In the face of security concerns and an uncertain global economy, the touring business is showing resilience and, despite a few rough spots in the festival sector, looks poised to remain robust through the end of 2016.
Tapping into this bull market are ongoing tours by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Beyonce, Coldplay, Justin Bieberand others. Also making the list, based on box-office data reported to Billboard Boxscore for the period of Nov. 10, 2015, through June 6, 2016, are already completed tours from Madonna, The Rolling Stones and Taylor Swift. (Two of the year’s biggest tours, Adele and Garth Brooks, do not report their box-office data.)
Leading the way is the world’s largest promoter, Live Nation, which handled a majority of the dates for more than half of the top 10 tours. “This is shaping up to be another record summer for live music for us,” says Bob Roux, co-president of North American concerts for Live Nation, who cites global treks by Beyonce, Coldplay, Madonna, Rihanna and Luke Bryan as top performers. “Our amphitheater business is also going strong, with attendance and show count both well up year-over-year.”
That would be the fourth consecutive record year for Live Nation sheds, but the success of those venues has not been at the expense of stadiums, arenas and festivals. “It’s crazy good,” says Jay Marciano, CEO of AEG Live, producers of top 10 tours by Bieber, The Rolling Stones, Swift and Carrie Underwood, as well as such festivals as Coachella, Stagecoach, New Orleans Jazz Fest, Firefly and British Summer Time Hyde Park in London.
All five of those festivals enjoyed record years, according to Marciano. But the news is not all good in the sector: Several festivals, mostly in the country music space, were forced to cancel due to low ticket sales, and others, like Bonnaroo in Tennessee, experienced record low attendance.
Where Bonnaroo’s drop is concerned, insiders cite a talent lineup that did not appeal to the younger demo (Pearl Jam, LCD Soundsystem and Dead & Company headlined), vital for camping festivals, along with overall fatigue in the sector. But for the most part, global and North American touring reports support Marciano’s “crazy good” assessment. Boxscore’s average gross and attendance are both up on a per-show basis, which is indicative of solid, consistent performance. And while the impact of “Brexit” on the global touring economy is unclear thus far, those Boxscore increases are most striking in the worldwide figures, where the average gross and attendance are up by more than 20 percent from 2015. International stadium tours are -driving the increasingly global touring marketplace, particularly in South America and Europe.
Based on numbers reported to Boxscore, Springsteen and The E Street Band, touring in support of the deluxe reissue of his 1980 double album The River, top all artists with a gross of more than $135 million from more than 1.1 million tickets sold. Other hot outings in the first half of 2016 include Madonna, whose Rebel Heart World Tour took in more than $124 million in box office, and Beyonce, whose current Formation World Tour grossed $97 million for the period. Both treks are promoted by Arthur Fogel and Live Nation’s Global Touring division.
Also making a strong showing are The Rolling Stones with their America Latina Ole run through South American stadiums, the band’s first in the territory in more than a decade. Since launching its 50th-anniversary shows in late 2012, the group, primarily promoted by AEG Live’s Concerts West division, has grossed a staggering $488 million at the gate.
A British rock outfit from a later generation, Coldplay grossed more than $68 million and sold 876,035 tickets in Latin American and European stadiums before hitting U.S. shores, embarking on the band’s first-ever full-on stadium tour in America in mid-July. The Head Full of Dreams tour is Coldplay’s first in two years, and Paradigm Agency’s Marty Diamond, agent for Coldplay in America, cites “scarcity in the market” and the “depth of the career” as drivers for this year’s box office success. The tour was a smash at on-sale, even before Coldplay performed at the Super Bowl 50 Half Time show.
Justin Bieber was anything but a sure thing going into his arena tour, but his fans turned out en masse, with the tour averaging $1.4 million gross and 14,201 tickets sold across 40 dates, an unqualified home run. “We had a long-term deal with [Beiber],” says AEG Live’s Marciano, “and, as with anything in pop music, you just don’t know. But Justin put out a great record [Purpose], and his appeal to the male demographic grew dramatically with this album.”
Though the elite Boxscore tours attract the most attention, a significant chunk of 2016’s touring market is not represented by the chart. Along with Adele and Brooks, several tours haven’t yet cracked the top 10 but are representative of the overall health of the business: breakout acts like Twenty One Pilots and The Chainsmokers; country artists including Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean, Keith Urban, Dixie Chicks and Zac Brown Band; and the re-emergence of hip-hop as a force in live music, including upcoming arena runs by Drake and Kanye West. “[Hip-hop] never used to sell hard tickets,” says William Morris Endeavor Entertainment music chief Marc Geiger. “Now they’re selling every kind of ticket, and driving festivals.”
Another tour that will make an impact on the year-end Boxscore charts is Dead & Company, featuring John Mayer, which started June 10 and wraps July 30. The tour already has sold out multiple stadiums and is averaging 18,000 to 20,000 in the sheds, with walk-ups as high as 3,000 per show, according to Mayer’s agent, Scott Clayton, at Creative Artists Agency (CAA).
Elsewhere across America this summer, savvy packaging like Weezer/Panic at the Disco, Breaking Benjamin/Disturbed, Korn/Rob Zombie, Heart/Joan Jett/Cheap Trick, and Sting/Peter Gabriel are all putting up big numbers, according to industry sources.
Looking ahead to the second half of 2016, Marciano says shows that are already on sale look solid, and the privately held AEG Live, which also has tours by Swift and Underwood among the top 10, is headed toward a record year. He adds that cultural factors are playing a role in the current live-music boom, with two large demographics -- baby boomers and millennials -- driving an overall consumer trend toward experiences over material goods.
Beyond the cultural factors, William Morris Endeavor music chief Marc Geiger believes that technological advances will keep adding juice to ticket sales as streaming services continue to integrate with the live business, led by Spotify and its “concerts” button, which allows listeners to purchase tickets to local shows within the site. “That’s one of the reasons the business will grow,” says Geiger.
So what could go wrong? “Overconfidence,” says CAA’s Clayton. “Nothing guarantees business will be the same next year.”
Another wild card: security fears. So far, music-related tragedies -- ranging from the terrorist attack at Paris’ Bataclan to a backstage shooting at New York’s Irving Plaza -- have not had a negative impact on ticket sales. But if they continue, fans could increasingly opt to stay home, either due to fear or because increased security makes attending shows too much of a hassle.
Wall Street analyst Rich Tullo, who tracks live entertainment as director of research for Albert Fried & Co., echoes the industry’s overall confidence in the sector but says there could be a “degradation of interest in events” if the violence continues. Even now, Tullo believes, consumers are performing their own “risk assessments” about attending live events.
“It’s not a big deal now,” he says, “but it is a concern of mine about the industry, because it affects everything.”
A version of this article first appeared in the July 30 issue of Billboard.