Record Industry Sags, Concert Biz Thrives


Concert business still rocks
Friday, May 21, 2004
By Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

As the pop music audience gets older and the technology expands, this seems to be the pattern in the music industry: You’re downloading or even passing on new music while paying big bucks for concert tickets.

Even as the record labels continue to cry over sagging sales, the concert business is on a five-year tear.

“Last year we had a record year in the industry in terms of gross revenues and we had an increase in unit ticket sales over the previous year,” says Gary Bongiovanni, editor of industry trade publication Pollstar.

Revenue in North America shot up to $2.5 billion in 2003 compared to $2.1 billion in 2002 and $1.75 billion in 2001.


There aren’t more people going to concerts than there were five or 10 years ago, but the ones who go are willing to pay a lot more for tickets to see classic artists. With oldsters such as the Eagles and Simon & Garfunkel countering the ticket scalpers with prices of up to $250 for the best seats, the average ticket price for the Top 100 tours in 2003 was $50.35, up $3.79 or 8 percent over the $46.56 average for 2002, according to Pollstar.

Thus far, promoters are still smiling in 2004.

“All indications are that we’re going to have a very good year this year, probably have record revenues again,” Bongiovanni says. “We know that we had a good first quarter. There were big-dollar tours by Bette Midler and Rod Stewart. The buzz on the advance tour sales is real strong. We’ve got some good things in the marketplace: the Van Halen reunion, the Pixies seem to be generating a surprising amount of interest. Then you have Phil Collins, who hasn’t toured in a long time; Jessica Simpson, if that’s your cup of tea; Simon & Garfunkel. Prince is doing the biggest tour he’s ever done.”

Blink-182 opens the summer concert season at the Post-Gazette Pavilion Saturday, launching a 15th-anniversary year that already has more shows booked than the previous one. So far, there are 31 shows scheduled, up from 29 last year, and this summer’s lineup will likely top the figure of 32 in 2001.

Once again, the lineup is heavy on classic rock, with returns by the likes of Aerosmith, Kiss, Rush and Styx. There are a handful of shows for the “adult” taste, such as Josh Groban and Norah Jones. Country has the typical five shows. And the testosterone flows with Ozzfest, Warped, X-Fest and the new Project Revolution.

“I think it’s pretty diverse,” says Lance Jones, VP of Clear Channel Pittsburgh and executive director of the Post-Gazette Pavilion. “We’ve got slices of alternative, disco’s coming back after a couple years off and the classic rock forever marches onward.”

It’s also pretty white. The music most played on the radio — R&B and hip-hop — is represented only by Snoop Dogg, pimpin’ this summer with the metal boys.

“We’re still looking at any opportunity …,” Jones says. “One we were hoping would tour was OutKast.” There’s also no word yet on a tour by current chart-topper Usher.

But the Post-Gazette Pavilion seems to have snagged most of what’s touring the sheds this summer. Two that it passed on (or vice versa) were the Dead, for the second straight year, and Lollapalooza, which is playing double dates in each city with a phenomenal lineup including Morrissey, Sonic Youth, Flaming Lips, Wilco and the Pixies.

“We were in the hunt on Lollapalooza,” Jones says, “and ended up not getting a date. As you know, they constructed the tour to be a two-day event this year and everybody was trying to get weekends.”

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