(Photo: Jo Lopez)
While there weren’t any record-shattering mega-tours along the lines of U2’s “360°” that dominated turnstiles last year, the artists that make up the top 25 tours of 2012 once again showcase the mix of genres, touring markets and positions on the career arc that bespeak of a healthy portfolio for the touring marketplace.
Urban, country, pop and rock of all types and veteran acts mixed in with artists still in their first stages of headlining — and various levels in between — make up the top 25, based on numbers reported to Billboard Boxscore for the period of Nov. 9, 2011-Nov. 10, 2012.
(Photo: Getty Images for Coachella)
Though The Wall came out in 1980, there was very little touring by Pink Floyd in support of the project. “It is very rare to have had one of the biggest and most important albums of all time never to have been played in the marketplace. There was pent-up demand like no tomorrow — it was stratospheric,” WME head of music Marc Geiger says, adding that presenting “The Wall Live” in arenas first and then adding stadiums to the mix proved to be a savvy move in staging the hugely expensive, elaborate production.
Had he lived and resurrected his touring career as was hoped, Michael Jackson might well have been among the top 25 tours this year. Ironically, he is, in a way, as his songs, persona and ongoing popularity provided the fuel for the fourth-highest-grossing tour of the year, “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour” by Cirque du Soleil, which garnered $147.3 million in box office and 1.4 million tickets sold to 183 shows for the period.
PURCHASE THIS WEEK’S ISSUE OF BILLBOARD MAGAZINE — THE YEAR-END REVIEW — RIGHT HERE
The tour taps into the global appeal of both Jackson and Cirque du Soleil, and received the Creative Content Award at the Billboard Touring Awards in November. “‘Immortal’s extraordinary success is proof of the enduring popularity of Michael’s music,” said John Branca, who put together the production with Cirque du Soleil and serves with John McClain as both executive producer and co-executor of Jackson’s estate, in acknowledging the award. “The creative team was guided by Michael’s genius, indomitable spirit and his ability to inspire everyone throughout.”
Finishing slightly behind the Jackson show in total gross for the year, and second only to Springsteen in attendance, was Coldplay’s world tour in support of 2011’s Mylo Xyloto. After strategically teeing up the release of the hugely anticipated album with select festival appearances in 2011, Coldplay hit the global touring trail in earnest this year, putting up its best numbers to date in what has become an elite headlining career. For the period, the band reported grosses totaling $147.2 million with 1.8 million in attendance to 67 shows.
Coldplay manager Dave Holmes was still setting up the tour when interviewed by Billboard in 2011 around Mylo Xyloto‘s release, but the band’s conservative posture about ticket prices indeed came to bear, which played a role in Coldplay’s attendance ranking several notches higher than its gross.
“We could easily go with a $125 ticket, and I don’t think our fans would be too offended by it,” Holmes said at the time. “But there’s something that happens when you go into that place — you become one of ‘those acts.’ And I won’t. It’s not about the money. It’s about, ‘We want to be around in 20 years and still doing this.'” The ticket range in North America was $30-$100 in most markets.
Lady Gaga has yet to play to North American fans on her “Born This Way Ball” tour, but international audiences drove Gaga’s gross to $124.9 million, with 1.1 million in attendance to 65 shows. The run is produced by Live Nation Global Touring, and Gaga is managed by Troy Carter and booked by WME’s Geiger.
“The strategy on this run was to use this album cycle to go into marketplaces she left untapped in the first cycle, [knowing] she was a huge cultural force in those places,” Geiger says. “We really tried, as part of this plan, to ‘crop rotate,’ and it has worked, because you have to lay down roots if you’re going to be a global superstar everywhere.”
Gaga added stadiums to the mix internationally, but will play primarily arenas in North America next year, which could be considered an underplay. “We look at it as, ‘We have a real artist here’ — we always did — and this is just part of artist development,” Geiger says of the strategy. “Her measurement of success is, I believe, to be a brilliant, interesting artist for 25-30 years, or longer. The Stones and Madonna have shown you can do this for a long time and do it well, and we’re still in the early stages [with Gaga].
“You have to manage every step carefully,” he adds. “You’ve got to look at it like school: There’s no grade you’d throw away for your child.”
(Photo: Getty Images)
This was another solid year for country music touring, as the genre continues to be among the leading genres for both developing and sustaining talent. Representing the latter is the top country tour of the year: “Brothers of the Sun,” featuring Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals and Jake Owen. “BOTS” played only stadiums, with just 23 shows generating a Boxscore gross of $96.5 million and attendance of more than 1 million — Chesney’s ninth consecutive tour to top that attendance mark. Chesney and McGraw played more stadium dates in North America than any other tour this year.
The shared history of Chesney and McGraw, the synergistic star power and the value for fans made “BOTS” “a promoter’s dream,” says Louis Messina, president of tour producer TMG/AEG Live. “All the artists had their game faces on every night. The response from the audience was phenomenal. And we sold a shit-load of tickets.”
PURCHASE THIS WEEK’S ISSUE OF BILLBOARD MAGAZINE — THE YEAR-END REVIEW — RIGHT HERE
Several other country acts graced the top 25, including the newest member of the country stadium club, Jason Aldean, booked by Buddy Lee Attractions and managed by Spalding Entertainment ($40 million, 984,229 attendance); Lady Antebellum, booked by CAA and managed by Borman Entertainment ($38.4 million, 860,065), winner of the Breakthrough Award at the Billboard Touring Awards; and WME clients Brad Paisley, managed by Fitzgerald-Hartley ($34 million, 734,784), and Rascal Flatts, managed by Spalding ($26 million, 612,243). The tail end of Taylor Swift’s “Fearless” tour was enough to break the top 25 ($26.3 million; 285,715, from 21 sellouts) as she plots another tour in support of the new Red.
“Country is, in a lot of ways, the new rock,” Geiger says. “The growth is overindexing, the market is overindexing, and there are a lot of reasons for it. It’s penetration of mainstream television, mainstream managers, international markets, different acceptance. These guys are rock stars.”
Country’s popularity notwithstanding, the real rock stars made plenty of noise in 2012, with a wide range of styles from artists of varying longevity taking their place among the top 25. While it came to a close on a somewhat sour note by ending prematurely, Van Halen’s tour in support of the band’s new album with singer David Lee Roth did serious business in 2012, grossing $54.4 million with attendance of 522,296 to just 46 shows.
And touring powerhouse Dave Matthews Band, booked by Paradigm Talent and managed by Coran Capshaw at Red Light Management, drew 757,629 to just 41 shows that grossed $41.4 million, and that’s before a winter run of arena dates were added to the mix.
Other rock acts that showed admirable consistency were Nickelback, booked by the Agency Group ($34 million, 492,492), and Red Hot Chili Peppers ($34 million, 549,028), booked by WME.
“We talk about the Peppers . . . as hitting almost that lane where people used to refer to the Who or other classic rock artists that become real, permanent fixtures,” Geiger says. The Peppers’ success is “very gratifying to see,” he adds. “God knows they’ve worked hard enough and long enough.”
Rock also continues to make a statement in the holiday season, as Trans-Siberian Orchestra always makes the current year’s list for work done the previous year due to Boxscore time parameters. That said, TSO, booked by WME, had another sterling year with $33.4 million in gross and 673,575 in attendance from 99 shows performed by the act’s combined units, and Geiger says this year’s numbers are outpacing 2011.
TSO’s enduring popularity “defies all logic — for people who haven’t seen the show,” Geiger says, calling TSO one of the “best-managed” tours with which he’s ever worked. “They’re incredibly smart about their project. They look after fans first, they manage price — everything is about the long term with them, and it shows.”
Billboard’s 2012 Legend of Live honoree Neil Diamond lived up to that status with yet another strong touring year in 2012, with $30 million in gross and 317,824 in attendance to 30 shows reported to Boxscore. Elton John and Rod Stewart each topped $30 million in gross and 200,000 in attendance with less than 40 shows each, and Barbra Streisand’s 12 sellouts grossed $40.6 million with 154,287 tickets sold.
Pop and urban music weren’t shut out of the top 25 in 2012. The ambitious, creative “Watch the Throne” tour featuring Jay-Z and Kanye West grossed $47 million with attendance of 371,777 to 31 shows, booked by Cara Lewis in her first year as a CAA agent. Fellow CAA act Justin Bieber was just hitting his stride on his second arena headlining tour, with the first 29 shows taking in $30.6 million and moving 402,710 tickets in a tour produced by AEG Live.