Summer Concert Tours: Who's Hot, Who's Not (Hint: Taylor Swift Is Unstoppable)
Who's winning the summer concert wars?
As the battle to become summer's biggest touring artist rages on, the live music industry is reaping the benefits with a robust season so far in 2015. "We're operating in a healthy, continually growing market," says Marc Geiger, worldwide head of music at William Morris Endeavor. "I feel blessed, frankly."
He's not alone. Such agencies as Paradigm, APA and Creative Artists Agency are seeing the Live Nations and AEG Lives of the world as profitable partners, particularly when it comes to heritage acts with an arsenal of hits. Curiously, while rock's presence on radio has dimmed, on the road it's bigger than ever, offering a choice of arena rock regulars, from veterans like The Rolling Stones and The Who to 1980s titans Van Halen and Def Leppard.
Who's hot at summer's peak and who's cooling off? Billboard takes a look at the touring terrain.
HOT, HOT, HOT
The Stones' 18-date Zip Code stadium tour, produced by AEG Live/Concerts West, has churned out $80.6 million at the box office since launching May 24. Its first 10 shows sold 452,041 tickets, according to Billboard Boxscore — a robust average of $8 million per night.
Giving the Stones a run for their money is another stadium act: country star Kenny Chesney, who, after taking 2014 off from touring, has returned, co-headlining with Jason Aldean and Eric Church (the latter having a career-best tour himself, with a $23 million gross and nearly 500,000 in attendance from 43 arena shows in 2015) and pulling in $53.5 million on 33 shows with attendance of 663,459.
Then there's Taylor Swift. "I'm putting tickets on sale on Mars for Taylor, because buildings on Earth are not big enough," quips Louis Messina, president of TMG/AEG. The first 15 North American concerts headlined by Swift have grossed nearly $60 million, with 503,039 tickets sold through July 14. That's an average nightly take of almost $4 million and average attendance of 33,535.
After snagging the Guinness World Record title of "biggest tour ever" for its 360° Tour in 2009 to 2011, U2 has scaled down for the first time in a decade, opting for arenas and multiple-night stands instead. The results have been strong since the launch of Innocence + Experience on May 14, with a $32.4 million gross and 299,023 tickets sold for the first 17 shows reported. Also, positive word-of-mouth is spreading now that the band has found its sea legs (Chicago, by all reports, was a standout run). Says Live Nation's Arthur Fogel: "Stadiums have their own kind of vibe, particularly [the 360°] run, which had a life of its own. This is different. It has been 10 years since they were indoors, and is a different kind of connection." And with at least another year to go, history is bound to repeat itself.
Indeed, acts that started in the '70s and '80s are doing brisk business everywhere, with Def Leppard enjoying its best ticket counts in years (12,000-plus in amphitheaters with several small-arena sellouts), and Rush grossing more than $1 million per show. But perception can be everything, as Madonna, an even more enduring '80s icon, can attest. Her Rebel Heart Tour doesn't begin until Sept. 9, but rumors that its sales are off pace persist, even though dates that are purportedly soft — Atlanta, Philadelphia, Miami — are seven months away. "It's doing just fine," counters Fogel, who is teeing up his fifth Madonna tour in 14 years and notes that the sales pattern is "normal" judging by past experience.
Momentum for the highest-grossing act of 2014, One Direction, has carried through to 2015 — at least internationally. But after pulling in more than $107 million from 1.2 million attendees in markets outside the United States and Canada, the temperature has cooled a bit on 1D in the tough-to-sustain teen-pop world, particularly on this second consecutive stadium jaunt. One insider tells Billboard that ticket counts in U.S. stadiums aren't regularly topping 30,000, "and you don't go into a baseball stadium doing 30,000."
It's a lesson The Who is also learning after repeated runs stateside. The Who Hits 50 Tour is a showcase of Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend's best-loved songs, but its box office has underperformed. Six shows reported to Boxscore have moved an average of 9,373 in arenas with capacities of 12,000-plus.
Another tour on the receiving end of negative industry chatter: Van Halen. One source says that the Live Nation shed trek is suffering from "some really bad counts" — as low as 4,000 out of the gate — and another notes that the outing, which began July 5 in Seattle, is "definitely one in trouble." Inside the tour's camp, however, executives seem to be on the side of "good enough," citing "overwhelmingly positive" reviews.
This story first appeared in the July 24 issue of Billboard.