If the World Cup is the greatest sporting show on earth, then FIFA's accompanying Kick-Off Celebration Concert is certainly one of the biggest gigs ever seen on the African continent. "In terms of scale, [it's] definitely up there with the 46664 concert," says John McDermott, Johannesburg branch manager for Gearhouse, the Kick-Off concert's event equipment rental company.
The Nelson Mandela-hosted 46664 charity concert was held at Cape Town's 18,000-capacity Green Point Stadium in 2003, starring Queen, U2 and Beyoncé. Produced by Los Angeles-based Control Room in conjunction with Johannesburg-based promoter Showtime Entertainment, the June 10 show at the newly renovated, 40,000-capacity Orlando Stadium in Soweto brings the likes of Shakira, Alicia Keys, the Black Eyed Peas, Juanes and John Legend to South Africa to appear alongside African talent including Amadou & Mariam (Mali), Angélique Kidjo (Benin) and local rock heroes the Parlotones.
Other international stars are expected at the opening and closing ceremonies, held in Soweto's 93,000-capacity Soccer City stadium, while Andrea Bocelli and Bryan Adams headline a FIFA-endorsed "Celebrate Africa, the Grand Finale" concert at the 19,000-capacity Johannesburg Coca-Cola Dome July 9.
With the opening and closing ceremonies-which precede the first and final soccer matches-likely to attract a TV audience running into billions, and the Kick-Off concert being broadcast live by the South African Broadcast Corp. and up to 200 international networks, the eyes of the world will be focused on the region like never before.
Adams is staying on after his World Cup gig to play three arena shows. But the question for the local touring biz is: Will other international stars come back and play once the TV cameras have gone home?
Some already see signs that the South African touring business is picking up. John Langford, COO of Big Concerts, Live Nation's exclusive partner in South Africa, says touring has increased significantly this year, with the Cape Town-based company notching its busiest March ever. "We pretty much sold out the three Sirs," Langford says of Sir Elton John, Sir Cliff Richard and Sir Tom Jones, who each played a selection of theaters, arenas and outdoor shows, with attendances ranging from around 4,000 to more than 12,000.
Langford says initial sales for its "Celebrate Africa" show have been brisk, adding, "There's definitely more money in the market following the global slump and the weakening of the rand over the past two years." There's also a host of event-hungry new stadiums including Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium (Port Elizabeth, capacity: 48,000), Mbombela Stadium (Nelspruit, 44,000), Peter Mokaba Stadium (Polokwane, 45,000) and the Moses Mabhida Stadium (Durban, 70,000).
This building program is backed up by multibillion-rand infrastructure developments including an upgrade of South Africa's airports, roads and rail system and a massive boost to tourism infrastructure, with 30 new hotels in Johannesburg alone.
These improvements should make touring South Africa less daunting. But will that be enough to tempt international artists to a market where Kelly Clarkson and Ne-Yo-who played the Coca-Cola Dome in March and May, respectively-are the only big-name U.S. stars to visit so far this year?
AEG Live CEO and Lionel Richie's manager Randy Phillips does see potential for growth. AEG doesn't have a South African office, although it has co-promoted there, while Richie played four South African arena/stadium dates in November 2009. "Lionel completed a very successful tour," Phillips says, "so the addition of more sophisticated venues should help create new economics for international touring artists that will make South Africa a must-play in any world tour."
Others aren't so sure. Neil Warnock, managing director of London-based booking agency the Agency Group, has booked Deep Purple and Uriah Heep for three South Africa gigs in May and June but warns improved infrastructure will not be enough to change the country's status as a "minority play." "There's a relatively small number of people [in South Africa] actually interested in international music, so the flow is fairly limited," Warnock adds. "By having better buildings, I'm not necessarily sure it will encourage more artists to play there or increase the business."
Local execs hope the high-profile World Cup events might grow the appetite for international repertoire, which did account for 55% of South African physical sales by value in 2009, according to IFPI. But there's nothing anyone can do about South Africa's geographical challenge.
"South Africa's positioning makes it a stretch for most touring acts, who usually only stop over on the way to Australia for a maximum two or three shows," Showtime Entertainment director Tony Feldman says. "We also don't have neighboring territories that can support our market."
But New York-based booking agent Jeremiah "Ice" Younossi, a partner in A-List Talent Agency, which brought 50 Cent to South Africa for two arena dates in May 2008, believes the World Cup could spur more activity, if agents and managers are willing to "compromise on fees and play all three major cities-Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town."
Feldman says artist fees are on par with other markets, but warns South Africa will ultimately remain "a supply-and-demand market." "When you can't count on significant CD sales during a tour here," he says, "or easily move to another territory to do additional shows, then even something as big as the World Cup won't make a difference."