Madison Square Garden leads the 20 highest-grossing venues in their class.
In each live-music year, festivals and stadium shows make the most noise, especially in today’s ultracompetitive live market. But arenas have always represented the lifeblood of the global concert industry. Indoor venues accommodating 10,001 or more fans accounted for 40% of total attendance and 46% of total ticket grosses reported to Billboard Boxscore during a recent 12-month period.
Since a terrorist bombing outside an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena in England killed 23 people in 2017, venues around the world have beefed up their security with measures that include behavioral analysis training, increased perimeter surveillance on CCTVs, facial recognition software and “magnetometers” -- metal detectors that don’t require TSA measures, like emptying pockets and removing shoes -- for fans.
This year, arenas have embraced a new trend: sustainability. “Like a lot of businesses, we have seen a massive shift in the way that consumers are thinking about environmental concerns,” says The O2 London vp/gm Steve Sayer, who set up a “green team” 18 months ago to test reusable plastic cups at the venue and has committed to reduce its electrical consumption by 2 million kilowatts per year. Waste management is also part of the “green” equation, with many venues using “landfill-diversion” techniques, nixing straws and choosing recyclable materials on-site.
The venues included here commanded Billboard Boxscore’s worldwide ranking in two categories: capacities of 15,001-plus and 10,001-15,000. Rankings are based on a 12-month gross (as designated in the capsules below): total ticket sales reported to Boxscore between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019. (Venues did not report all events taking place during this period.) This year, buildings from the United States, Europe and Australia top those lists.
1. Madison Square Garden (New York) Concert Capacity: 20,697 12-Month Gross: $173.5 million
The world’s highest-grossing arena hosted shows from Drake, The Who, Paul Simon and -- after a 13-year absence -- Barbra Streisand, one of only three shows for the singer in 2018 and 2019. The arena also celebrated Billy Joel’s 100th lifetime show in July. “A particularly powerful moment for me was when Bruce Springsteen joined Billy Joel onstage,” says Darren Pfeffer, executive vp MSG Live. He’s also proud of the venue’s new Suite Sixteen premium lounge designed by Tao, which MSG bought earlier this year, as well as its partnerships with rising stars including Vulfpeck, Illenium and Brandi Carlile for shows in the market: “They’re not a household name, but they can sell over 12,000 tickets at the arena.”
2. The O2 Arena (London) Concert Capacity: 21,000 12-Month Gross: $159.1 million
Multiple-night runs from Drake, Hugh Jackman and Take That in 2019 helped maintain The O2’s status as Europe’s leading arena, while the fall 2018 opening of a shopping and leisure outlet, ICON, at the venue complex has made it a popular daytime and nighttime destination. One recent event that stood out for vp/gm Steve Sayer was the only U.K. appearance by Michelle Obama on her Becoming book tour. “She was able to create a real intimate feel within a big venue environment,” he says. Sayer also calls BTS’ performance there last fall an “incredible phenomenon,” adding, “We’ve never seen anything like it. The merch spend was incredible.”
3. The Forum (Inglewood, Calif.) Concert Capacity: 17,800 12-Month Gross: $104.9 million
The West Coast’s highest-grossing arena is one of only three to cross the $100 million midyear mark, boosted by sellout shows from Travis Scott, BLACKPINK’s first ever U.S. headlining concert and a star-studded tribute to the late Chris Cornell, which featured Metallica, Miley Cyrus and more. “It was so moving,” says the building’s vp of booking Geni Lincoln, who is working on developing the next generation of Forum headliners, including upcoming stops by Anuel AA, Post Malone and Jonas Brothers. “It’s special to provide artists with the full Forum experience for the very first time and to create a lifetime memory for them.”
4. Qudos Bank Arena (Sydney) Concert Capacity: 21,000 12-Month Gross: $81.1 million
As it celebrates its 20th anniversary, Qudos continues to evolve. Purposely built for the Sydney Olympics in 2000, the venue in west Sydney today boasts an upgraded security control room with full CCTV, facial recognition and perimeter surveillance. “Security continues to be front of mind,” says GM Steve Hevern, who says stringent new screening processes have been implemented over the past 12 months. A raft of energy-saving initiatives also have been rolled out, including water-restriction tapware and the installation of a 70kW solar array system. The arena, the largest indoor venue in the country, is undergoing a conversion to LED lighting.
5. Rod Laver Arena Concert Capacity: 16,820 12-Month Gross: $66 million
The Rod Laver Arena’s versatility is part of its draw: It can be configured for capacities of 16,800 in the round, 13,500 in end-stage concert mode and 7,000 in reduced concert mode. In the midst of an ambitious four-year refurbishment, which includes a three-level entrance, new annexes and a retractable roof that converts from outdoor to indoor in “seconds,” the venue has managed to remain operational throughout, a “remarkable feat,” notes CEO John Harnden. The past year’s hit parade has included sellouts for Aussies like Vance Joy and Keith Urban as well as shows from Cher, Sam Smith and P!nk, whose 11 Beautiful Trauma shows at the venue were a “dream run,” says Harnden. The concerts brought over 150,000 fans through the arena’s turnstiles.
6. American Airlines Center (Dallas) Concert Capacity: 20,020 12-Month Gross: $59.8 million
When two high school students approached venue COO/GM Dave Brown with a proposal to make the arena strawless, Brown and his team listened. “We worked with our concessionaire to modify their program” -- which goes into effect this fall -- “and those two young men went on to win the national Distributive Education Clubs of America competition.” In addition to rethinking sustainability, the space is currently modernizing with a full-fledged digital conversion of signage and hosted 48 concerts over the past year, including a two-night run of Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour in December.
7. Staples Center (Los Angeles) Concert Capacity: 20,000 12-Month Gross: $57.3 million
Staples Center is preparing for its 20th anniversary with a number of concerts planned for emerging artists, beginning with Kane Brown and followed by more acts to be announced after the NBA schedule is released for the building. Lee Zeidman, president of STAPLES Center, Microsoft Theater and L.A. LIVE, led the installation of BluEco’s climate system, which has greatly reduced the amount of energy used to make ice, and also expanded the venue’s food menu to include vegan/vegetarian options -- such as Wahoo’s tacos and Impossible Meat dumplings and meatballs -- as well as a new concept, Salt & Char, to replace McDonald’s, which had been a target of complaints by some artists. “Morrissey will be happy if he decides to come back and play,” he says.
8. Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia) Concert Capacity: 21,000 12-Month Gross: $57 million
In January, Wells Fargo Center welcomed Valerie Camillo, president of business operations, to run the 21,000-capacity arena during a $250 million renovation. The aim, she says, is to make the building “one of the most technologically advanced arenas in the world.” Dubbed “Transformation 2020,” the overhaul has harnessed parent company Comcast’s tech insights and includes a commitment that 100% of its energy use will be accounted for by “retiring an equal amount of wind-generated renewable energy credits” in partnership with Constellation Energy. The improvements have occurred during its peak concert seasons for more than two years, but didn’t stop the venue from bringing in more than $57 million from 46 shows this year, according to Billboard Boxscore.
Just 3 years old, Las Vegas’ newest venue hosted 32 concerts over the past year, including runs with Florence + The Machine, Ariana Grande and Paul McCartney. “Obviously, any time you get a Beatle in the building, it’s a pretty special and cool night,” says vp/gm Dan Quinn. In the venue’s fold is the neighboring Park Theater, which will host Aerosmith’s raucous Deuces Are Wild residency through June 2020. “On the first night of Paul McCartney, Steven Tyler came over and performed ‘Helter Skelter’ with Paul.” Quinn is still holding out for Adele. “Vegas didn’t get lucky on her last tour, and there are always questions about what her touring future is,” he says. “Those are the ones you start to salivate over.”
10. Manchester Arena (Manchester, England) Concert Capacity: 21,000 12-Month Gross: $55.3 million
Manchester Arena, which opened in 1995, welcomed its 30 millionth customer in 2018 and is now looking ahead to next year’s 25th anniversary and beyond. “We’re looking at what we can do to future-proof the venue for the next 25 years,” says GM James Allen. Homegrown pop act Take That scored the biggest gross of the measurement period ($7.5 million for five shows in April) with the 21,000-capacity venue temporarily renamed the Take That Arena in its honor. Other highlights included a globally streamed amateur boxing match between YouTube stars KSI and Logan Paul, and a rescheduled June performance from Mumford & Sons entirely in the round, which moved 18,000 tickets.
1. The SSE Hydro (Glasgow) Concert Capacity: 14,300 12-Month Gross: $64.5 million
Director of live entertainment Debbie McWilliams oversaw a year of growth for Glasgow’s SSE Hydro, including the completion of a new stage grid that boosted overall capacity to 14,300. “Securing tenancy to meet the needs of touring production schedules can be an ongoing challenge, albeit a good challenge to have,” she says, noting a recent highlight in the launch of Hugh Jackman’s global trek The Man. The Music. The Show, which sold out three nights. The Campus also facilitated a new partnership with Circular Glasgow, a joint initiative between Glasgow Chamber of Commerce and Zero Waste Scotland, which aims to “improve the economic, environmental and social legacy of major city events.”
2. Brisbane Entertainment Centre (Brisbane, Australia) Concert Capacity: 13,500 12-Month Gross: $40.5 million
The Brisbane Entertainment Centre has such a strong connection with P!nk, a ladies bathroom is named in her honor. The veteran pop star, who has performed 32 shows at the Centre since 2004, returned with seven sold-out shows on her Beautiful Trauma World Tour this past year. Other international acts who have performed multiple shows over the past year include Céline Dion, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Katy Perry, Post Malone and Shania Twain (for the first time in 19 years). “We are seeing a two-speed market,” says BEC GM Patricia McNamara. “Hot acts are selling out easily, and at times in spite of very high prices, while the acts who aren’t so hot have struggled.”
3. Mohegan Sun Arena (Uncasville, Conn.) Concert Capacity: 10,000 12-Month Gross: $39.6 million
At a capacity of 10,000, the Mohegan Sun Arena hosts A-list underplays, including recent stops from Justin Timberlake, who threw a Man of the Woods afterparty at the on-site casino, as well as the tour close for U2’s Songs of Experience + Innocence trek. “We’re probably one of the most intimate venues they’ve ever played,” says Tom Cantone, senior vp sports and entertainment for Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, who noted that the band loved the space. “To have U2 tell us the venue was one of the best they’ve played -- that’s saying something.” New priorities include a diner-style catering area, a basketball hoop and a redecorated stage entrance that displays accolades -- including a 2019 Academy of Country Music arena of the year prize -- so artists don’t feel it’s a “dungeon.”
The fall 2018 opening of Mercedes Platz -- a neighboring entertainment district featuring a cinema, restaurants, hotels and a 4,350-capacity music venue -- has made the 10-year-old Mercedes-Benz Arena an even more popular destination. “We are now having around 250-plus events a year at this location, which makes it very special in Europe,” says managing director Michael Hapka. He points to November’s rescheduled concert by U2 among the year’s highlights, while Jack White “really shook the walls” when he opened the Verti Music Hall on Oct. 12.
Over the past year, Hamburg’s 15,000-capacity Barclaycard Arena hosted pop hitmakers Justin Timberlake and Post Malone, as well as a growing number of local headliners, including a sold-out, three-night run by German star Udo Lindenberg. With the closure of the nearby 12,500-capacity Congress Center, which is under construction until 2020, the space has embraced its capacity to shrink to a smaller, intimate space with the “push of a button,” says Steve Schwenkglenks, vp/managing director. “When you enter, you have no idea it’s double the size.”
With its first naming-rights deal and eight of the venue’s top 20 highest-grossing shows of all time, the RAC Arena has enjoyed a “huge year,” says GM Michael Scott. P!nk’s Beautiful Trauma run smashed its record for most tickets sold by a solo performer with over 16,000 visitors from out of town, a major boon to the tourism economy, he says. The “green” venue has implemented a raft of sustainability initiatives, including the introduction of reusable cups and a partnership with Hyundai, which will install electric car charging stations on-site.
7. Spark Arena (Auckland, New Zealand) Concert Capacity: 12,000 12-Month Gross: $31.6 million
Another record notch on P!nk’s Beautiful Trauma run was when it swept the Spark Arena with six sold-out shows to 73,087 fans. The largest indoor venue of its kind in New Zealand, Spark Arena is a year into its Zero Waste Strategy, where 100% compostable packaging is now used for front-of-house serveware. “We are seeing a dramatic reduction in our annual waste to landfills,” says GM Brendan Hines. In April, the venue -- located in Auckland, the territory’s most populated city -- hosted the You Are Us/Aroha Nui concert to raise funds for those affected by the March Christchurch terror attack. “It was an emotional evening for the artists and audience with a powerful message of acceptance and love,” says Hines.
8. The SSE Arena, Wembley (London) Concert Capacity: 12,500 12-Month Gross: $31.4 million
Hosting the world premiere of Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody in October 2018 was just one of the highlights of the past 12 months at the London staple, says vp/gm John Drury. “Queen have been regular visitors to the arena, so we were delighted to have them back,” he says. (The band famously played its neighboring Wembley Stadium as part of the legendary AIDS benefit Live Aid in 1985.) Sellouts from George Ezra, Slayer and Arcade Fire contributed to a record 950,000 attendees in 2018, while this year has brought memorable visits from K-pop stars BLACKPINK, NCT 127 and Monsta X.
9. Van Andel Arena (Grand Rapids, Mich.) Concert Capacity: 12,860 12-Month Gross: $30.1 million
The Grand Rapids venue, which opened in October 1996, heralded the return of Michigan native Bob Seger, who kicked off his final Roll Me Away tour last November with two sold-out shows, his ninth play in the building, according to regional GM Rich MacKeigan. “The mayor even declared the first show day as Bob Seger Day in Grand Rapids.” Within the next six months, the venue will debut a $2 million renovation that includes new dressing rooms and a reimagined locker/weight room for hockey team The Griffins. As part of Michigan’s annual Battle of the Buildings energy initiative in 2018, the arena won the Biggest Loser prize, out of over 1,000 entries, for a total energy consumption decrease of 12% year to year.
10. MGM Grand Garden (Las Vegas) Concert Capacity: 15,500 12-Month Gross: $26.1 million
The Sin City mainstay pulled in $25 million from 21 concerts over the past 12 months, with standout dates including Phil Collins, who returned after 15 years for a sold-out performance of his Not Dead Yet Tour last October. He enlisted his son Nicholas to play drums on the tour, after health problems including foot paralysis left him unable to play the instrument. “Even in his current physical condition, it had zero effect on his performance,” says GM Scott Preston. “The crowd was extremely engaged. It felt like he passed the torch.”
Contributors: Lars Brandle, Dave Brooks, Brooke Mazurek, Taylor Mims, Richard Smirke, Nick Williams