Over the course of a live-music year, destination festivals and massive stadium shows get the most attention, but arenas remain the backbone of the global concert industry.
Indoor venues accommodating 10,000 or more fans accounted for 71 percent of total attendance and 76 percent of total ticket grosses reported to Billboard Boxscore during a recent 12-month period.
All arenas share business challenges: filling their event calendars, enhancing dining options, upgrading technology and -- more important than ever -- keeping fans safe.
“The world keeps changing on us,” says Nick Eaves, who runs the Scotiabank Arena (formerly the Air Canada Centre) in Toronto and -- like most executives in his position -- has overseen heightened security measures in the 16 months since the terrorist bombing outside an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena in England in 2017.
Globally, arenas are screening fans more closely than ever, using airport-style, full-body metal detectors and even facial recognition technology. They’ve also installed barriers against vehicle attacks and strengthened partnerships with local law enforcement agencies.
The venues recognized here dominate Billboard Boxscore’s worldwide ranking in two categories: buildings with a capacity of 15,001 or more and those with a capacity of 10,001-15,000. The rankings are based on a 12-month gross (as designated in the capsules below): total ticket sales reported to Boxscore between June 20, 2017, and June 17, 2018. (Not all events taking place during this period are reported by venues.) This year, buildings from the United States, Europe and Australia top those lists.
TOP 10 ARENAS CAPACITY: 15,001 AND OVER
1.T-MOBILE ARENA,Las Vegas Concert Capacity: 20,000 12-Month Gross: $164.4 million
George Strait’s residency at T-Mobile Arena, with multiple back-to-back nights, helped propel the venue, which opened in 2016, to the top of this year’s list. Strait accounted for three of the five top Boxscores during the 12-month measurement period, with Justin Timberlake and U2 rounding out T-Mobile Arena’s list. GM Dan Quinn notes that hockey and boxing also contributed greatly to the venue's successful year. That included an unlikely run at the Stanley Cup by the NHL’s Golden Knights, and the 2017 matchups of Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor (Aug. 26) and Canelo Álvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin (Sept. 16). The two bouts grossed a collective $100 million in ticket sales. “For some buildings, that would be a great year,” says Quinn. “We did it in two events.”
2. MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, New York Concert Capacity: 19,301 12-Month Gross: $158.6 million
“One hundred sold-out shows by a single artist in a single venue is extraordinary,” says Rich Claffey, executive vp venue management at the Garden, where Billy Joel marked that milestone on July 18 -- “40 years after his first MSG performance in 1978 and four-and-a-half years after he began his legendary residency at the Garden,” adds Claffey. The fabled venue continues to upgrade its lighting, production and security technology, while enhancing gathering areas like the Delta Club, the JP Morgan Club and the members-only Suite Sixteen lounge. During the 12-month measurement period, its Boxscore receipts were bolstered by Paul McCartney, Guns N’ Roses, P!nk, the 2018 Grammy Awards and Phish, whose 13 sellouts in July and August 2017 grossed over $15 million.
3.O2 ARENA, London Concert Capacity: 21,000 12-Month Gross: $147.1 million
Europe’s leading arena is set to get even busier this fall, when a new 210,000-square-foot shopping and leisure outlet opens in the O2 complex. “It makes us a real daytime destination as well as a nighttime one,” says O2 vp/GM John Langford. He anticipates an extra 4 million visitors to the site per year, making robust security enhancements more important than ever, including new external barriers to prevent vehicle attacks. The $4.76 million in box office sales that London native Sam Smith generated from four shows in April qualified as the highest gross of the 12-month measurement period, and Metallica’s 22,211 fans in October “broke our attendance record,” says Langford.
Harry Styles has a special place in his heart for the “Fabulous Forum.” At a tour-closing show at the venue in July, Styles told fans how he had “snuck in” to the Eagles soundcheck in 2014 when the band reopened the building. He said he “always wanted to play here because of how special the building is to him,” recalls Geni Lincoln, vp booking and marketing, who was recently promoted and co-manages the building with newly hired industry veteran Rick Merrill. (The two are building upon the work of departing Forum GM Nick Spampanato.) Four shows by Bruno Mars in November that grossed $8.4 million were the top draw of the measurement period, and recent bookings by Maluma, Bad Bunny and Romeo Santos have the venue showcasing some of the brightest Latin stars today.
5.BARCLAYS CENTER, Brooklyn Concert Capacity: 19,000 12-Month Gross: $80.52 million
While Paul McCartney scored the highest gross of the measurement period ($4.4 million for two nights in September 2017), Brett Yormark, CEO of BSE Global, which runs the arena, says a point of local pride was the Tidal X concert that took place last October, during which Brooklyn’s own Jay-Z joined with New York natives Jennifer Lopez and Cardi B as well as Stevie Wonder to raise $3.7 million to benefit hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, Texas and elsewhere. “The show made a difference beyond the walls of Barclays,” says Yormark. The arena also opened Featured on Flatbush, a space filled with merchandise from performers and local up-and-coming designers, in the past year.
6.STAPLES CENTER, Los Angeles Concert Capacity: 20,000 12-Month Gross: $80.5 million
Staples Center is experiencing one of its best concert years ever, with multiple-night runs from Roger Waters -- who led the 12-month measurement period with a $5.6 million gross for three shows in June 2017 -- Kendrick Lamar, Hall & Oates, Tears for Fears, The Killers and Katy Perry, as well as the three-day BET Experience with Chris Brown, SZA, Meek Mill and Ludacris. For a recent Ed Sheeran show, management converted the back of the house area into an English-style pub that bore the name of Sheeran’s song tribute to his grandmother, “Nancy Mulligan.” “Ed just loved it,” says Lee Zeidman, president of Staples Center and L.A. Live, who adds, “We’re trying to come up with ways [to really] engage the artists and guests.”
7. QUDOS BANK ARENA, Sydney Concert Capacity: 20,381 12-Month Gross: $70.4 million
Qudos Bank Arena enjoyed its best operating results over the past 12 months, reports GM Steve Hevern, with concerts by Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, Bruno Mars and Jerry Seinfield, among others. “But P!nk’s performance is one that stands out,” says Hevern, who recalls that the singer, battling a respiratory infection, took the stage on Aug. 4 “to produce an absolutely incredible show” -- after which she was hospitalized to treat a virus. Following additional shows in August and September, the singer was on track to sell over 150,000 seats at the QBA, setting a new house record, says Hevern.
8. SCOTIABANK ARENA, Toronto Concert Capacity: 19,100 12-Month Gross: $70.2 million
On Canada Day, July 1, the Toronto venue known for nearly 20 years as Air Canada Centre was rechristened Scotiabank Arena as part of an $800 million, 20-year naming rights deal. Nick Eaves, chief venues and operations officer at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the building, says the arena has started celebrating its history with photos and memorabilia in display boxes, such as handwritten lyrics belonging to the late Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip -- which opened the venue in 1999 and headlined it 13 times -- to a photo of Drake’s custom OVO Sound-Toronto Raptors jacket. “As you move through our event level and second floor in particular,” says Eaves, “our team has done an amazing job of telling those stories.”
9.AMERICAN AIRLINES CENTER, Dallas Concert Capacity: 20,100 12-Month Gross: $58.6 million
As the home of both the NBA’s Mavericks and the NHL’s Stars, Dallas’ American Airlines Center shares a challenge with other venues that have sports teams as their anchor tenants. “Just finding dates [for concerts] is becoming a challenge,” says arena COO/GM Dave Brown, noting that the venue hosts 50 shows annually. “We are really trying to get strategic with how we fill our calendar.” Justin Timberlake’s two shows in May, which grossed $4.9 million, was the top moneymaker of the measurement period. But a personal favorite for the executive was the 70th birthday concert in July 2017 for native Texan Don Henley, which featured fellow members of the Eagles, Stevie Nicks and others. “We were honored that he wanted to do that here,” says Brown.
10.PRUDENTIAL CENTER, Newark, N.J. Concert Capacity: 17,500 12-Month Gross: $55.1 million
The Jersey arena marked its 10th anniversary with a pair of concerts in April by Bon Jovi, which had christened the arena in 2008. “The fact that they opened the building 10 years ago made it a poignant moment for us,” says Sean Saadeh, executive vp entertainment programming. In the past year, Prudential Center opened the Grammy Museum Experience, an offshoot of the West Coast museum, and held a groundbreaking ceremony for a new 22-acre park in front of the venue. “It’s going to be the new front yard to our facility,” says Saadeh, “and it’s going to really transform the experience for our fans.”
Céline Dion’s first concert in the Scottish city in 21 years on Aug. 5, 2017, gave The SSE Hydro an early fifth-birthday present when the Canadian superstar achieved the highest single-night gross in the venue’s history ($1.7 million). A residency by Scottish comic Kevin Bridges starting Oct. 4 will run for 19 nights and be the first of that duration by a solo artist. The SSE Hydro recently upgraded its back-of-house and hospitality offerings. “Consumer expectation is all about the experience,” says head of live entertainment Debbie McWilliams. “We need to ensure that we are keeping ahead of the game.”
Hamburg’s Barclaycard Arena, which opened in 2002, has invested heavily in beefing up its tech infrastructure to meet the communication demands of fans, installing high-density Wi-Fi networks throughout the building and upgrading existing hardware. “Constant new developments open exciting areas for us,” says GM Steve Schwenkglenks, citing the venue’s ability now to host a three-day esports event in October presented by video-game-competition company ESL. With concerts over five nights in September 2017, German star Helene Fischer grossed $4.8 million, beating out the single-night ticket sales of Metallica and Depeche Mode in the arena’s 12-month grosses.
3.HALLENSTADION, Zurich Concert Capacity: 15,000 12-Month Gross: $36.5 million
Opening in 1939, Zurich’s Hallenstadion is not just Switzerland’s biggest indoor venue, it’s one of Europe’s most historic. Since undergoing a major renovation in 2004 and 2005, the arena, guided by CEO Felix Frei, has regularly hosted the world’s biggest acts, with performances by Roger Waters, Aerosmith, film composer Hans Zimmer and German punk band Die Toten Hosen ranking among the venue’s recent top-grossing artists. Frei’s dream booking? “Led Zeppelin for 20 exclusive shows.”
4.MERCEDES-BENZ ARENA, Berlin Concert Capacity: 17,000 12-Month Gross: $35.7 million
Berlin’s Mercedes-Benz Arena celebrated its 10th anniversary this September, and the venue will mark another significant milestone on Oct. 13 with the opening of Mercedes Platz, a neighboring entertainment district featuring a cinema, restaurants, hotels, a bowling alley and an additional 4,500-capacity music venue. The development will make the AEG-owned facility an even more popular destination, says managing director Michael Hapka, who singles out Kendrick Lamar’s March concert as one of the year’s highlights. “He really made 15,000 people become one voice singing his lyrics,” says Hapka.
5.BRISBANE ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE, Brisbane, Australia Concert Capacity: 10,000; 14,500 in the round 12-Month Gross: $35 million
Few shows have tested the mettle of the Brisbane Entertainment Centre staff quite like Ariana Grande’s date there in September 2017. In the wake of the terrorist attack outside Grande’s Manchester Arena concert four months earlier, security was heightened for the one-night Brisbane booking, which, for the first time for a concert at the 32-year-old venue, introduced a no-bags policy. Grande’s show was “powerful and poignant,” recalls GM Trish McNamara. And it was a success, selling almost 11,000 tickets.
6.NYCB LIVE: HOME OF NASSAU VETERANS MEMORIAL COLISEUM, Uniondale, N.Y. Concert Capacity: 15,000 12-Month Gross: $30.9 million
It took U2 26 years to return to the Nassau Coliseum, which reopened in April 2017 after an extensive renovation, but the Irish rockers’ show at NYCB Live in June was worth the wait. “The whole stage setup, the use of technology and then obviously just having Bono in the house, was inspiring,” says Brett Yormark of BSE Global, which operates the venue. Bob Dylan, Roger Waters and Paul McCartney were other recent top shows at the arena, where renovation work is underway for the return of the NHL’s New York Islanders from Brooklyn’s Barclays Center by 2020.
7. RAC ARENA, Perth, Australia Concert Capacity: 15,000 12-Month Gross: $25.54 million
For artists to play Western Australia’s capital city, one of the most remote on the planet, it requires extra travel time and freight costs. But RAC Arena (formerly Perth Arena, it was renamed on Sept. 1), along with the avid entertainment fans who flock there, has made it worth the effort. Céline Dion and Jerry Seinfeld sold out shows at the venue in the past year, and P!nk’s four concerts in July moved 58,639 tickets, eclipsing the venue record that she set in 2013. “We’re seeing some incredible young talent coming through arenas, like Sam Smith, Shawn Mendes, Dua Lipa and twenty one pilots,” says GM Michael Scott, “which paints a positive future for touring in our market and on a global scale.”
8.INFINITE ENERGY CENTER, Duluth, Ga. Concert Capacity: 13,000 12-Month Gross: $25.5 million
“I love to get bands in here that have never played this [venue] because they really are blown away by how cool this -- what I call ‘little building’-- is, from the acoustics to the sightlines,” says arena GM Joey Dennis. U2 and Paul McCartney were among the superstar acts playing the venue for the first time in the past year. The arena’s ability to host shows by the biggest stars ensures more top bookings will come to Duluth, says Dennis: “Word gets around.”
9.VAN ANDEL ARENA, Grand Rapids, Mich. Concert Capacity: 12,500 12-Month Gross: $20.1 million
Despite its comparatively modest capacity, Van Andel Arena, managed by venue company SMG, has drawn some of the top acts on tour in the past year, from the Eagles to Little Big Town to P!nk. SMG regional GM Richard MacKeigan says that the venue’s success “instills civic pride,” adding, “We’re a little building in a little market that is a publicly owned [venue]. And when the building succeeds, the community takes a sense of pride in it. And they should.”
10.MGM GRAND ARENA, Las Vegas Concert Capacity: 14,500 12-Month Gross: $17.3 million
When MGM Resorts International opened T-Mobile Arena in 2016, its existing Las Vegas venue, MGM Grand Arena, had to “elevate its game,” says GM Scott Preston. This year, the arena hosted the Academy of Country Music Awards (which had to make a last-minute move from T-Mobile Arena due to the unexpected hockey playoff run by the Golden Knights) as well as the Billboard Music Awards and shows from Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson and Phil Collins. The big moneymakers in early 2018 were two February shows by Hong Kong’s “God of Song,” Jacky Cheung, who brought 40 trucks, 80 performers and a road crew of 100 to the arena to play for 30,000 fans. “The typical setup for his stadium show in China is five days,” says Preston. “We set it up in two days -- I flew to China to see the show beforehand and to make sure it would fit in the building.”
Contributors: Karen Bliss, Lars Brandle, Dave Brooks, Adrienne Gaffney, Mitchell Peters, Richard Smirke