Wed December 29, 2010
The Record

How The Disastrous 2010 Concert Season Could Work In Your Favor

Originally published on Thu December 30, 2010 9:06 am

Lists of the top 50 concert tours in North America and the world were released on Tuesday by the concert industry tracking publication Pollstar. Bon Jovi topped both lists; tours from fellow monsters of rock like AC/DC, U2 and Roger Waters also made huge amounts of money. But Pollstar's findings aren't going to make everyone happy; as Zoe Chace reports on Morning Edition, they also indicate that the number of tickets sold in 2010 dropped sharply over the previous year.

We've known for some time that the concert industry struggled in 2010, but now we're finding out just how bad things were. Pollstar announced that the number of tickets sold in North America dropped by about 12 percent over 2009.

Because of an already lukewarm market and persistent economic malaise, that devastating blow couldn't be corrected by adding shows or raising ticket prices. The silver lining peeking out from behind all this gloom? In 2011, it seems, we can start looking forward to lower prices for concert tickets.

"Artists worked fewer shows in a tough business climate, and those that overreached suffered the consequences," reported Gary Bongiovanni, Pollstar's editor-in-chief. Ticket prices dropped, too, a fundamental signal that the industry badly overestimated the willingness of audiences to pay the high prices for tickets, travel, fees and concessions that can make attending a big concert a costly proposition.

According to Pollstar, the Top 50 tours in North America grossed 15 percent less in 2010 than they did in 2009.

This is a bitter pill for the multibillion-dollar concert industry to swallow -- and it's hard for artists, too. As Billboard, which does its own research on concert revenues, put it earlier this month:

Leading up to last year's strong touring business performance, concerts were given the mantle as the savior of the music business and in large part impervious to economic recessions. That view is out the window this year, not just for concerts but also for live events in general.

According to a report from the Associated Press, some in the industry seem to be thinking of next year as an opportunity to correct the mistakes of 2010:

"Now, rather than charge lots early and offer discounts later, some promoters say they'll offer cheaper tickets from the start."

That proposition aligns with the stated intent of the country's biggest promoter, Live Nation. The biggest loser of the year according to Pollstar, the company's struggles have been well documented: Though the year looked up when it completed a merger with Ticketmaster in January, Live Nation canceled several major amphitheater shows during the summer, slashed ticket prices on others and then took a major hit to its stock when it announced during a shareholders meeting in July that revenue estimates for the year would decline by nearly 10 percent over 2009.

In that July meeting, Live Nation's CEO for global music told shareholders (and sent a warning to any musicians listening in) that in order to get more "butts into seats," ticket prices would have to come down.

What could a dip in concert ticket prices mean for the interested parties? Let's break it down.

Musicians: Musicians set the baseline ticket prices for shows (it varies from artist to artist, but the simple formula is the cost of production and travel for a tour plus the amount a musician wants to take home), so this is the group that will take the biggest hit. They'll only do it because they have to, but musicians who charge less might get some new loyal fans in the exchange. Look for some acts to cut back on staging -- it costs a bundle to drive dozens of trucks around the country -- and some to stay off the road entirely.

Venues: In a best-case scenario, lower ticket prices will mean more bodies in the door, so things might even out. Plus, bodies like beer and T-shirts, and venues get a cut from the sales of both. Only a fool would figure that prices for the things you buy once you're actually in the building will drop.

Promoters: The industry's biggest promoters also own many of its venues, which means they need people to actually buy tickets in order to make money. Still, Live Nation promised in July that some fees (like the one you pay to print your own tickets at home) would start to disappear. Booking a tour is always going to be a gamble, though, and if promoters guess wrong, or stalemates over ticket prices cancel tours, all the good will in the world won't make up for the lost opportunities.

Fans: If your idea of happiness is seeing a band that tours constantly in a slightly smaller venue than it played in the last time it came through town, for significantly less money, 2011 could plaster a perma-smile onto your face. If you want to see Bon Jovi or Roger Waters or Dave Matthews or The Eagles or any of the other artists in Pollstar's Top 50, who routinely sell out large venues at high premiums -- or if you tend to steer clear of the big arenas in favor of smaller bands in cozier rooms -- 2011 might seem like more of the same.

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And the number of people going to concerts this year is down from last year. That's according to the annual survey released by Pollstar, which tracks the concert business.

NPR's Zoe Chace reports that many high profile acts struggled to fill seats.

ZOE CHACE: It's not bad for everyone - the rich are getting richer. People who make money touring make a lot of money. Exhibit A...

(Soundbite of song, "Living on a Prayer")

BON JOVI (Rock Band): (Singing) Oh, living on a prayer.

CHACE: Bon Jovi made the most money from their concerts, with a take of more than $200 million. Not just in North America, but everywhere. Followed closely by...

(Soundbite of music)

CHACE: AC/DC, U2, and Lady Gaga.

But for pretty much everyone else, it was a lousy year, with an overall 12 percent drop in concert revenue. Even in the summer, the time when musicians usually make most of their money, many big-name performers cancelled tour dates, pop star Rihanna was one, or cancelled their entire tours, like Christina Aguilera.

What happened? This year, some stars got a little too big for their britches, as Pollstar editor Gary Bongiovanni, tells it.

Mr. GARY BONGIOVANNI (Editor, Pollstar): 2009 was not a bad year for the concert business. Based on that, and the expectation that the economy would improve in 2010, a number of artists decided to go back to pushing the envelope.

CHACE: Artists like the Jonas Brothers, who returned to markets they had just played, and charged more for tickets. People wouldn't buy them. As a result, some promoters started heavily discounting tickets just before the show to fill seats.

Mr. BONGIOVANNI: It really undermines your business, because you're training people to wait for the sale that's going to come later and not buy the tickets when they first go on sale, in addition to that, the hard-core fans that do buy tickets when they first go on sale and pay full price tend to get alienated.

CHACE: So next year there might be a correction to 2010's apparently inflated ticket prices. But that won't help Pink Floyd fans, who were willing to pay $126 to see the 30th anniversary of "The Wall."

Zoe Chace, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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