Varied Bills Boost Boxscores as Touring Biz Sees Strong Midyear Results

Big-event tours and superstars are supposed to sell tickets, so the best indicator for the success of the touring industry is when the list of top tours also includes a healthy mix of genres, veterans who demonstrate consistency at the box office during a sustained time period and new artists that show signs of being meaningful touring acts for years to come.

If that's the criteria, then the list of the top 25 tours at midyear bodes well for an ongoing recovery in the touring industry.

After a dismal 2010, the concert business regrouped, retooled and rebounded nicely in 2011, and could well be on its way to logging the record numbers that began this millennium.

The midyear recaps in this special feature are based on concerts reported to Billboard Boxscore that took place Nov. 1, 2011, through May 31, 2012.

Certainly in 2012, the event tours and superstars are there (Roger Waters' "The Wall" tour, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Van Halen). But also evident are diversity (pop, rock, urban, country, even classical), consistent veterans (Elton John, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers), and newer artists or shows that look to be around for the long haul (Lady Gaga, Drake, Jason Aldean).

"That's the goal," says Marc Geiger, head of music at William Morris Endeavor (WME). "I look at a prototype artist like Lady Gaga, who had massive pop success, but now I can feel people thinking about her as a 25-year [or] 30-year superstar, not a flash-in-the-pan pop artist - which she never felt she was."

As the time period for Billboard's midyear numbers ends as much of the summer touring activity begins, the final tally for 2012's top tour will surely look much different, as mega-tours from artists like Gaga, Kenny Chesney and Madonna, along with the bulk of the amphitheater season, come to bear.

What this midyear assessment does provide is a barometer for the overall health of the industry heading into the fall, and the prognosis is good.

Michael Rapino, CEO of Live Nation Entertainment, the world's largest concert promoter and far and away the No. 1 presenter of live entertainment in the industry, is bullish on the year-to-date numbers, telling Billboard that 2012 "is shaping up to be a great year for live concerts, with strong growth throughout our business."

Rapino likes the mix of superstars and new talent. "Our arenas and stadiums are being led by sellout tours from Madonna and Lady Gaga, [and our] amphitheaters are revitalized with great young acts including One Direction and Big Time Rush," he says, adding, "[Our] festivals continue to grow, attracting over 3 million fans around the world."

John Reid, Live Nation's London-based president of concerts for the United Kingdom and Europe, sees a similar situation across the pond.

"So far this year our growth in both concerts and European festival businesses is very encouraging," Reid says, citing sold-out, multiple arena runs from Rihanna, "Watch the Throne" with Jay-Z and Kanye West, and stadium and festival shows from Springsteen, Coldplay and Metallica. Rihanna's seven plays at the O2 Arena in London grossed $8.5 million, and Jay-Z and West grossed $6.7 million at the O2 from five shows, according to Boxscore.

In total, Jay-Z and West tallied a gross of nearly $46 million from 30 shows reported by Live Nation.

When it comes to "event" tours, now that the record-shattering U2 360° tour has ground to a halt, Roger Waters' electrifying The Wall Live tour finds itself without peer in terms of production values and sheer "must-see" status. For this Boxscore period alone, Waters is easily the highest-grossing tour on the road, reporting $131.4 million in box office and 1.2 million tickets sold. Set to end July 21 at the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City, the "Wall" outing will go down as one of the biggest tours in history both in terms of box-office performance and creative ambition.

Waters' reconceived conception of a 33-year-old album has been a hit in both stadiums and arenas since the tour began in 2010, with two runs through North America, trips across Europe and a journey into South America that included one of the highest Boxscores ever reported: Nine sellouts at River Plate Stadium in Buenos Aires promoted by Pop Art last March that took in nearly $38 million. In total, The Wall Live registered eight of the top 25 Boxscores for the midyear report, six of them from Latin America.

"Roger Waters is smart," WME's Geiger says. "He's giving the people what they want, and then some."

Another tour that falls into the "event" category, and represents powerful new content for arenas, is the Michael Jackson: The Immortal Tour by Cirque du Soleil, which rang up $68.4 million at the box office and more than 600,000 tickets sold for the period, according to Boxscore.

Immortal's financial success and entertainment quotient, which blends Jackson's music with stunning visuals and the creative touch of Cirque, led to its being named the 2012 honoree for the creative content award at the Billboard Touring Awards in November.

"Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour's extraordinary success is proof of the enduring popularity of Michael's music," says John Branca, who put together the Immortal production with Cirque and serves with John McClain as both executive producer and co-executor of the estate of Michael Jackson. "The creative team was guided by Michael's genius, indomitable spirit and his ability to inspire everyone throughout."

Another artist known to inspire is Springsteen, who, with his E Street Band, is back with a vengeance this year, with epic shows (even by Springsteen standards) in the first tour without the late Clarence Clemons standing tall with the E Streeters. The first leg of Springsteen's tour in support of "Wrecking Ball" racked up $52.4 million in gross ticket sales and 588,356 in attendance. As Springsteen begins playing a slew of North American stadium dates this summer, the numbers will increase substantially.

While Springsteen has been filling stadiums and arenas for decades, a relative newcomer to touring's upper ranks, Lady Gaga, is on a course to be one of the top touring artists of 2012. The first 16 shows of her second major trek reported during the midyear recap period were all sellouts. The shows grossed nearly $44 million and drew 313,365 Little Monsters, a number that has grown to more than half a million since the midyear chart period closed.

Out of the gate, Gaga visited Southeast Asia, Japan, New Zealand and Australia, and stays in Europe for most of the summer. As first tipped on Billboard.biz (Feb. 8), the Born This Way Ball hits North America in first-quarter 2013, by then firmly established as a financial monster in its own right.

But North American fans will have to wait to see what has already blown away fans in the Pacific Rim.

"The shows through the first leg of the Born This Way Ball have been an overwhelming success," says tour producer Arthur Fogel, chairman of Live Nation Global Touring. "Over 500,000 fans, many for the first time, have had the opportunity to see this brilliant show."

Though the Van Halen tour ended on a bit of a sour note with the cancellation of more than 30 shows (due to fatigue, sources close to the band tell Billboard), the band did the business while it was out there. The tour in support of "A Different Kind of Truth," VH's first with original singer David Lee Roth since 1984, did sterling business, taking in $38.6 million and attendance of 371,276 from the 33 shows that did come off. This is likely not the last fans will hear from Van Halen, a source says: "They are going to go out and do some more, we just don't know when yet."

Nineties rock bands are showing some staying power in the form of Pearl Jam (311,845 in attendance, including nearly 100,000 from two shows in São Paulo last November) and Red Hot Chili Peppers (about 300,000). Both groups are augmenting their headlining dates with a healthy dose of international festival appearances that put them in front of hundreds of thousands more fans.

The enduring box-office relevance of bands like Pearl Jam and the Peppers, along with groups like Foo Fighters, Soundgarden and, when it tours, Rage Against the Machine (not to mention those before them that paved the way), is "really a testament to consistently good live shows," according to Geiger. "What we're seeing is bands that have always delivered great performances for their audiences, and then managed some level of scarcity, and have now hit a zone of audience where you have younger folks going who discover those bands, plus the 40-plus crowd. You hit a wide demographic, and that's a lot of why you're seeing these numbers."

In discussing these bands and others who are doing good business, particularly in country music, Geiger points out the sweat equity that they've put into their careers. "It's not rocket science - it's a lot of old-fashioned elbow grease," he says. "It sounds corny but it's true. These artists, they work, and they work hard."

Country music's biggest artists were just getting into the meat of their touring schedules as the time period for the midyear came to a close, but in addition to Taylor Swift, Jason Aldean, Brad Paisley and Lady Antebellum, a veteran country icon entered the elite tours list for the first time on this midyear chart. Dolly Parton's jump into the top 25 is driven by her multi-arena tour of Australia and New Zealand, where she hasn't performed in 19 years. Parton is enjoying the fruits of her renewed focus on her music career generally, including launching her Dolly Records, and global touring specifically. "There's a re-emphasis on the fact that she's recording and in control of her own material going out," says Neil Warnock, Parton's agent and managing director of the London-based Agency Group. Warnock adds that more international touring will follow for 2013.

Country in general seems poised for yet another robust year. As Live Nation Country Music president Brian O'Connell put it at the Billboard Country Summit in June, country music ticket sales are "on fire," with almost a dozen major headliners on tour - the most ever. "And each one is very, very healthy, doing 10,000 seats a night and up," O'Connell added. "That's a lot of strength, a lot of cooperation and a lot of hard work."

The top Boxscore of the year so far, which will probably stand through the end of 2012, is Coachella, which put up $47.3 million in its first incarnation as a two-weekend event. Producer Goldenvoice also placed its Stagecoach country festival in the top 25. But for the most part, the Top Boxscores chart is about international: 20 of the top 25 engagements for the year so far are from markets other than the United States.

The rise of the digital music world and resulting downturn in revenue from recorded content forced most artists to tour more and helped set the stage for further global touring, and for artists to consider the world as their marketplace. The growth in international touring will have a "massive impact" in the next decade, according to Geiger. "Just in plain numbers, it doubles or triples the length and commitment and time of touring, forget the expense," he says. "But it's like planting trees all over the world."

Geiger cites Lady Gaga, whose May stand at Japan's Saitama Super Arena is the third-highest Boxscore so far this year at $18.4 million, as one of several artists who "are making sure that every territory that opens up, they go into and invest. I cannot speak highly enough about the clients and managers who are making that investment. It's better than stocks and bonds for them."••••