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After two years of relative silence, U2 returned with their 12th studio album, 2009’s No Line on the Horizon. The band hit the ground running (in their sexy boots), with the album debuting atop the Billboard 200, their seventh set to crown the chart.
The U2 360° Tour was routed in-the-round in stadiums across three years and five continents. It kicked off with two shows at Camp Nou in Barcelona (June 30 and July 2, 2009), throwing down the gauntlet for the years to come with a $19.8 million gross and attendance of 182,000.
The initial European leg kept up the pace with $20 million grosses in Paris and London, and a crowning haul of $28.8 million and 243,000 attendance over three nights at Dublin’s Croke Park. Altogether, the tour’s 24-show launch earned $188.3 million and sold 1.76 million tickets.
The tour then spread to North America for 20 shows (Sept. -- Oct. 2009), back to Europe for 22 (Aug. -- Oct. 2010), then to Australia for 10 dates (Nov. -- Dec. 2010), South Africa for two shows (Feb. 2011), and seven in South America (March -- April 2011).
It was on the band’s return trip to Europe that they set a new career high mark. Playing to a whopping 96,000 fans at Paris’s Stade De France on Sept. 18, 2010, the U2 360° Tour’s running total surged to $397 million, enough to be the band’s highest-grossing tour yet. With 51 shows left, the all-time record was now in play. At a certain point, it became not a matter of if, but when they would set a new record-high.
By the time U2 arrived in South America, they were 21 months deep in the tour but had not yet peaked. Their seven shows in Santiago, Buenos Aires, and Sao Paolo averaged $8.7 million, more than any other leg during the three-year run, and more than any leg of any tour throughout the band’s sprawling career.
The band’s previous sweep through South America was equally huge, but only under a certain light. Five shows on the Vertigo Tour averaged 75,000 tickets per show, barely outpacing the 360° Tour’s 74,000. But they made up the difference by charging an average price of $117.19/ticket in 2011, up from $62.65 on the previous tour, perhaps emboldened by the Vertigo Tour’s massive sell-out in the region.
The South American leg’s finale was three shows at Estadio do Morumbi in Sao Paolo on April 9, 10 and 13, 2011. Following opening sets by Muse, U2 took the stage performing for 269,000 fans and earned $32.8 million over the three nights.
That tally made it the highest-grossing Boxscore ever in Brazil, and in all of South America (Roger Waters has since broken the continental record, with a nine-show run at Estadio River Plate in Buenos Aires that grossed $38 million). Regardless of geography, it was the highest-grossing engagement of the U2 360° Tour, and of the band’s entire career, a record it still holds today.
But more notable than its individual achievements, it helped the U2 360° Tour across the finish line, reaching a total of $580.5 million, surpassing the Stones’ previous record to become the highest-grossing tour of all time.
With a full leg of 25 shows remaining in North America, the band’s final sweep through Mexico, the U.S. and Canada was a victory lap, ultimately finishing with $736.4 million in the bank, enough to hold the all-time Boxscore record for another eight years.
The record was finally broken in Aug. 2019, when Ed Sheeran’s The Divide Tour wrapped with $776.2 million. The math of Sheeran’s record-breaker is nearly opposite to U2’s. Sheeran played more than double the number of concerts (255 vs. 110) and charged less on average per ticket ($87 vs. $101), while U2’s exclusively in-the-round stadium run packed a bigger punch each show ($6.7 million vs. $3 million; 66,000 tickets vs. 34,000).
Sheeran’s record, wouldn’t ya know it, still stands today, less than two years later, one of which has been eaten by a COVID-safe global concert lockdown. When touring properly returns later in 2021 and 2022, we’ll likely see Sheeran himself, U2, reigning Boxscore champ Elton John, and more come for the throne.
U2 has returned to the road with 2015’s Innocence + Experience Tour, the Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary Tour in 2017 and 2019, and, in between, 2018’s Experience + Innocence Tour. In all, the band’s Boxscore total has reached $2.22 billion and 28.3 million tickets sold, making them one of only two acts to surpass the $2 billion mark.
The U2 360° Tour still stands as the second highest-grossing tour of all time, setting the pace for the band, and all stadium acts, in the decade since.