Despite an economic collapse on Wall Street and rising unemployment rates, the concert industry has reported record-breaking figures for 2008. Leading trade publication Pollstar...

Despite an economic collapse on Wall Street and rising unemployment rates, the concert industry has reported record-breaking figures for 2008. Leading trade publication Pollstar and entertainment magazine Billboard released staggering gross averages for the year’s hottest tours, while Billboard Boxscore and StubHub noted an increase in overall concert ticket sale grosses on the primary and secondary markets. But with no end in sight for the nation’s current economic woes, the forecast might not be so bright for 2009.

According to Pollstar‘s tally, Madonna reigned supreme in national and global ticket sales, grossing $281.6 million for an international total of 2.34 million tickets. The publication rounded out its top five with Celine Dion ($236.6 million for 1.8 million tickets), Bon Jovi ($176 million for 1.83 million tickets), Bruce Springsteen ($166 million for 1.64 million tickets), and The Police ($120.6 million for 1.13 million tickets).

Based on a slightly different timeline, Billboard named Bon Jovi the year’s highest grossing tour, with totals of $210.6 million for an audience of 2.2 million from November 2007 through November 2008. At the same time, Billboard Boxscore also reported worldwide concert industry grosses of approximately $4 billion in 2008, an increase of 13 percent from the previous year.

Though the company did not release sale amounts, StubHub also declared Madonna the queen of the secondary market. Madge’s Sticky & Sweet Tour saw not only the highest sale volume, but also the highest resale prices with an average resale value of $306 on StubHub. Overall concert ticket sales on the site were up 40 percent.

“Overall, it’s been a pretty good year for touring,” Billboard’s Ray Waddell recently told the Associated Press. “I’d never say it’s recession-proof, but it’s resilient.”

That resiliency showed through on TicketNews’s exclusive weekly rankings of popular concert tickets, as many of the industry’s hottest acts stayed within the top five or ten for the duration of their tours. But while the record-breaking numbers did make 2008 a banner year for the concert industry despite the nation’s on-going economic troubles, the true test of the industry’s won’t come until later in 2009 according to analysts.

“The problem will be if we’re still in this economic environment when summer hits, when so many acts go on the road,” commented Pollstar’s editor-in-chief Gary Bongiovanni, also in a recent interview with the AP. “Even in good times the public has a hard time supporting them all, and obviously when people are unemployed they’re not going to be buying concert tickets.”

In a late November report on the NPR broadcast “All Things Considered,” Bongiovanni explained that most of the ticket sales that carried the industry even through the end of the year were made prior to the stock market’s September nosedive. He added, “The real impact is going forward. It would defy logic to think that [the economy is] not going to impact people’s willingness to spend money on things like concert tickets.”

Waddell also recognizes that the worst could still lie ahead for the industry. In an early December assessment of the industry, he noted that while concert sales were up 8 percent this year, attendance had continued to decline, down approximately 2 percent after 2007’s decline of 20 percent. With that being the case, the true challenge of 2009 could be with retaining — and growing — concert and festival audiences.

“The global concert industry managed a financial rebound in 2008 in an extremely challenging environment,” Waddell wrote of the industry’s trends. “But a boost in dollars does not outweigh the ongoing specter of declining attendance. The people who went to concerts spent more money to go, but plenty of potential concertgoers opted out.”

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