Canada's Top Venues Draw Drake, Elton John, Taylor Swift and More

Scotiabank Arena
Tom Pandi

Scotiabank Arena

Superstar concerts -- including stadium shows by Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Luke Bryan and the double bill of Journey and Def Leppard -- generated over $250 million (U.S.) in Canadian concert grosses for the 12 months ending March 2, with attendance topping 3.3 million, according to Billboard Boxscore.

Swift’s two-night stadium stand at Rogers Centre in Toronto Aug. 3-4 was Canada’s top Boxscore event for that period, grossing $11.2 million and drawing 100,310 “Swifties” across the two nights.

That same weekend, the Osheaga Music & Arts Festival -- which takes place in Montreal’s Parc Jean-Drapeau, on an island in the St. Lawrence River -- became the year’s highest-attended Boxscore event in Canada, with 131,520 paying fans.

Among the artists with the biggest tours in Canada during the past year, the only native stars who rank in the top 10 are Shania Twain, who grossed $13.8 million with 14 shows, and Drake, who grossed $13 million with eight.

Drake and Twain joined international draws such as Justin Timberlake, Paul McCartney, Elton John and the Eagles in keeping the turnstiles spinning last year from Vancouver to Quebec City.

Ahead of Canadian Music Week, the festival and conference taking place in Toronto May 6-12, here are Canada’s ­top-grossing venues for the 12-month period from March 3, 2018, through March 2, 2019, as ranked by ticket sales reported to Boxscore.

Concert Capacity: 18,420
Top-Grossing Acts: P!nk, Bruno Mars, Eagles, John, Drake

On Canada Day (July 1) in 2018, Toronto’s downtown arena changed its name from Air Canada Centre to Scotiabank Arena as part of a new, 20-year naming-rights deal. Building upgrades followed, including the new Scotia Club, “our only bowl-facing restaurant,” says Nick Eaves, the venue’s chief venues and operations officer. Eaves’ most memorable shows last year included Radiohead’s concert in July -- the band’s first two Toronto gigs since 2012 (when drum tech Scott Johnson was killed in a stage collapse at Downsview Park). At Scotiabank Arena, security-driven limits on vehicle access during hockey playoffs became permanent after a 2018 incident in which a driver rammed a van into pedestrians approximately 10 miles from the venue, killing 10 people.

Concert Capacity: 21,000 (in the round)
Top-Grossing Acts: U2, Timberlake, Bon Jovi, Drake, McCartney

Jacques Aubé, executive vp/COO of evenko, which owns Bell Centre, says the venue has offered music fans “some good stuff” during the past year with two nights by Radiohead and outings by McCartney, U2, Phil Collins, Bryan Adams and Francophone singer Marie-Mai, who was recently introduced to English-speaking Canada as a judge on Big Machine label owner Scott Borchetta’s TV show The Launch. “Two languages [and] two cultures in Quebec gets us to another level of occupancy,” says Aubé. The venue has upgraded its food court and opened a new restaurant, Mythik, on the floor level (or ice level, for fans of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens).

Vancouver, British Columbia
Concert Capacity: 18,000
Top-Grossing Acts: Drake, Eagles, Timberlake, P!nk, Twain

While Rogers Arena lures many of the biggest international touring stars, in 2018 it also hosted the Canadian music industry’s biggest celebration of homegrown talent, the Juno Awards. “It was a night of great music,” says Molly Ray, the venue’s director of live entertainment. “And to be hosted by Michael Bublé, one of Vancouver’s favorite and funniest talents, was the cherry on top.” (The singer grew up just east of the city.) Surrounded by mountains and water, Vancouver is one of Canada’s most stunning cities and known for its environmental awareness. In keeping with this focus, Rogers Arena is “working toward a zero-waste policy,” says Ray, through steps such as composting food scraps.

Concert Capacity: 50,000
Top-Grossing Acts: Swift, Sheeran, Bryan, Journey/Def Leppard

The domed stadium is home to MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays, who play 81 home games, so scheduling concerts can be “logistically difficult,” says vp marketing and events Marnie Starkman, “but this past season we were fortunate to host eight concerts in our venue.” Her most memorable were the back-to-back nights with Sheeran in August, in which good weather allowed the roof to be open. The building, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary on June 3, has undergone upgrades such as the launch of the Ticketmaster Lounge on the suite level. On Sept. 6, Toronto native Shawn Mendes will play his first hometown headlining concert at the stadium -- a show that sold out in minutes.

Edmonton, Alberta
Concert Capacity: 18,892
Top-Grossing Acts: Drake, McCartney, Timberlake, Twain

Since opening in September 2016, Rogers Place has sought to “grow our reputation as a building that hosts all different kinds of talent,” says executive vp Susan Darrington, explaining that Edmonton has had a reputation for favoring heavier rock acts such as Metallica. The venue has hosted Timberlake, Snoop Dogg and the Arkells from Ontario. “We weren’t 100% sure how the Arkells would sell in western Canada,” says Darrington, but the band’s box office “well exceeded our expectations. That really stands out as a band that we were thrilled to host here.” A new restaurant, Studio 99, named for the jersey number worn by legendary Edmonton Oilers hockey player Wayne Gretzky, customizes its menu for certain concerts. “For Justin Timberlake,” says Darrington, “we did a Tennessee lemonade” made with blueberry vodka -- a nod to the singer’s home state.


London, Ontario
Concert Capacity: 10,294
Top-Grossing Acts: Twain, Rod Stewart, Tim McGraw/Faith Hill    

After presenting the 2016 Canadian Country Music Association Awards, in March Budweiser Gardens hosted the Junos for the first time in the awards show’s 48-year history. GM Brian Ohl cites two country acts as his favorite concerts of the past year: Keith Urban has played the building eight times in its short seven-year history -- “more than any other artist,” says Ohl -- and of McGraw and Hill he declares, “Oh, my God, what a great show.” This is the Gardens’ first year with energy-conserving LED lights inside and out, as well as entryway metal detectors. Home to the London Knights of the teen-level Ontario Hockey League, the venue presents one game per season for which public transportation to and from the event is free. With a sponsor, Ohl would love to extend that green initiative to concerts.   

Quebec City
Concert Capacity: 20,000
Top-Grossing Acts: McCartney, John, Timberlake, Twain

In Quebec City, French-speaking artists draw huge crowds; rock singer Éric Lapointe sold 10,000 tickets on New Year’s Eve at the Centre Vidéotron. But the locals still come out in droves for English-speaking legends like McCartney, who launched his Freshen Up world tour there. “His show on Sept. 17 was record-breaking for us for revenue,” says COO Martin Tremblay. The three-year-old venue is recognized for its sound quality, he says: “We implemented all the things that we had to” in constructing the venue to “the highest standard.”

Winnipeg, Manitoba
Concert Capacity: 17,000
Top-Grossing Acts: McCartney, Timberlake, Twain, Keith Urban

Few would view strengthening building security as an opportunity for fun fan engagement. But when Bell MTS Place acquired three bomb-sniffing Belgian Malinois dogs, the arena staged a contest to name them. Ryp, Grace Too and Daisy were bred and trained specifically for the venue. When it comes to human stars, Bell MTS Place welcomed McCartney in September. Senior vp venues and entertainment Kevin Donnelly notes that the date was confirmed only two months in advance -- sufficient time for a sellout, but still unusual for a booking of this caliber. McCartney “played stadium shows [in Winnipeg] twice in [the] past,” says Donnelly. “He opened the new Investors Group Field in 2013 but hadn’t played an indoor engagement ever” in the city. Donnelly adds that Bell MTS Place has fully transitioned to digital ticketing, which “has eliminated a huge chunk of fraudulent activity.”

Ottawa, Ontario
Concert Capacity: 16,140 (in the round)
Top-Grossing Acts: John, Timberlake, Twain, Urban, André Rieu

“We’re being recognized for our gross ticket sales, but it’s not just because we were the lucky recipients of good touring cycles over the year,” says Canadian Tire Centre vp/executive director Tom Conroy. “My team has an average of more than 15 years of experience in the venue, [from] the front-of-house team to the back-of-house team, and has been instrumental in our success.” The venue, which opened in 1996, has made ongoing upgrades, including new gathering spaces like the Hard Rock Lounge, which overlooks the arena.

Concert Capacity: 16,000
Top-Grossing Acts: Urban, Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney

Toronto’s iconic summer amphitheater on Lake Ontario, with views of the city skyline, is now 25 years old. Last season the shed set a venue record with 52 events, including a run of concerts by country superstars Urban, Aldean, Chesney and more. GM Adrian Walker cites Jack White’s concert as the year’s most unique event because of the artist’s no-cellphone policy. It was “definitely something that many younger concertgoers likely hadn’t experienced,” he says. Live Nation, which owns Budweiser Stage, has focused on the fan experience, offering Budweiser Brewery Fresh draft beer, brewed the day of each event; free Wi-Fi; and a state-of-the-art audio system designed to improve sound on the lawn at the rear of the amphitheater.

This article originally appeared in the April 27 issue of Billboard.


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