With a lineup of tours that touches on virtually every genre and musical scene, Live Nation, the world's largest promoter and amphitheater operator, seems to be on a path to continue the rebound of 2011, after suffering the brunt of an overall industry downturn in 2010.
"We talked a year ago about what we were going to try to accomplish in terms of getting the train back on the track and staying true to good pricing and good packaging, and it turns out that last year was a good recovery year for us," Mark Campana, Live Nation's co-president of North American Concerts with Bob Roux. "This year we're continuing on that same trajectory. Probably the brightest star on the horizon right now is ticket sales, and how they're outpacing last year. We're outpacing last year by about 25% at this point."
Campana tells Billboard.biz that the Live Nation talent buyers were able to get the season booked and on-sale earlier this year was a contributing factor to the sales increase. He adds that the current 25% increase will likely not hold up for the whole year. "The schedule and the calendar will start to catch up, but we will definitely surpass last year's sales," he says.
The list of Live Nation tours for 2012 is long and impressive, including Roger Waters, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Radiohead, Coldplay, Dave Matthews Band, Jason Aldean, Brad Paisley, Nickelback, Aerosmith, Toby Keith, Tom Petty and many others. They're also fielding several synergistic packages, including Kiss/Motley Crue, Chicago/Doobies, REO Speedwagon/Styx/Ted Nugent, Def Leppard/Poison, the Under The Influence tour with Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller, Rock Star Energy Drink Mayhem, and Vans Warped.
"We wanted to make sure we stayed true to the formula we put together last year: let's make sure we match up artists, get the agents and managers to work with us to create some great packages," says Campana. "With Kiss/Motley, what (Crue manager) Allen Kovac and (Kiss manager) Doc McGhee have done in putting those two bands together at the pricing they put on the road, it's a smash. By the time we get past July 4, I think that show will be standing out as one of the big sellers of 2012."
And the company is now fully immersed in the North American festival business through both acquisition and launching new events. Among the festivals under the Live Nation banner are Sasquatch! and the Watershed country fest at the Gorge in George, Wash.; the Mixtape pop festival in Hershey, Pa.; Bamboozle in Asbury Park, N.J.; the River's Edge festival in St. Paul (with DMB and Tool), and Jay-Z's Made In America fest in Philly. "We looked at that business closely over the last three or four years, and we've added some events into our mix we think can grow to be of the same stature of Lollapalooza or Coachella," says Campana. "We're not just selling one type of music right now, the diversity of the schedule has really allowed us to see these ticket sales. What we want to do is try to feed markets that are hungry."
Live Nation has also continued its focus on improving the customer experience by spending money on capital improvements at its amphitheaters and upgrading concessions to include food trucks and local flavor-and $4 12-oz.beers. "It's good to have the shows, it's great to have superstars playing your building, but we've got to think in terms of how do we keep those fans coming back," says Campana. "There are those that just don't need 20-oz. beers, and we think that $4 beer will make a difference for them."