Live Nation Seeing Healthy Ticket Sales, Stock Up

Live Nation said on Thursday it has seen no weakness in ticket sales for 2009 despite investor concern that fewer fans will pay to see their favorite bands due to the recession.

Live Nation shares rose 18 percent in late-afternoon trading.

Chief Executive Michael Rapino said the company sold 2.91 million tickets for 1,213 shows for the year ended Dec. 15, compared with 2.95 million tickets from 1,206 shows a year earlier. Most concert tickets are sold many months in advance.

"You can't have those numbers sitting here today and say no one's going to show up next year; we'd have felt something by now," Rapino said in a presentation to investors.

He noted that fourth-quarter sales were not down from the year-ago period despite the severe economic downturn that started around October.

"We don't see it yet," he added.

He said average net ticket prices for arena shows for big name artists did drop to $68.18 from $75.34 in the year-earlier period.

"In our business we don't mind if a price of a ticket goes down; our job is to get as many bums in seats as possible," said Rapino.

Live Nation earns a relatively small commission on shows that it promotes, with most of its revenue driven by ancillary concert items such as car parking and T-shirt sales, and by sponsorship. In its presentation to investors the company said more than 53 percent of its sponsorship was already committed for 2009 compared with 41 percent a year ago.

Rapino said the company had successfully launched its own ticketing service on Jan. 1 and has already sold more than 177,000 tickets at 52 of its own venues which include Jones Beach Theater in New York and Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City, California. Overall, the company says it will sell more than 40 percent of total tickets via its website in 2009 compared with just 11 percent last year.

Previously Ticketmaster Entertainment sold tickets at all Live Nation venues under a long-term arrangement. The company ended that relationship and launched its own service in a bid to improve its profit margins. Rapino said managing its own ticketing service at its venues more than doubles the margins on those shows.

Even after ending the ticketing relationship at Live Nation venues, Rapino said Ticketmaster still sells tickets for 47 percent of the events that Live Nation promotes.

Live Nation shares rose 98 to $6.39 on the New York Stock Exchange.

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