Chart Beat

The Year in Touring Charts 2020: Elton John Crowns Top Tours in Abbreviated Year

Elton John
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Elton John performs on stage during the 'Farewell Yellow Brick Road'-Tour in the 3Arena in Dublin on June 12, 2019.

After 47 shows, nearly 800,000 tickets sold, and over $100 million in the bank, Elton John finishes 2020 with the year’s top-grossing tour according to figures reported to Billboard Boxscore.

Of course, those numbers were supposed to be much bigger.

After an industry-wide record-breaking 2019, the new year was off to a massive start with John’s tour leading a pack that included generational superstars and genre-blurring newcomers. But on March 12, the entire concert world shut down – amid the rapidly rising threat of COVID-19, a coalition of international promoters and agencies announced that they, in tandem with virtually every other non-essential industry around the globe, were hitting pause for the indefinite foreseeable future.

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Perhaps the least of our worries, this shutdown chopped Boxscore numbers into pieces, halting the Northern hemisphere’s stadium season and postponing scheduled tours to 2021 and 2022, while canceling others outright. And though the touring industry will look ahead to the coming years to reshape and rebuild, 2020’s shortened but still stellar box office results provide some hope for the future.

Billboard's Year-End Boxscore charts are based on engagements that played between Nov. 1, 2019 and Oct. 31, 2020. Gross and attendance totals include traditional touring, drive-in concerts, and livestream events.  

John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour began the 2020 chart year with 10 shows in North America, kicking off the new decade with $21 million in domestic grosses. He then went to Australia for a 37-show sweep that added $93.1 million before wrapping, as scheduled, on March 7.

Ultimately, John crowns 2020’s Top Tours chart with a $114.1 million haul, after being No. 4 in 2019 ($194.1 million) and No. 22 in 2018 ($55.4 million).

Though the Boxscore chart year only included four and a half months of traditional touring before the shutdown, John still outpaced his mid-year 2019 gross by 13%, already at 59% of his full 2019 gross. Given a full 2020, he likely would have cleared the $200 million milestone.

In all, the Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour has earned $358.6 million and sold 2.63 million tickets in 178 shows, now within $50 million of Billboard’s all-time top 10 tours list (Madonna’s Sticky & Sweet Tour grossed $408 million in 2008-09). John’s reported career total now stands at $1.398 billion and 17.2 million tickets, bypassing Madonna by $22 million and becoming the second-highest grossing soloist, after Bruce Springsteen.

Originally, the trek was schedule to run for three years, wrapping sometime in 2021. But following COVID-related postponements, John will resume on Sept. 1, 2021 in Berlin and now plans to close on Jan. 28, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand.

Scheduling and future ticket sales might look different after a year or more of international lockdown but with 96 shows on the books, the tour is trending toward the all-time top five with a possible total gross of $525-550 million.

With John’s trek at No. 1 on the year-end Top Tours tally, It’s the third consecutive year that Billboard’s top tour is a holdover from previous years. Ed Sheeran’s Divide Tour conquered the 2018 and ’19 year-end charts after coming in at No. 6 in 2017. Both John and Sheeran fit into a wider pool of spread-out tours that have clogged recent year-end lists, including multi-leg treks by Guns ‘N Roses (2016-19), Metallica (2016-20) and The Rolling Stones (2017-19). This trend follows a six-year stretch of single-year runs topping the year-end Top Tours list, from U2, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, One Direction, Bon Jovi, and Madonna. That stretch hits a wall in 2011 when U2 reigned with the 360° Tour, which began in 2009.

Speaking of the Irish foursome, U2 ranks at No. 3 on the 2020 year-end Top Tours list with The Joshua Tree Tour 2019. The band first set out to honor their iconic 1987 LP with a 2017 jaunt that topped the year’s Top Tours list with a $317 million haul. After a pivot to the Experience + Innocence Tour in 2018 (No. 7 year-end Top Tours; $119.2 million), they returned with 15 shows in Australia and Asia for another edition of the anniversary tour, earning $73.8 million in November and December 2019.

U2 dominates the Top Boxscores chart with six individual events, topped by a double-header in Saitama, Japan on Dec. 4-5, 2019. Those two shows combined to a $10.4 million gross with 43,225 tickets sold.

Celine Dion slides in between the European rock greats with the year’s No. 2 Top Tour. The Courage World Tour is 2020’s top pop tour, grossing $84.6 million and 498,000 tickets sold.

The top five of the year-end 2020 Top Tours ranking is rounded out by a pair of disparate acts, with holiday-rock-classical band Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) at No. 4 and singer-songwriter-rapper Post Malone at No. 5.

TSO was out-grossed by John, Dion, and U2 but does finish the ‘year’ with the most-attended tour, having sold over one million tickets, leading its next closest competitor, John himself, by 29%.

The top country tour comes courtesy of George Strait (No. 17 overall on the Top Tours ranking), earning $24.3 million from just nine shows. He is followed by Luke Combs (No. 33) and Blake Shelton (No. 34).

After finishing at No. 5 on the Top Boxscores ranking last year, Dead & Company claim 2020’s Top Boxscore with their annual four-day all-inclusive Mexican extravaganza. The legendary band played four nights in a row in Riviera Cancun, with more than 6,000 fans flocking to the tropical getaway.