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From the Top, Touring Looks Better Than Ever

Artists have been back on the road for a full year, and the top 10 highest-grossing tours are thriving. Will that success spread?

This story is part of Billboard‘s The Year in Touring package — read more stories about the top acts, tours and venues of 2022 here.

Was 2022 the worst “best year ever?” By some measures, the concert business had its most successful year. From Nov. 1, 2021, to Oct. 31, 2022, the top 10 tours grossed a combined $2.2 billion in ticket sales, according to Billboard Boxscore, 36% more than they did in 2019, the previous full year of touring, and more than four times the $519 million they took in during the pandemic-limited 2021.

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Some of this growth follows an existing trend. Since 2013, the live business has grown steadily between 5% and 10% a year, thanks to international expansion and an increasing number of megatours. In 2013, eight acts took in over $100 million at the box office — Bon Jovi, P!nk, Bruce Springsteen, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, The Rolling Stones and the Cirque du Soleil Michael Jackson show.

But the business also experienced a sharp uptick this year, driven by a combination of pent-up demand, a number of big tours and inflation. Sixteen tours crossed the $100 million mark, and the number of concert tickets sold in the first three quarters of 2022 was up 37% over 2019, according to Live Nation’s most recent quarterly report.

The bad news, however, is twofold: More work for fewer employees in the wake of pandemic layoffs, plus rising costs for staffing, production and travel, threaten to erode profits. “We are working harder than ever just to try and make sure we don’t lose any ground,” says Jim Cressman, founder and owner of Canadian independent promoter Invictus Entertainment.

Cressman and Live Nation executives say that fans also seem to be changing their concertgoing habits by waiting longer to buy tickets. About 30% of tickets for this year’s Lollapalooza festival in Chicago were purchased five days or fewer before the event, according to Live Nation. It’s a concerning trend for promoters and tour organizers who have become accustomed to scaling event costs up and down based on projections from early sales. Fans are also getting wise to the fact that ticket prices, especially on the secondary market, tend to drop over time.

The names of the top 10 tours won’t surprise anyone who follows the industry. No. 1 is Bad Bunny, who did two tours during this time frame: El Último Tour del Mundo, which ran from February to April and grossed $116 million, and World’s Hottest Tour, which brought in $246 million from August to the end of the Billboard Boxscore touring year; it will run until Dec. 10. The tour dates within this time frame, as well as isolated hometown shows in Puerto Rico, grossed a combined $373.5 million, the third-highest year-end total in Boxscore history after Ed Sheeran’s $429.5 million in 2018 and The Rolling Stones’ $425 million in 2006.

This is the first year that each tour in the top 10 grossed over $100 million and the top five each took in more than $200 million. Some of that is due to higher ticket prices: Bad Bunny tickets cost an average of $201, while tickets to Sheeran’s No. 1 2019 ÷ (Divide) shows cost an average of $86; the average ticket price of a top 10 tour was $130.76, up from $114.29 in 2019. Some of that growth comes from inflation, of course, while some is from a shift to higher ticket prices in order to capture revenue that once went to the secondary market. “The spending levels are really the same,” says Live Nation Global Touring chairman Arthur Fogel. “It’s just that artists are capturing more of it than ever before.”

Farther down the Top Tours chart, the growth also stays consistent. The top 40 tours grossed a total of $4.6 billion, up from a total of $3.5 billion in 2019, a difference of 32%

The New Scorecard

This year, Billboard Boxscore created a new chart to rank tours by number of tickets sold, not just revenue, although that information had already been included. And although promoters were concerned earlier in 2022 that touring market oversaturation would mean concerts drew fewer fans, the chart actually shows the opposite — major concerts attracted larger audiences without cannibalizing other shows. In 2022, a combined 17.1 million people saw the top 10 attended tours, up 21% from a combined 2019 attendance of 14.1 million. This year also marked the first time that 19 of the top 20 attended tours drew over 900,000 fans.

The top 10 tours also represent one of the youngest lists in recent years, with an average headliner age of 49.3, as opposed to 51.2 in 2019 and 54.6 in 2021. The oldest act was The Rolling Stones — Mick Jagger and Keith Richards will both be 79 by the end of the year, and Ron Wood is 75. The youngest acts were Harry Styles and Bad Bunny, both of whom turned 28 this year.

As in years past, Live Nation dominated the business, exclusively promoting half of the top 20 — which grossed a combined $1.5 billion — as well as Bad Bunny’s stadium shows, in collaboration with Cárdenas Marketing Network, and some shows for My Chemical Romance and Paul McCartney. AEG Presents follows with a handful of global tours, including Elton John, that combined accounted for $843 million. CMN powered Bad Bunny at No. 1 and Daddy Yankee at No. 13, while Mercury Concerts led the Latin American dates for Guns N’ Roses. Sheeran, at No. 3, was promoted by a mix of buyers throughout Europe.

On the agency front, the leader is Creative Artists Agency, with eight acts in the top 20: Styles, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Weeknd, Lady Gaga, the Eagles, Dua Lipa (WME reps her in Europe), Justin Bieber and My Chemical Romance. Wasserman Music had four clients in the top 20 — Sheeran, Coldplay, Kenny Chesney and Billie Eilish — while UTA had two: Bad Bunny and Guns N’ Roses.

Three of the top tours — John, McCartney and The Rolling Stones — have global touring deals with AEG but don’t have a traditional booking agency deal. WME had only one artist in the top 20 with Daddy Yankee. So did the Neal Agency, started in February by Austin Neal, son of longtime WME agent Kevin Neal. Austin formed the agency to represent Morgan Wallen, who took a hiatus from touring after his use of a racial slur was caught on video in 2021. Wallen grossed $128 million in 2022 from 66 shows.