The Year in Touring: U2's Mighty Roar
Any year in touring that includes the figure $736,421,586 can only be considered a good year for business.
That mind-blowing sum is the final tally for U2's historic 360° tour, a three-year behemoth that shattered preconceived notions (and capacities) for stadium shows, forever changed the paradigms of concert production and moved more than 7 million tickets around the globe.
When it wrapped in July, 360° went down has the highest-grossing and biggest ticket seller in the history of the business. Of those totals, $293.3 million in box office and nearly 3 million in ticket sales were generated during the Billboard touring calendar, which ran from Nov. 1, 2010, to Nov. 8, 2011-and easily enough to make 360° the top tour of the year.
Inside The Year In Music:
Months after 360° wrapped in Moncton, New Brunswick, the tour's significance was finally sinking in for Live Nation Global Touring chairman Arthur Fogel, global producer of the epic trek.
"As time moves on and we get further away from it, it actually seems more impressive than when you're actually in the middle of it," says Fogel, not a man given to overstatement. "It just leaves a tremendous sense of accomplishment, and is without a doubt one of the greatest experiences in the business that I've ever had."
While it was under way, 360° was a beast to execute, from its initial yearlong setup, to the postponement of the second North American leg due to Bono's back surgery, to the daily grind of pulling off the most ambitious tour ever mounted.
"It was a lot of pressure, even during the down times, because it was so big and so complicated," Fogel says. "The postponement issue was a lot to deal with, so when it ended and time goes by, it seems that much more impressive and an accomplishment to be incredibly proud of."
While 360° is in a class all its own in terms of scale and box office, the principals that made it a success-scaling, routing, showmanship and songs-are relevant across the entire live business. The fact that such numbers could even be achieved, let alone in a down global economy, is a testament to the power of live music.
Fogel dismisses the notion that 360° somehow is isolated from the realities of the rest of the touring industry. "I don't subscribe to the theory at all that somehow this tour is its own animal," he says. "This is what drives our business, this is what gets people excited about going to shows, this is what proves that we are the real deal as an industry. When you can capture the attention and imagination and enjoyment of 7 million people, that's what this business is all about."
TAKE THAT, BON JOVI
Many other acts rang up big numbers in what turned out to be a resounding comeback year for the live music business. Chief among them was Bon Jovi, which, remarkably, put together the biggest tour in the band's history with the Circle trek. The tour ended up grossing some $265 million, including $193 million this year. A critical element of Bon Jovi's success is that, unlike many of its peers from the same era, it isn't a nostalgia band. New albums top the Billboard charts, new songs are played on contemporary radio, and new fans come onboard to sing along to those new tunes and the classics. Maintaining relevancy is an obsession for frontman Jon Bon Jovi and is critical to the band's ongoing success.
"We've been blessed by having had that cross-generational thing and still being accepted by the masses so that they make the records No. 1 all around the world," Bon Jovi says. "Unless we had two generations of fans, we wouldn't be able to sell out those stadiums, but with that we can."
The list of the Top 25 Tours comprises a healthy mix of genres and generations. Most of the names on the tally are familiar on a worldwide basis, but one group -- reunited British pop sensation Take That -- shocked many observers by ringing up box office to the tune of $185 million, with attendance of 1.8 million. Those numbers were primarily driven by shows in the group's U.K. home base and across Europe.
One person who wasn't surprised by Take That's staggering take is Simon Moran, managing director of SJM Concerts, promoter of Take That's shows in England. While conceding that the group's numbers are impressive, Moran says they shouldn't be totally shocking. "Their track record in the U.K. is second to none," he says. "You go through U2, Oasis, the Rolling Stones -- they outdraw all of them in the U.K. And the production is unbelievable. It's like Cirque du Soleil mixed with a rock show."
Another Brit in the upper echelon of 2011 is Pink Floyd alum Roger Waters, who launched his conceptual tour of landmark Floyd album The Wall last year and continued it this year to the tune of $150 million from 92 shows reported to Billboard Boxscore. The tour, which ventured into international waters this year and has been extended into 2012, was produced by Live Nation and booked by William Morris Endeavor.
"Live Nation basically bought that tour and drove it. [Live Nation CEO] Michael Rapino and his crew did this worldwide," WME contemporary music head Marc Geiger says. "It's a massive hit everywhere. The Wall is the gift that keeps on giving, and it's a testament to one of the biggest bands of all time."
Taylor Swift firmly secured her status as a member of the touring elite. Her Speak Now tour took her into international markets for the first time, and also to her first stadium shows in North America. In only her second headlining tour, Swift grossed nearly $97 million for the year-end recap period, and sold more than 1.3 million tickets, with dates still coming in as the chart year ended.
Once all numbers are reported, Speak Now will have topped $100 million and 1.5 million tickets sold in the United States alone, according to tour promoter Louis Messina, president of TMG/AEG Live. In addition to significant overseas work, Swift hit stadiums for the first time, with two nights at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., grossing more than $8 million and moving 110,000-plus tickets.
After taking 2010 off from touring, fellow TMG/AEG Live client Kenny Chesney returned with a vengeance on his Goin' Coastal tour, once again cracking 1 million in attendance (1.3 million, a personal best) at amphitheaters, arenas and NFL stadiums. Other touring country acts in the top 25 include Jason Aldean and Toby Keith.
Urban/pop sensation Usher solidified his status as an arena-level headliner in 2011 with the blockbuster OMG tour, produced by AEG Live. With Trey Songz as support, Usher enjoyed his biggest tour ever in OMG, grossing $75 million and moving almost 1 million tickets.
"This was a career-defining tour for Usher," says Randy Phillips, who played a dual role in OMG as CEO of AEG Live and Usher's manager. "When people were betting against him, he came back stronger than ever, which goes back to that old adage, 'Never bet against a star.'"
Other urban/R&B acts in the top 25 include Lil Wayne and the pairing of Sade with John Legend.
Pop remains solid, with Lady Gaga rapidly transitioning from upstart to global superstar during the course of her Monster Ball tour, which upped its total in 2011 by adding another $72 million in Boxscore reports.
Katy Perry also moved up in touring status this year, with her first arena headlining tour approaching $50 million in gross and selling more than 1 million tickets. Other pop acts in the top 25 include Justin Bieber, Glee Live!, the creative pairing of New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys, Kylie Minogue and Enrique Iglesias. The lattermost artist took in nearly $30 million on a tour produced by AEG Live.
The amount of money at the box office it took to make the Top 25 Tours tally was nearly the same as 2010. This year, it took $27.3 million to make it into the top 25 (Toby Keith), while last year's threshold was $28.6 million ( Tiësto).