Promoters of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival raised eyebrows in the concert business last fall when they decided to clone the three-day gathering and make it a six-day, two-weekend affair, but doubters fell silent as tickets sold out shortly after going on sale earlier this month. And that’s not the half of it.
“There were enough buyers in queue online that we probably could have added two more Coachella weekends and another Stagecoach weekend,” said Randy Phillips, president of AEG Live, the concert promotion giant that works in conjunction with Goldenvoice to stage Coachella and its country cousin, Stagecoach, each year in Indio, Calif. The Sprint Center and the Midland theater in Kansas City are AEG facilities.
Music fans are already exhibiting a healthy appetite for concert tickets in the first month of 2012, which is putting the year on track to be another strong one at the box office — and perhaps a record-setting one. It’s a reflection, concert industry veterans say, of an improving economy as well as a powerhouse slate of performers who will be touring this year.
Those include such veteran rock acts as Madonna, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Roger Waters with “The Wall,” the reunited Van Halen, the Beach Boys and Fleetwood Mac, pop stars Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber and country music heavy hitters Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw teaming for a duo stadium tour. And there is the widely anticipated possibility of the Rolling Stones hitting the road again.
Michael Rapino, president and chief executive of Live Nation Entertainment, the world’s largest concert promoter, said business is up so far this year 14 percent to 15 percent, in terms of ticket sales and the number of shows the company is promoting. “At this point we’re optimistic about 2012,” he said, even without a confirmed Rolling Stones tour at this point.
“Madonna’s going on the road, and those tickets will go on sale right after the Super Bowl. If you have one or two of those giant tours, it keeps the industry level where you want it.”
Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert-industry tracking magazine Pollstar, said, “We can foresee this being a record year for revenue certainly, and possibly even for attendance.” Any year with a Stones tour figures to put records for box office revenue within reach.
For most of the last seven years, the Top 10 grossing tours in North America combined to generate between $630 million and $700 million. In 2009, however, when U2 launched the “360 Tour,” that total jumped to $773 million, while in the two years that the Stones rolled across this continent — 2005 and 2006 — on the group’s “A Bigger Bang” tour, business pumped to $810 million and $793 million, respectively. U2 also was a key part of the bonanza in 2005, the only year during that seven-year span in which two acts grossed more than $100 million each in North America.
Additionally, because Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are both 68, and drummer Charlie Watts is 70, many are expecting that the next Stones tour may well be the group’s last, at least on the scale of what the venerable band has undertaken historically. The prospect of a farewell tour figures to contribute to a ticket-feeding frenzy that could lead to higher prices and new heights of box office revenue.
But even if the Stones don’t go out this year, or push a tour back until 2013, “We’re really going to be blessed with riches,” Bongiovanni said. “It’s going to be great year with a wide array of artists out there working.”
Celine Dion and Elton John will continue their popular Las Vegas residencies at Caesars Palace, and John is supplementing those shows with additional concert dates. And beyond the heritage acts that typically turn in the highest-grossing tours year in and year out, a number of more recently minted stars have proved capable of matching their predecessors, including tours planned for 2012 such as Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber.
Taylor Swift, however, is expected to take most of this year off after posting the second highest-grossing tour in North America last year with her “Speak Now” shows, which came in behind U2. Katy Perry is lying low this year, but British soul singer Adele is anticipated to return to the road in what would be one of the year’s hottest tickets if the throat problems that sidelined her partway through last year are resolved.
Bon Jovi, another act that typically makes the upper reaches in rankings of the concert world’s biggest moneymakers, isn’t expected to tour widely in 2012. And the Eagles are playing most of their 2012 dates outside the U.S.
“I think it’ll be a steady year,” AEG’s Phillips said. “If people are saying it’s going to be a banner year, to me that would have to be 15 percent to 20 percent more than last year. My projections are for maybe a 3 percent increase. But that certainly beats (revenue) going down.”
One issue on which promoters and other observers agree: the importance of avoiding significant ticket price increases.
“Everyone learned a lesson in 2010, and in 2011 virtually every conversation with every agent and band began with the question ‘Are we pricing it right?’ ” Live Nation’s Rapino said. “In 2011, there were a lot of stories about canceled shows and rerouted tours and half-empty houses. But if we can price it right, we can make these shows successful.”
Added AEG’s Phillips: “There is so much pressure on touring now for an artist as a revenue stream, since digital music hasn’t yet filled the gap left by the decline in album and single sales. So there is pressure to overcharge and to overplay on a tour cycle. I’m finding that’s starting to moderate a little bit. People feel they could be killing the goose that laid the golden egg.”