Less than six months after hosting Africa's first FIFA World Cup, South Africa is using two new stadiums and other infrastructure to position itself as a stop-off for big international touring acts.
U2, Bon Jovi, Neil Diamond and Kings of Leon-the latter two acts appearing in South Africa for the first time-have either performed since the start of the year or are all lining up gigs for 2011, with more stadium shows set to be announced in the new year.
Capetown-based Live Nation partner Big Concerts aims to bring five to six stadium shows per year to Cape Town Stadium and Johannesburg's FNB Stadium (known as Soccer City during the World Cup) beginning in 2011. That's a big increase from the three stadium concerts performed by Rod Stewart, Lionel Ritchie and Elton John between 2008 and 2010.
Big Concerts was consulted on the design of Cape Town Stadium as a multipurpose venue, ensuring it has the flexibility, access and facilities needed to stage something like U2's sold-out February 2011 360° show, according to Big Concerts COO John Langford. He describes the 70,000- capacity stadium and the 100,000-capacity FNB Stadium as being among the "best in the world."
In addition to spurring the construction of new facilities, South Africa's World Cup preparations also included improved health and safety standards and stricter laws protecting copyrights, Langford says. "The World Cup made South Africa very event-friendly," he says.
Fan reaction to the new wave of stadium shows-usually scheduled as a stopover either on the way to or way back from Australian dates-has been positive. U2 sold out its Feb. 13 Johannesburg show at FNB Stadium, grossing $9.4 million onattendance of 94,232, while the band's Feb. 18 concert in Cape Town grossed $6.1 million on attendance of 72,532, according to Billboard Boxscore.
Sales have also been strong for upcoming performances by Diamond and Kings of Leon. The latter are scheduled to perform at Cape Town Stadium Oct. 26 and at FNB Stadium on Oct. 29. Bon Jovi has yet to confirm its dates but is also expected to generate brisk demand for tickets.
Bon Jovi co-manager Paul Korzilius says the new venues and the potential for strong ticket sales persuaded the band to make a return visit to South Africa, having played four concerts there in 1995. But he says shows in the territory will need to make money in their own right if South Africa is to establish itself on the international touring circuit.
"Making money is goal No. 1, as record sales are no longer a significant revenue stream and merchandise is only the icing on the cake," Korzilius says. "You need the cake first."
Langford says that Big Concerts generally needs to sell about 90% of tickets to break even. The company has been turning to corporate sponsors to boost the profitability of shows, with Nokia already onboard for the Kings of Leon dates, and negotiations are under way with mobile operators and financial institutions for other tours.
But not everyone is enthusiastic about the influx of international superstars. Fans in Durban, Port Elizabeth and other cities have voiced their disgruntlement in online forums that Johannesburg and Cape Town are emerging as the only viable venues for stadium shows of the scale being booked by Big Concerts. Smaller venues are also worried that such large-scale concerts will draw a greater proportion of consumer entertainment spending.
Rob Allan, manager of Bassline, a 1,200-capacity club in Johannesburg that has hosted Feeder, Die Antwoord and Wyclef Jean, says hehasn't yet noticed any reduction in business. But looking ahead, he warns that "we can't compete with the media partnerships and publicity a [band like] U2 can command."
And Langford insists that improvements brought about by the World Cup will provide a boost to the country's overall touring business.
"The World Cup has radically changed the live music landscape in South Africa," he says. "We can now participate in the global stadium circuit in much the same way that South America and Australia does."