As the opening riffs of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” sliced through the Midwest summer air, the fans at The Rolling Stones concert at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 4 roared at a volume that would rival the postshow fireworks on this holiday night.
In a summer of tours where familiar hits are minting box-office gold — One Direction’s singalong pop, Foo Fighters’ rampaging rock, Kenny Chesney’s warm country baritone — the Stones’ unrivaled canon fits right in with what’s selling tickets now.
The Stones’ Zip Code Tour of stadiums was just getting underway during the period covered by the Billboard Boxscore midyear recap (Nov. 12, 2014 to June 2, 2015). But the half-dozen shows reported to Boxscore make the Stones the fifth-highest-grossing act for the period, averaging $6.3 million per night.
From veterans to newcomers, from stadiums to arenas to amphitheaters, in every musical genre, the live music business is robust, according to the midyear results tallied by reports to Boxscore.
“To say we’re enjoying a great year would be an understatement,” says Jay Marciano, COO of Anschutz Entertainment Group and chairman of AEG Live, which co-presented the Stones show with Global Entertainment.
Aside from the Stones, the top five tours at midyear are promoted by Live Nation, whose North American concerts division in 2014 sold more than 25 million tickets and generated $1.5 billion in box-office revenue. Bob Roux, co-president of North American concerts for Live Nation, expects that trend to continue this year. “Thus far in 2015, [we] appear to be on track for our highest paid attendance ever,” says Roux.
Dennis Arfa, CEO of Artist Group International, a leading independent booking agency whose roster includes Billy Joel, reaffirms the view that familiarity breeds Boxscore success. He has seen a “remarkable resurgence” in the sales of clients including Def Leppard and Joel, with the former selling out across North America and the latter setting records at venues like Madison Square Garden and Wrigley Field.
A desire by Grateful Dead fans this summer to relive the familiar sounds and vibe of the iconic band led to the success of five shows — two in Santa Clara, Calif., and three in Chicago — that grossed some $52 million.
Stadium shows hit a peak in 2014, with Live Nation promoting about 70 dates in those venues, selling more than 3 million tickets. While there aren’t as many stadiums booked in 2015, Roux says Joel, Foo Fighters, Luke Bryan, Zac Brown Band, Jason Aldean and One Direction are “all doing stadium shows for us this summer.” As is Taylor Swift for The Messina Group/AEG, whose 1989 Tour just began as the midyear recap period ended.
Marc Geiger, worldwide head of music for William Morris Endeavor, whose agency represents Foo Fighters, notes that the band has reached stadium-headliner status abroad and is poised to have the strongest tour of its career this summer in America, thanks in no small part to the success of its 2014 hit album Sonic Highways.
Besides familiarity and hits, larger trends in consumer behavior and the economy help put the midyear Boxscore results in context.
Historically, live entertainment fares well even in tough economic times. For example, during the recession of 2008 to 2009, ticket sales held their own, according to Boxscore data.
This year, consumer confidence has rebounded. Fans are less likely to choose between concert tickets and, say, paying the electric bill.
“Those were certainly issues in the past,” says Ben Mogil, managing director of research at Stifel Financial Corp., a Wall Street analyst who follows the concert industry. “But promoters have generally gotten better at pricing tickets, [especially] in the B and C markets. Between the economy holding up OK and gas [prices] coming down,” fans are not choosing between a night out and paying household bills, says Mogil.
Nor, as ticket prices stay largely flat, are fans forced to choose between concerts and travel. Many festivals allow them to have both.
The CMA Music Fest in Nashville June 11-14, for example, set a new attendance record in attracting 87,680 fans. And the majority were from out of town. Country Music Association CEO Sarah Trahern knows that the trend will continue because “62 percent of tickets for next year are already gone.”
Another trend among millennial music fans bodes well for the continued strength of the concert festival business: This generation, “without question,” prefers to spend discretionary income on experiences rather than consumer goods, says Jeff Rabhan, chairman of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University.
Festivals and stadium shows aside, many concerts still take place in amphitheaters and arenas, the bread and butter of the live music business.
Live Nation is the dominant amphitheater promoter in North America. “Our show count is up year-over-year in our amphitheaters after a record year in 2014,” says Roux. Live Nation also presents a vast array of arena shows where business is “on course for the strongest year ever that I can recall,” adds Roux.
Midyear numbers prompt executives at both promotion giants to be bullish about full-year results.
At AEG, with “everything up and on sale” for 2015, “we’re really starting to focus on next year,” says Marciano. “We’re already putting in offers for headliners for the festivals for 2016. We’re also thinking about three new major-league festival launches, and looking at acquisitions and a couple of new regional offices. We’re still building the business.”
So is Live Nation. “Overall, it feels healthy to me, like a continuation of 2014,” concludes Roux. “We’re going to sell more tickets than we did last year, and 2014 was a record year. Hopefully the economy stands pretty tall with us, but I’d say so far, so good.”
This article first appeared in the Aug. 1 issue of Billboard.