THE LIVE NATION FACTOR
When trying to get a handle on the success of a given year, per-show averages are a good barometer, more so than ever this year. But the news is still not good. On a global basis, the average gross per show in 2010 is $225,262, a 14.4% decrease. Average attendance per show is 3,729, a 13.4% decrease.
In North America, the average gross and attendance per show are down 12.1% and 10.3%, respectively. Of course, with fewer shows reported, and the best-performing shows more likely to be reported, these numbers probably paint a less dire picture than what really happened out there.
Even so, while the year was unquestionably challenging for the touring industry, it wasn't historically bad.
This was the lowest number of shows reported since 2003, the lowest worldwide gross reported since 2005, but only the lowest attendance since 2008. If there is a silver lining, this may be it: Fans still went to see shows-and things could have been much worse.
There is a big caveat to all these Boxscore numbers, and it has everything to do with Live Nation, the world's largest promoter.
In June, Live Nation Entertainment opted to stop reporting box-office data to Billboard Boxscore. While we received a substantial number of reports on Live Nation shows from other sources, including agents, managers and venues, the impact of the world's largest promoter not reporting the bulk of its shows clearly can be seen.
In fact, it's surprising this didn't have a bigger impact, considering that Live Nation reported 46% fewer shows than in 2009.
FOR SOME, NOT SO BAD
While they occur every year, there did seem to be an inordinate amount of postponements and cancellations in 2010, and one could assume that Live Nation didn't stop reporting Boxscores because the dates were over-the-top strong.
Among the tours or concerts postponed, canceled or reconfigured, and cited in the opening of this story, all were to have been promoted entirely or in part by Live Nation.
But for many acts, particularly those with perennial star power (Bon Jovi, U2), current heat in the marketplace (Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, the Black Eyed Peas), great value (think country music) or a fresh concept (James Taylor/Carole King, Roger Waters' Wall tour), tickets sold briskly in 2010. Many of the year's biggest successes were Live Nation tours, along with tours and events promoted by AEG Live, independent promoters or on a market-by-market basis.
This was clearly not a year where "same old, same old" was the way to go.
"The bands that did well were the bands that you absolutely had to see, and the ones that you didn't have to see were the ones that suffered the most," says Chip Hooper, head of the Paradigm Agency's music division.
Dennis Arfa, president of Artists Group International (Billy Joel, Metallica, Rush), puts it this way: "2010 was a good year in touring, depending on who you are."
One would be hard-pressed to say 2010 was a good year in touring for Live Nation, operating under its first year as a merged company with Ticketmaster. Live Nation reported $1.5 billion in grosses from 5,296 shows, a 40% decrease in gross and a 41.7% decrease in shows. The lack of reporting hurts Live Nation's representation in our analysis, as apparently its internal numbers beat ours by a large margin. According to CEO Rapino, "Our show count was flat year over year, our total global attendance was down about 10%, and revenue [is] down about the same."
Live Nation's decreases in grosses and attendance per Boxscore are down about the same percentage as the number of shows it reported. In recent years, Live Nation had been out-pacing overall industry numbers and promoting fewer shows while focusing on per-show profitability.
Live Nation, as a public company, attracts more public scrutiny than privately held companies like AEG. "If they weren't public, people wouldn't be focused on this [downturn] as much as they are," AEG Live's Phillips says. "Because the largest supplier of talent and producer of shows is a public company, the warts of our industry become more public than they would normally be."
For AEG Live's part, the promoter reported $813 million in box-office grosses to Boxscore, about a 10% decrease from 2009, and slightly more shows at 2,558 reported. Those numbers reflect gross, not net, and Phillips says AEG Live enjoyed the second-best year in his nine years at the helm of the company, "and we only missed the best year by about $500,000 in EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization]," he adds. "That's a function of making the right bets."
Among those bets were global tours by Bon Jovi, the Black Eyed Peas and Taylor Swift (with the Messina Group). But Phillips says AEG Live's regional offices also did well. "All we've done is we didn't buy everything," he says. "Sometimes in life you succeed by what you don't do as much as by what you do."
That's not to say AEG Live succeeded with everything, Phillips notes. "We took hits. We're not perfect," he says. "However, we learned from our mistakes. And this year, I tightened up the reins of the company. I made sure we had a handle on our booking philosophy and didn't deviate from it."