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Live Music's $20 Billion Year: Rolling Stones, One Direction, Live Nation Top Boxscore's Year-End
Attendance is down, but spectacular ticket sales by One Direction, The Rolling Stones and Justin Timberlake, plus a series of blockbuster stadium shows, propelled the North American concert industry to a record 2014.
Boy band One Direction and former boy band member Justin Timberlake dominated the box office in 2014. Combined, their global tours grossed close to $500 million and sold more than 5 million tickets in a year where a diverse collection of acts -- including The Rolling Stones, Beyoncé and Jay Z, Michael Buble, Luke Bryan and Drake -- finished among Billboard Boxscore's top 25 tours of the year.
Scroll down for the full year-end Boxscore charts.
Although overall end-of-year results for the touring industry aren't as overwhelmingly positive as they were in 2013, data reported to Boxscore indicates that it was another record year for live music in North America. Domestic grosses are up 3.4 percent -- more than the 1.7 percent increase of 2012 but just a fraction of 2013's 26 percent increase. Those gains are largely attributable to higher ticket prices, given that North American attendance is down 1.5 percent compared with an increase of 23 percent in 2013. Global Boxscore data paints a less positive picture: Grosses and box office are down 3.8 percent and 6.3 percent, respectively, compared with increases of 30 percent and 26 percent in 2013.
But few touring industry executives interpret the decreases as harbingers of a coming malaise. Although Boxscore is a useful barometer for measuring the health of the industry, the numbers primarily represent the most successful -- and often most expensive -- tours and shows, and are just a fraction of the overall value of the live business. Live events that aren't reported to Boxscore include casinos, nightclubs and private shows. Billboard conservatively estimates that the global touring industry is approaching $20 billion annually -- its highest level ever.
Bottom line: Industry stakeholders remain bullish on the state of the touring business, saying it's the most robust sector of the music industry today. "Healthy attendance, great ticket sales, lots of great artist-development stories and acts that are sustaining. On all levels, it was a really positive year," says Chip Hooper, who heads Paradigm's music division.
"I don't read as much into those [Boxscore] metrics as I do individual tours and why something is working or not working," says Rob Light, managing partner at Creative Artists Agency, which books One Direction, among other acts. "It was another very healthy year. Music and live [performance] continue to be a cornerstone of people's entertainment mix."
A Year Of Blockbuster Tours
Bob Roux, co-president of North American concerts for Live Nation, the world's largest live-event promoter, says his company sold more than 25 million tickets this year in the United States alone, driven mostly by Boxscore's top 25 tours, for a total Boxscore gross of $2.1 billion. The two biggest -- One Direction and Timberlake -- bode well for the youth market's hunger for live music as well as the artists' ability to develop into headliners, says David Zedeck, president of global talent for Live Nation. "In February 2012 One Direction was the support act for Big Time Rush," and this year it headlined the No. 1 tour in the world. "And when you look at what Justin has accomplished this year, the first 'N Sync record came out in 1998. Sixteen years into a career, he's selling out multiple arenas and multiple legs."
A closer inspection of the top 25 tours -- which, in the past, have been dominated by rock acts -- shows a surprising range of genres. Eight of the top 25 tours fall into the "heritage" category, six could be classified as pop, three as urban, three as country, two as modern rock and one each for electronic, classical and adult contemporary. Light says he has witnessed the change at the concerts he attends.
"I go to country shows and see a lot of young kids I used to see at rock shows. I go to festivals and see older and younger people. I go to older adult shows and I see people bringing their kids, and those kids are having a ball," he says, adding, "You also see [tour] packages of artists who might not have played together in the past."
The Veterans Still Deliver
AEG Live, the world's second-largest promoter, did not have the kind of record year it notched in 2013, when tours by Bon Jovi, Kenny Chesney, Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift pushed the company's total Boxscore gross past $1 billion for the first time in its history. But the firm came close, reporting more than $912 million in box office, driven by its festivals -- the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival reported its highest gross ever, $78.3 million, a Boxscore record for a single event; tours by Katy Perry, The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney; and Billy Joel's residency at Madison Square Garden in New York.
The pop and rock veterans who have been at it for more than 30 years are still delivering big numbers. The Stones ($143 million), Eagles ($128 million), McCartney ($107 million), Joel ($72 million), Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band ($65 million), Elton John ($59 million), Cher ($55 million) and Dutch violinist-conductor Andre Rieu ($52 million) all enjoyed sellout business in 2014.
Touring's top 25 also includes a handful of acts that broke through more than a decade ago and are showing consistent earning power on the road as they navigate that tricky period between "next big thing" and "legend": Michael Buble, who grossed $74 million in 2014, according to Boxscore; Beyoncé, with $70 million (not including her On the Run Tour with Jay Z); Dave Matthews Band, at $39 million; and Pearl Jam, which grossed $38 million.
Bob Roux says 2014 was a record year for stadiums at Live Nation, with the firm promoting about 70 profitable shows that sold more than 3 million tickets. In addition to One Direction, Beyoncé/Jay Z grossed $96 million from just 19 stadium performances, and Joel supplemented his residency at the Garden with mega-venues, as did most of the top country tours, Bryan, Jason Aldean and George Strait included.
The Prognosis For 2015
Without exception, the industry's top players say that 2015 is shaping up as the continuance of a five-year growth path, and that includes expanded festivals with top-drawer lineups and such live superstars as U2, Neil Diamond and AC/DC joining new arena headliners Ariana Grande, Sam Hunt and 5 Seconds of Summer. CAA's Light calls the slate of artists gearing up to tour in 2015 a "healthy cross-section," from pop to country to rock to EDM. "I'm very bullish on the next few years. I don't see it diminishing," he says. "It feeds on itself. People will see a great show in a great venue with great food, have a cocktail, and think, 'That was fun. Let's do it again.' "