As Live Nation preps for its Q2 earnings call after market close today, the company can at least point to an amphitheater season that has not only weathered an iffy economy in the first half of the year, but managed to post some improved numbers.
Per-show attendance through July this year at North American amphitheaters this year, the overwhelming bulk of which are owned and/or operated by Live Nation, is 9,109, up 1,360 people per show over last year, according to Billboard Boxscore.
More impressively, the average gross per show is coming in at $430,767, up a whopping $134,240 for the same period last year, according to Boxscore. "We're certainly seeing a very healthy concert environment right now," Jason Garner, CEO of North American music for Live Nation, tells Billboard.biz. Garner says his company's internal numbers parallel Billboard's.
Garner points to tours by such artists as Jimmy Buffett, Dave Matthews Band, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Radiohead, Eric Clapton, Pearl Jam, Jack Johnson, the Police, Rush and Jonas Brothers as big success drivers at the sheds in 2008.
"Our guys got started early booking shows, they booked us a great season, and we have an ongoing theme of trying our best to run the business better," says Garner. "On top of having a bunch of great artists, we're running the business more efficiently than we ever have. So not only do we have a lot of people coming to the venues, our operating costs per head are down, our marketing costs are down as we've really moved into Internet-based marketing."
An increase in shed attendance bucks a trend. In general, amphitheatre concert attendance has declined in recent years, posting a year-over-year increase in attendance and gross just once in the past five years -- 2006's record-breaking touring year, according to Boxscore.
The decline has been steady; average per-show attendance for amphitheaters was 7,741 in 2007, compared with 9,325 in 1998. All of which makes improved per-show numbers even more meaningful.
While admitting reversing the trend is difficult, Garner says, "The thing we have going for us is an unparalleled network of promoters throughout the country. Then you have that umbrella of centralized strategy and promotions, coordinated effort coming out of the head office. We're really seeing that work to turn around some of the negative trends we were seeing in the past."
Live music insiders note that the real impact of the economy, particularly fuel costs, may not hit until Q3 and beyond. "But there's enough stuff on sale right now that you can look fairly confidently at the year and say it has been a good year so far, and it's going to be a good year," Garner says.
LN stock (NYSE: LYV) has also posted gains over the last two weeks, opening this morning at $13.17 after spending much of the past several weeks in the $10-$11 range.