Business

The Enduring Business of Boy Band Nostalgia Tours

B2K
Paras Griffin/Getty Images

B2K performs onstage during their The Millennium Tour at State Farm Arena on April 5, 2019 in Atlanta.

Over the past few years, popular boy bands like BTS and 5 Seconds of Summer have shattered records and expectations, picked up streaming accomplishments and enjoyed plenty of success on the road.

But another major draw on the touring circuit has been boy bands from the 1980s, ’90s and early-2000s, showing that the business of nostalgia continues to endure as the 2010s come to a close.

Groups like Backstreet Boys and New Kids On The Block have enjoyed multimillion dollar success while on their recent respective tours, In A World Like This and Total Package. They’re not the only beloved throwback acts to get in on the fun: 98 Degrees is in the midst of headlining several arenas around the country into 2020, and London-based group 5ive is reportedly headlining the two month The Boys Are Back tour in the UK, which also features boybands A1, 911 and Damage. Members of *NSYNC have reportedly considered a tour of their own after their successful mini-reunion during Coachella 2019, sans Justin Timberlake.

With live ticket sales reportedly on track to reach $25 billion by 2023, now more than ever is the opportune time for legacy acts to get a piece of the pie.

“There’s really a large, insatiable demand [for boy bands] that is just unrelenting, that never went away,” says Michelle LaFleur, COO of Omarion Worldwide and the co-producer of B2K’s uber-successful Millennium Tour, which featured acts like Pretty Ricky, Mario and more. The reunion excursion was the group’s highest-grossing tour to date, earning $25.5 million over 44 dates, with 289,819 tickets sold, according to Billboard Boxscore.

“For a group that had no presence, no nothing in 15 years, to gross nearly $30 million on a tour, that says something,” she adds. “You can't force things -- they happen when they're supposed to and that's what happened here. All the stars aligned.” Due to the demand and success of the first leg, B2K announced in November that there will be a 2020 edition, featuring acts such as Bow Wow, Soulja Boy and Omarion as a solo entity.

It's working for others, too. According to New Kids On The Block’s publicist Erica Gerard, grosses for the group’s 55-show MIXTAPE Tour set an all-time record for NKOTB in terms of ticket sales, grossing an impressive $53.2 million on 662,911 tickets, according to Billboard Boxscore.

"[We said,] 'If you will do it the same now as you did it then, if you will dance that dance and sing the songs the same way, let's try a few shows and see if it works,'" Live Nation senior vp touring of Live Nation Brad Wavra tells Billboard about New Kids On The Block. Wavra explains that he and the supergroup developed a plan around the late-2000s to embark on a tour every two years for the next 15 years. "[The MIXTAPE tour] is our fifth tour since that first trial, and they've just gotten better and better and better every year."

Of course, the touring market today is entirely different than it was during the height of these groups’ popularity. There is more data now, which allows artists and their teams to make better-informed decisions about when and how to effectively tour, and there are other ways to interact with fans, thanks to social media and specially-curated meet-and-greets.

"That connectivity with the fan base is so much greater," Wavra says, comparing now to the era when NKOTB and others were first breaking. "[These groups] are in your living room on multimedia sources, they're on Broadway, on TV, they're opening a restaurant in your neighborhood. They are in businesses that touch you all over the place. We live with them via the Internet. They share their personal life with us, they invite us in and then we engage."

Consumers don’t mind dropping dollars to see their childhood and teenage favorites in the flesh. During the three-month Millennium Tour, LaFleur says that the cheapest general admission ticket was around $60, while the most expensive floated around the $150 range. VIP and meet-and-greet tickets for the tour ranged from $250-$350.

“Spending $100 to $200 to go to a meet-and-greet and have VIP experiences after was incredible, we saw the same faces over and over,” LaFleur says. “[Fans] just wanted to be there, experience it and just breathe [B2K’s] air."

Additionally, concert residencies can prove both highly lucrative and be a tool to grow anticipation for fanbases before tours begin. The Backstreet Boys’ Larger Than Life residency in Las Vegas wrapped in April after a two-year stint at Zappos Theater at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, after grossing $44.2 million across 80 shows. The group’s DNA World Tour, which launched after the residency ended earlier this year, has sold over 1 million tickets since May, per Live Nation. As of now, they’ll be performing 99 shows across 27 countries, and the number continues to rise.

"Backstreet Boys have had a major comeback filled with incredible successes, from their hugely popular Las Vegas residency which exploded in 2017 to scoring their first Billboard No. 1 debut album in nearly 20 years," says Steve Herman, vp touring at Live Nation. "They have put together an unbelievable show that bridges the gap between their original and newer songs, building an extensive setlist that satisfies every one of their fans."

LaFleur suggests that from a business standpoint, using Vegas as a launching pad is beneficial for the groups and their teams to test the waters for a tour in terms of demand.

“[With a residency], you can do all these shows, but you don't have to be encumbered with the hustle and bustle of travel and the toll that it takes on you," she says. "Then for the fans, they know where [the show] is going to be, it's convenient, it creates incredible access for fans."

Wavra also explains that residencies allow for these groups to go full throttle in terms of creativity, due to a less-stressful breakdown and build-up period that touring requires.

“Residencies allow you to build a really big, well-rehearsed show,” he explains. “You can be more creative with your set pieces, more creative with your choreography, more creative with your costuming, because the wear-and-tear of packing it up every day and moving it doesn't occur.”

Merchandise also drives much of the revenue for these shows, which consumers predictably eat up. Ahead of their tour this year, the Jonas Brothers released CD, vinyl and cassette bundles of their latest LP, and are bundling Happiness Begins with merch such as shirts, hats and sweats. The Backstreet Boys are selling vintage tees, the vinyl version of their 1999 Millennium album, and even onesies for the babies of superfans.

NKOTB also remain aware of their audience as they age with them. The merchandise on their online website features drinkware in addition to clothing, and immersive photo opportunities for VIP guests during shows, which includes a throwback-style teenager bedroom featuring New Kids mementos.

“The good news for the New Kids, good or bad, is [that] they look similar to how they looked 10 or 15 years ago,” Wavra says. “So we have to be clever and creative on giving the fans something new. These are collectors -- this is the evolution, a relationship between a band and their fans. And as they evolve, [their fans] collect the annual event shirt and buy things that we put together.”

Especially as it pertains to the Millennium Tour, fans brought the throwback factor to new levels, donning everything a tween and teen in the early 2000s would rock to look the part. Per LaFleur, merch wasn’t as high a priority this time around, as the group focused on creating a VIP Fan Experience to bolster sales.

"After the shows, [B2K] had their own after-parties on site at the venue, and it was an opportunity for them to be up-close-and-personal with fans, gets selfies, the whole nine," she explains. "That was incredibly successful."

As the decade comes to a close, it’s clear that nostalgia is still a moneymaker. While it continues to dominate various avenues of the entertainment industry, it’s also re-energized the concert circuit by bringing back some childhood favorites. Despite not having much of a presence since their glory days, boy bands have adapted to the rapidly-changing market to prove they’re not only back, but better than ever.

"After 15, 20 years, [fans] don't believe [a tour] is gonna happen again in their lifetime," says LaFleur. "It's like, 'I better get my piece now, and this is a legacy experience, once in a lifetime.' How often do you graduate? How often do you get married? [Reunion tours] are one of those things that is incredibly meaningful to so many people."