But this year, another act can claim that title: Bon Jovi.
For the second time in three years, Bon Jovi ranks as the highest-grossing touring act. The band’s achievement, this year and previously in 2008, demonstrates that, remarkably, the group is hitting its touring peak 26 years after releasing its debut album.
The band’s track record is a good indicator that the act isn’t over-reaching in rolling out such a tour. “You use history, and our history is they’ve always been big and they’ve just gotten bigger again,” says Chris Dalston, co-responsible agent for Bon Jovi with Creative Artists Agency managing partner Rob Light. “You’re concerned about the economy, but you also know they’re going to go out there and produce a two-and-a-half or three-hour show every night and give people tremendous value for their money, and I think that’s what people want. That’s why people come back year after year to see them.”
Strategic routing and timing become even more critical in an iffy economy. “Paul and AEG and the guys at CAA have always been very diligent in their routing; they know where and when,” Bon Jovi says. “And they’re pretty darn perfect. They know where we’re going and why.”
That means determining which markets to play and which ones to pass while keeping an eye on the long-term plan. “We’re aware that you have to keep a presence in places or you’ll lose that following,” Bon Jovi says. “Japan, case in point. We’ve been quite big here for a long time, but we’re only playing Tokyo, and that has to do with the economy. But if we didn’t come and ignored ‘The Circle,’ and maybe we take a couple years after this, who knows? You stay out of the cycle for four or five years, people start to get distracted by other things.”
Still, there’s a fine line between maintaining a presence and coming back to a market too soon. “As much as you think they tour a lot, which they do, they don’t overextend in any markets,” CAA’s Dalston says. “They do a burst of dates so they can come back a year later and play comparable markets and be fine.”
Team Bon Jovi keeps its eyes on the band’s career, and Jon Bon Jovi is an artist who acutely understands the intersection of art and commerce.
“There are parts of the world where [in] the ebb and flow of an honest-to-God career — not one, two, five or 10 years, but 25 years — you’re going to have markets that turn their back on you for a while, and then if you’re lucky you get it back,” he says, citing South America as an example. “Their economic woes in the ’90s prohibited us from going down there. In time it turned around and we had a very successful run down there just recently. We’re not going to be up in Scandinavia on this tour because the opportunities weren’t there. But you give up Scandinavia and you pick up South America. You give up going to the rest of Japan, but we’re gangbusters in Australia, crazy numbers in Australia. That’s just the way it is.”
Extended planning also allows for flexibility prior to the launch of a tour. “Believe me, we change stuff around many, many times,” Dalston says. “It’s not just throwing something against the wall. There are numerous conversations. We follow the market. If a market is going through a rough time period, we avoid playing it and then come back.”
THAT’S A PLAN
While the Lost Highway tour grew from 10 dates at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., and kept growing on the fly, the Circle tour was conceived as a global trek encompassing the two album cycles and the release of new singles along the way. The benefits of a long lead time paid off in terms of routing the tour, strategizing the on-sales and promotions and building the marketing plan.
Korzilius sees working a tour through two album cycles as an opportunity rather than a challenge. “It is important for Bon Jovi to remain current in the marketplace,” he says. “New music that is successful is the first key ingredient. Rallying up the world with a focus of a new single, a new record and a tour on sale brings everything to focus at one time on one objective: sell tickets, sell records. With a touring cycle of 18 months, two record releases are important to maintain presence in the marketplace.”
Consistency of the players is a big factor in creating synergies, as management, agency, promoter and label coordinate marketing and promotion efforts for both the album release and on-sale dates for the tour. “A good team that knows how to work together, shares ideas and has only one goal-the success of the tour-can execute with focus,” Korzilius says.
Taking the team concept a bit further, Phillips views Korzilius as the coach. “Paul covers every base, and he co-opts my staff,” Phillips says. “God forbid they should have anything else to do when he is in town. And it works. Every effort we do is coordinated, everybody has their say.”
According to Phillips, conference calls are held every Friday at 9 a.m. PST, before and during the tour. “We discuss which promoters we’re going to co-promote with in markets where we’re not the sole promoter, routing, mileage between dates, picking the right markets by looking at album sales, radio play, all of those indicators. We go over sponsorship fulfillment, all of that stuff involved around the tour, and also how the tour can enhance the sales and awareness of the new music,” he says. “Generally, in my job I’m not that much in the trenches on every tour, but I am with this one because I’m the point guy on it.”
“We have a lot of conference calls,” Dalston says. “There is a collective group and it’s very much a collective decision, and the more people with input, the better it becomes, because no one person knows everything. The calls don’t meander. We can make quick decisions and collective quick decisions.”
BON JOVI 2.0
A multiplatform online approach to promotion includes touch points with 7 million Facebook users, Twitter, BonJovi.com and 1 million fans in a data base the band communicates with electronically. Webcasts have included live feeds from the New Meadowlands Stadium parking lot and shows in Seattle and Dallas on BonJovi.com, as well as a Nov. 10 concert at New York’s Best Buy Theater on YouTube resulting in 51.9 million impressions. The team claims 86.9 million YouTube impressions and 35 million social media impressions.
Promotion extends to movie screens. “The Circle Tour Live From Jersey” was shown worldwide Nov. 8-15 in 605 theaters, and marketing through theater spots, lobby displays and online generated 191,369,445 impressions. A 3-D TV show featuring a new video (“What Do You Got”) is slated to air beginning in December on DirecTV and other outlets globally.
Such planning and synergies are critical to Bon Jovi’s touring success, but the key element is simple hard work, according to Phillips.
“They are one of the hardest-working bands I have ever seen, whether it comes to promo for their album releases or their tours,” he says. “So if you couple that with an expanding fan base through new music and the fact that the live show is so damn undeniable, it’s the only reason they can tour like this. The conventional wisdom is they go out a year too soon every time, and with them it doesn’t hold. They sell more tickets the next time.”
“Next time” isn’t here yet, as “this time” continues. Bon Jovi is still selling thousands of tickets around the globe as the Circle tour morphs into a trek in support of the “Greatest Hits” album. Bon Jovi will be touring through July 31, 2011, with the same innovative production and basically the same tour. The band still has Japan, New Zealand, Australia, a return to North America, possibly South Africa, another European stadium run and the Middle East to add to its total, which should be plenty to rank the current tour among the all-time top 10.
The band’s arena production boasts 10 LED screens, and the tour unveiled Roboscreen technology: five custom-made, digitally programmed robotic arms that each hold a high-definition video screen. The robots are programmed to move in accordance with the show and even flip over to become giant stairs that Jon Bon Jovi uses to dramatic effect. For the stadium shows, the production includes a massive stage set with an 800,000-watt sound system and a 4,300-square-foot, high-def video screen, touted as the largest of its kind.
Of course, touring with such production isn’t cheap. “Any and all revenue, ancillary or otherwise, is important,” Korzilius says. “The cost of touring at the level of Bon Jovi has not gone down.”
Beyond basic ticket sales, sponsors like American Express, merchandise sales, premium and VIP ticketing all contribute to the pot. “A sponsor is always welcome, but they are harder to locate in this climate,” Korzilius says. “Selling merchandise that looks great and is of good quality is how you maintain that business, and the people at Brothers Merchandising always deliver on design and quality.”
Korzilius says VIP ticketing programs are another way of “superserving” fans. “Our [VIP] customer surveys are very positive, and 89% say they would purchase again,” he says, pointing out that various price points are important. “Team Bon Jovi is always inventive and always open-minded [regarding ticket price scaling], and it is not just the high end. We have an arena house with five to seven price points so that everyone can enjoy the show.”
(A portion of the sale of VIP packages for North American dates in 2011 will be donated to the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, which fights poverty and homelessness.)
Production bells and whistles, marketing, promotion and digital outreach mean little if the band doesn’t deliver the goods onstage. Jon Bon Jovi is constantly aware of that. So even as the tour grinds on, the singer and band never let the rigors of the road show.
“I may sound a little raspy today, but I was there right to the deadline, two-and-a-half [hours] last night, two-and-a-half the night before,” he says, adding, “and there ain’t no drum solos.”
HAVING A NICE DECADE
The Circle/Greatest Hits tour caps a remarkably successful decade for the group and a rare elevation in a lengthy career arc. “I always envisioned the arc, but it only went to 2000,” Bon Jovi says. “At that point, when I began and looked that far, I figured I’d be 38, maybe I’d have a family, perhaps I’d still have a career, but I didn’t know at this kind of a scale, because nobody I knew had a career with this kind of a scale.”
Bon Jovi understands that these things don’t just happen. “You can show up, but that doesn’t mean the people are going to go, and that doesn’t mean they’re going to come the next time and the next time,” he says. “When you think about it objectively, we’ve had five albums in this decade, we’ve toured every one, and people came back every time. It says something for the band and the production and the performance that people feel they’re getting their money’s worth, especially in this economic downturn. People really don’t have that disposable income, so they make choices and this is one of them. This is a luxury for them, and we don’t take that for granted.”
Even with this decade of success, Phillips isn’t sure the band gets its due from the music industry. “People always underestimate this band, the power of their fan base and how great their live show is, how charismatic Jon is as a frontman,” he says. “They have these big hits and a rabid fan base, and they still make contemporary records. They haven’t stopped getting airplay or selling records. Yet people take them for granted in the industry.”
Asked if he feels that’s the case, Bon Jovi replies, “It would be pretty hard not to” respect this band, industry-wise. “History speaks for itself,” he says. “Numbers don’t lie.”
And more tour dates await, so at the moment, Jon Bon Jovi isn’t ready to assess this tour. “The year’s not over yet. I need to make it to July 31 and then look back,” he says. “If it were over right now, I’d look back on the Circle run and happily say, ‘Wow, it was a good year. I was unbelievably healthy, we did great business, we got along.’ But it’s not over. It’s just the beginning of the third quarter, we’ve just taken the field. So I won’t look back until we get to the end zone.”