Touted as the “concert of the century,” Desert Trip — the three-day October extravaganza announced May 3, featuring a classic-rock dream team of The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and The Who – is estimated by Billboard to rake in a $50 million box-office gross, if it sells out as expected.
Yet it’s hard to imagine Desert Trip being limited to a one-weekend event. After all, its producers — Goldenvoice and parent company AEG — expanded their signature Coachella festival to two weekends beginning in 2012, and such a move would strike a serious blow to the secondary ticket market. A two-weekend take? $100 million — $15 million more than Coachella 2015, Billboard Boxscore’s biggest concert haul ever for a festival.
Talent-wise, Desert Trip is a historic achievement. Set for Oct. 7-9 at Coachella’s site, the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio, Calif., the event brings together several of the biggest box-office attractions of all time, and the presence of all six on the same bill is unprecedented.
But that combination of legendary status, ticket-selling clout and the FOMO factor — few of these acts will be touring on this scale, if at all, in 10 years — comes at a high price. Sources say primary headliners the Stones, McCartney and Pink Floyd’s Waters will pull in between $7 million and $10 million each, while the “support” acts (an odd concept for legends like Dylan, Young and The Who) will well earn more than $1 million apiece. According to a source familiar with the talent layout, at least four of the acts will score the highest paydays of their respective careers. Sources tell Billboard that Desert Trip’s talent budget alone exceeds $35 million — and that Goldenvoice chief Paul Tollett was prepared to pay whatever it took to secure the lineup.
“When [Paul] called me nine months ago and said, ‘What do you think of this idea?’ I said there’s no way this is going to happen,” says Artist Group International president Marsha Vlasic, Young’s longtime agent. “But he was determined. This was his vision and his dream.”
Indeed, Desert Trip is not a traditional festival. Each day’s show is scheduled to start at sunset and feature a stadium-level set from each act. Seating and other crowd-assembly and logistical equipment will be trucked in at great expense (a source estimates production costs to be around $13 million). Also in play are such line items as staffing, catering, rental and permit fees with the site and the city, insurance, and other unsexy but necessary budget-busters. Conservatively, Desert Trip could cost upwards of $50 million for the promoters.
On the revenue side, reserved ticket prices for all three nights range from $699 to $1,599. Sources say there will be 30,000 reserved seats and 40,000 general-admission tickets, with the latter priced at $399 (arguably a bargain, considering the three primary acts routinely charge $250 or more). Given that scaling and capacity, the gross potential for a sellout is about $49 million, and if GA sales tilt toward single-day admissions ($199 each), Desert Trip is looking at box-office gross revenue of more than $50 million.
Still, risk remains. So how does Desert Trip land firmly in the black? Three letters: V-I-P.
The Palm Springs area has ample opportunities for pricey “enhanced experience” upgrades such as “glamping,” dining, golf and resorts — and it’s had 17 years of Coachella to customize them for concert audiences. (Prices were still being determined at press time.) Other revenue streams include concessions, merchandise (which could reach Super Bowl proportions of more than $25 per head) and sponsors. If producers pursue the latter, the value of reaching this well-heeled audience would be as much as $20 million, Billboard estimates. There’s also content delivery beyond the Valley (streaming, theaters and pay-per-view, which could easily top $1 million), along with post-event content in the form of DVDs or other formats.
“They will probably come out [in the black],” says one industry observer. “But GA concerns me. I want to see 40,000 people standing on the lawn.” Sources say the producers are “very optimistic” they have a winner. “They’re going to draw from all over the world,” says Vlasic. “People will see this as an amazing, rare opportunity.”
This article was originally published in the May 14 issue of Billboard.