U2’s 360 North American leg is now officially postponed, putting the brakes on the band’s march to claiming the highest-grossing tour in history. The eight-week minimum recovery/rehab time doctors say Bono needs for his recent back surgery meant scrapping the 16-show run, which was to begin June 3 in Salt Lake City and wrap July 19 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Now it looks like U2 will crank up 360 again in Turin, Italy, on Aug. 6.

“Basically the timeline of eight weeks takes you pretty close to what would have been North America, so the decision was and is to postpone America and look to restart in Europe as scheduled,” says Arthur Fogel, CEO of global touring for Live Nation Entertainment.

More than 1 million tickets had been sold for the 16 shows, worth more than $100 million in box office revenue. Last year, 360 grossed more than $311 million and sold more than 3 million tickets, according to Billboard Boxscore. Year two would have taken the tour toward $600 million in box office, topping the $558 million generated by the Rolling Stones’ 2005-2007 Bigger Bang tour.

As for the financial impact of the postponement, Fogel says it is “way to soon to make that assessment. There are any number of areas of financial impact on something like this, and it’s obviously a different scenario when you cancel something versus reschedule something. I’m confident we can put back things to where there is not severe financial impact. I think one thing that has been proven historically about U2 as a band is first and foremost they always want to put things back in place for their fans and fulfill the shows that they’re committed to. I’m sure we’ll figure it out.”

Considering the massive inconvenience and not insignificant (but insured) costs of scrapping the transportation plans and coordination of the most complex touring production ever launched, Live Nation will not likely face a huge financial hit on its 2010 books, if indeed the tour continues as planned next year. While one-off dates like Glastonbury cannot be rescheduled (at least not for this year), revenue from tickets already sold is in the bank and the production costs of actually mounting and moving these shows is now deferred until next year. Ancillary income from merchandise sold at these 16 shows, though, will have to wait.

Asked when U2 might return to North America next year, Fogel says the team is not yet sure. “Suffice to say we’re working feverishly to come up with the best option and put it in place and give an update to ticket holders as soon as humanly possible,” he says. “It’s a disappointment for a lot of people, but the important thing is for Bono to have the time he needs to recover and then we go forward.”

The European tour ends Oct. 8 in Rome, but beginning in North America in the fall would have brought its own set of issues, weather chief among them. So the decision was made to extend the tour into next year, which had already been discussed before the current developments, but not finalized, Fogel says. “Needless to say at this point we’re looking at all kinds of different scenarios,” he says.

These are not uncharted waters for Fogel. U2’s 2005-2007 Vertigo tour had to postpone an Asia/Pacific leg for a time as a result of an illness in guitarist the Edge’s family. That tour went on to gross $389 million, currently third all time. “It all worked out in the end, and the most important part was everybody was fine and healthy,” Fogel says of Vertigo. “It’s the intersection of life and entertainment. You do what you do, you sort it out, and make it all work in the end.”

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