The Rolling Stones Zip Code summer stadium tour begins Sunday (May 24) at San Diego’s Petco Park, marking the first time the world’s greatest rock’n’roll band has stormed North American stadiums since the 2007 leg of the band’s Bigger Bang tour, the second-highest grossing tour in history at $560 million.
On Zip Code, a name that alludes both to the markets played and the June 9th reissue of the Stones’ Sticky Fingers album (which features a working zipper), the Stones are heading to the heartland, with 15 shows at stadiums, festivals and speedways on a tour produced by AEG Live’s Concerts West touring division.
The Rolling Stones have led the way in virtually all facets of touring, with the band and its producers either inventing or greatly influencing the evolution of virtually every area of the live business, including production, sponsorships, branding, ticketing, merchandising, global routing, concert promotion and overall touring economics. But Zip Code, with its analog sound, lack of new material to promote and homage to a classic 1971 album, has a bit of a retro feel.
A May 20 warmup show at L.A.’s Henry Fonda Theatre featured not only Sticky Fingers in its entirety, but also a rollicking run through the band’s decades-spanning catalog, including “Start Me Up,” “Sway,” “Moonlight Mile,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “All Down The Line,” and “When The Whip Comes Down,” not a song in the set less than three decades old. And if the entire tour has a sort of “victory lap” vibe, given the Stones have sold more tickets than any other act in history, why not? When it comes to the Rolling Stones live, “nobody’s even in the same zip code,” says John Meglen, co-president of Concerts West with Paul Gongaware.
The Stones have always offered fans compelling opening acts, and Zip Code is no exception, with Gary Clark, Jr., supporting in San Diego and such acts as Kid Rock, Ed Sheerhan, Brad Paisley and the Avett Brothers will be warming up crowds across the country. While still carrying a “big production,” the stadium shows will be relatively streamlined, at least by Stones standards, with Gongaware describing it as a “much more nimble, adaptable crew and band situation, a really tight and happy place.” The sound will be analog, but the video will be hi-def, IMAG, and massive. “You don’t need bells and whistles, you just need the Rolling Stones,” says Gongaware, “and to make sure everybody can see them clearly and hear them beautifully.”
With no New York or L.A. on the route (nor the high tour expenses that major markets incur on a tour), the Zip Code tour will carry some of the lowest ticket prices the band has offered in years, as low as $30 insome cases. Non-VIP ticket prices top out at $395 and include $69.50 and $39.50 prices levels, the lowest average ticket prices the Stones have had since Bigger Bang in 2005-2007.
“The goal was to bring the ticket prices down from what they were in the Triple A markets to make it even more accessible,” says Meglen, “but we’ve also become very good at keeping the money from potential secondary market brokers out there, keeping that [revenue] on the side of the artist, where it belongs.”
So instead of the lightning-quick sellouts the Stones and other acts enjoyed a decade ago, some tickets remain for several of the band’s 15 shows, though Meglen vows, “this will be a sold out tour. Ticketing today is a managed process, and we continue to do that right up until the band goes on stage.”
Much of that process managing is related to price, where the promoters scrutinize sales patterns in a given market, see which price levels move fastest and slowest, and then have the flexibility to tweak the prices accordingly. “We figure out how to maximize revenue,” Meglen says. “We could have blown the whole thing by being too low, but we found the sweet spot, because [the tour] is selling really well across all categories.”
Another tactic on the Stones tour is releasing seats in a coordinated fashion that satisfies demand and thwarts those looking to purchase tickets and resell them at a higher price. They also price the best seats high enough that the risk is greater and the reward less for secondary market profiteers. “We manage it in a way that the money goes to the artists, not to the brokers, bottom line,” says Meglen. “At the end of the day, it’s better for our industry, better for the artist, better for the audience, and the artist gets to decide how they want it done.”
The last three years have been a particularly active period for the Rolling Stones’ touring, with two runs through America in 2013 (50 And Counting), and trips across Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific Rim (’14 On Fire). Since reuniting for their 50th Anniversary shows in late 2012, the Stones have churned out nearly $300 million in box office, selling 1.2 million tickets to just 48 shows, according to Boxscore, primarily in arenas. The top of the Boxscore charts is a familiar place for the Rolling Stones; since Billboard began tracking tour data in the late 1980s, the Stones were the highest-grossing act of the year, including 1989 (Steel Wheels), 1995 (Bridges To Babylon), 1998 and ’99 (Voodoo Lounge), 2003 (Licks), and 2006 (Bigger Bang), a feat equaled only by U2 (also on tour this summer). BiggerBang is second only to U2’s 360 tour, which took in $736.4 in 2009-’11.
Since Steel Wheels, the Rolling Stones have topped all-touring artists, taking in some $1.7 billion on the road, moving more than 20 million tickets to nearly 600 shows, according to Boxscore. And it sounds as if they’re not done yet. “We haven’t heard any plans for these guys to say ‘this is it,'” says Gongaware. “Quite the contrary.”
Despite their age and the traditional length of time between their tours, Meglen scoffs at talk that this will be the Stones’ last visit to many of these markets, hence the “off-the-beaten-major-market-path” nature of many stops on the route. “We look at it the other way; there are places here that the guys have not been to in a very long time, and it’s very special to them that we can go to these places,” he says. “And, they’re important parts of America.”
Adds Gongaware, “If they can’t keep it up, they’re not gonna do it, they won’t ruin the legacy of the band. But right now, it’s just the opposite: they’re smokin’ it.”
THE ROLLING STONES ZIP CODE SUPPORT
May 24, Petco Park, San Diego: Gary Clark, Jr.
May 30, Ohio Stadium, Columbus: Kid Rock
June 3, TFC Bank Stadium, Minneapolis: Grace Potter
June 6, AT&T Stadium, Dallas: Grace Potter
June 9, Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta: St. Paul & Broken Bones
June 12, the Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla.: Temperance Movement
June 17, LP Field, Nashville: Brad Paisley
June 20, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh: AWOLNATION
June 23, Summerfest, Milwaukee, Wis.: Buddy Guy
June 27, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City: Ed Sheerhan
July 1, Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh, N.C.: The Avett Brothers
July 4, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, TBA
July 8, Comerica Park, Detroit, Walk the Moon
July 11, Ralph Wilson Stadium, Buffalo, N.Y.: St. Paul & Broken Bones