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North American, international concert sales up in first half of 2011

By Kelly McWilliams

Following a difficult 2010, the North American concert industry has seen significant recovery in the first half of this year, according to Pollstar in its mid-year touring report.

The concert industry trade publication reports a total gross this year of $1.12 billion for the Top 100 North American Tours, a jump of $157 million (16.2 percent) above the industry’s anemic performance over the same period last year. Total ticket sales also saw a healthy increase, up 5.3 percent to a total of 16.7 million tickets sold over the first six months.

Average gross per show went up as well, jumping 7.3 percent to reach $453,254. However, average tickets sold per show suffered a minor drop, down to 6,762. Average ticket prices did not continue their decline of last year, when prices dropped an average of 6 percent from the first half of 2009. In fact, the average ticket price for the top North American tours saw an increase of 10.2 percent over the first half of 2010, reaching $67.02.

The North American boost generally reflects a healthier worldwide concert industry, with the Top 50 Worldwide Tours grossing $1.65 billion, up by $166.2 million (11.2 percent) from the same period last year. Average tour grosses for the Top 50 in world went up by 20.2 percent, and average tickets sold shot up by 5.8 percent to 13,762. Average ticket prices increased even more than in the North American sector, up 13.6 percent to an average of $84.92. But total ticket sales for the top world tours did sink a bit, down 2.1 percent to 19.4 million, suggesting that higher ticket prices contributed to much of the boost in the worldwide industry this year. Promoters and artists are clearly becoming bolder in setting higher ticket prices these days, with 22 tours worldwide averaging more than $90 per ticket, compared with just 12 such tours last year.

Ben Mogil, entertainment industry analyst with investment bank Stifel Nicolaus, believes these numbers support the decision by Live Nation to produce fewer shows this year, leaving less unsold tickets on the market. In a research note to investors, quoted by the Associated Press, Mogil wrote: "The results continue to bolster our view that less is more this year, as reduced show count and reduced lower-end ticket pricing is helping stabilize the business. The increase in North American tickets sold is certainly a positive trend."

As for the top grossing artists, U2 dominated the competition both worldwide and across North America in the first six months, their two-year 360o tour now the highest grossing tour in history. On the worldwide stage, the group hit $164 million in ticket sales, and up to June 30, while in the midst of a North American leg postponed from last year, have sold $85.8 million to North American audiences, with more to come.

On the North American tour list, U2 was followed by Lady Gaga, who grossed $65.3 million, Bon Jovi at $57.4 million, Kenny Chesney who made $46.7 million and popular Mexican pop singer Luis Miguel who took in $33.9 million.

Bon Jovi heads the list of those artists with top grossing show dates in North America, with 15 shows making the list. Following closely behind is Lady Gaga with 12 entries and U2 with 10 shows up to the cutoff date of June 30. Taylor Swift and Kenny Chesney both had five shows in the Top 100, and the Rod Stewart/Stevie Nicks tour showed up on the list with four.

In a repeat of last year’s first half finish, the single highest grossing event of the first half of 2011 was the 3-day Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, CA. This year the event took in nearly $25 million, an increase of roughly $3 million over last year.

The list of venues with top grossers so far this year includes the Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, NV, with an impressive eight entries since Celine Dion's return to the arena in March, Madison Square Garden (MSG) with six spots on the list, and Mexico City’s Auditorio Nacional with five. Centre Bell in Montreal, QC, made it into the top grossing list with four events.

In addition to cutting back on live shows, Live Nation also decided last year to stop routine box office reporting. Despite this, the promoter still reported sales sufficient to once again top Pollstar’s worldwide ticket sales chart, at over 7.8 million tickets sold in the first half of the year. AEG Live came in at number two, with 5.5 million ticket sold. There was a virtual tie for first place in the number of top grossers produced by these powerhouses, with Live Nation presenting 33 and AEG Live 32 such events.

In other categories, arenas, clubs and theaters showed better numbers than last year, but Live Nation’s lack of reporting made amphitheater performance difficult to assess, as the promoter controls much of the amphitheater business. Pollstar’s Editor-in-Chief Gary Bongiovanni did note in the mid-year report that amphitheater business has lost popularity overall, as patrons are less willing to pay for costly general admission for lawn seats, and because Live Nation may have marred the draw of the sector by its widespread ticket discounting last year. As a result, a number of event organizers decided this year to incorporate low cost tickets into their pricing structure from the start.

The outlook for 2011 remains bright, according to Bongiovanni, as both promoters and artists learned from a difficult 2010 and have emerged more cautious about constructing and producing their tours, with generally good results.

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