In fact, with all the non-reporting tours, concerts, events, soft-ticket shows, casinos, private concerts and international plays, the touring industry is surely at its highest level ever, with fans worldwide ponying up a conservative Billboard estimate of more than $15 billion annually for the in-the-moment experience that only live performance can offer.
It is a rare situation for the news to be so positive in every aspect, with double-digit increases in many different metrics. Worldwide, concert attendance is up 26%, according to Boxscore, with the number of shows increasing by only 5.8%. Also from a global perspective, per-show gross is up 20% and per-show attendance is up 18.5%.
North America has had a remarkable resurgence for a business that not so long ago seemed to have lost its place in the public consciousness. The total gross is up 26% and total attendance up 23%, with the total number of shows up less than 5%. By contrast, in 2012, North American Boxscore grosses were up a modest 1.7% and attendance was down 6%.
The North American numbers hold up on a per-show basis, with the average gross in North America up 17.4% and average attendance up 17.8%, the first time the latter has outpaced the former perhaps ever in the modern era, and a reflection of more conservative pricing overall.
More important, the pricing doesn't skew downward due to deep discounting or fire sales, as the industry at large has moved away from price slashing and focused more on "right pricing" out of the gate.
What's true in North America for the overall business is also true for Live Nation, the world's largest promoter. In North America, Live Nation concert ticket sales are up 15% year-on-year to more than 20 million, with prices remaining relatively flat for the past several years, according to Live Nation North American Concerts co-president Bob Roux.
"We're obviously ecstatic about the results this year," Roux says. He adds that Live Nation amphitheaters enjoyed their best year ever, which flies in the face of any concerns that the burgeoning festival business might be negatively affecting sheds during the summer months.
And the North American numbers aren't skewed by a red-hot Canadian market, as has been the case in the past. In that most mature concert marketplace of all, the United States, gross ticket sales are up 30% and attendance is up 27%, with the number of shows increasing just 6.6%.
These are just numbers to crunch. But no one would argue that 2013 hasn't been a fortuitous year, and by far the most robust one for the live industry since the Great Slump of 2010, a year marked by cancellations, postponements, sudden "illnesses" and widespread industry finger-pointing. In the end, the tailspin of 2010 led to a large-scale cessation in Boxscore reporting that still hasn't resumed previous levels.
For example, midway through 2010, as the downturn started hammering summer tours, Live Nation, the world's largest promoter, stopped reporting all shows as a matter of course, although it still does frequently report certain top-end tours upon request and all shows from its Global Touring division. Live Nation claims to present some 20,000 shows annually, and this year only reported 2,623 to Boxscore. But, in perhaps yet another positive indicator of the business' health, Live Nation reported 54% more shows this year than last.
WHAT'S DRIVING THE NUMBER?
Touring is, as ever, a cyclical business, and mega-tours by U2, the Rolling Stones or Madonna tend to skew the numbers upward due to higher ticket prices, larger venues and global footprints. But this year's strong numbers came in a year short on such mega-tours, with even the Stones playing a comparatively paltry 23 shows. This year's top 25 tours, while populated with acknowledged superstars, featured artists with more conservative ticket prices. This was a "meat and potatoes" kind of touring year, yet one where fans turned out to see a wide range of acts, in varied stages of their career arc, from diverse genres, all of which bodes well for the overall popularity of live music.
"I've never seen so many superstars in so many genres," AGI's Arfa says, pointing out that the fragmentation once considered a bane of the industry is now a bonus as multiple genres are fielding solid acts capable of selling lots of tickets. "There's something for everybody. There's a lot of population out there, and most people are bored to death. So going to a show is a big event for most people," Arfa says. "And you don't need the same audience for every show. If a fan goes to a few shows a year, that's all we need, whereas we used to need them to go to 10 or 12. My generation, we had to get everybody to go."
Getting people to go depends on the industry presenting acts that fans want to see at prices they're willing to pay. But first the fans have to know about the show. One primary reason why more tickets are selling today is because of the extremely targeted and efficient marketing opportunities afforded by new media and strategic use of mobile, social, email, channel marketing and digital sales channels. Many in the business would agree that this is the year the industry at large significantly moved the needle in using data analytics to sell more tickets and tackle one of touring's great obstacles: lack of awareness.
As far as fielding compelling tours and pricing them correctly, 2013 was a year where the stake-holders got it right.
"I hate comparing years, but as an overall theme  was one of the most intelligently booked, promoted and embraced concert years in my recent memory," Creative Artists Agency managing partner/head of music Rob Light says. "The packaging was smart, the scaling was smart, ticket pricing was smart, the way shows were put on sale was smart, across everybody. People really went at it with a very intelligent, fan-friendly point of view for the most part."