Touring Biz This Season Goes Sucky!


Touring Biz Faces Weak Summer Season
By Ray Waddell

NASHVILLE (Billboard) – If your name is not Madonna (news – web sites) or Prince, the touring landscape could be treacherous this year.

A spate of cancellations and too many half-empty houses are leading some to call the summer of ’04 the worst concert season in years.

Additionally, some industry execs are wondering if soaring ticket prices have finally hit a ceiling.

So how horrible is it?

“It’s pathetic,” says Louis Messina, president of TMG/AEG Live. Messina counts his blessings for his sellout business with Kenny Chesney this summer.

“I’m listening to all these stories and ticket counts, and it’s crazy, it’s so bad out there,” Messina says.

Dave Lucas, president/co-CEO of Clear Channel Entertainment’s music division, admits there are “some bumps in the road, but there are also some good shows out there. No industry can grow by double digits every year, and we still believe this is a growth business.”

Still, North American concert figures for this year are flat at best. Year to year, 2003 and 2004 are tracking very closely in terms of gross dollars, at $719 million and $718 million, respectively, according to Billboard Boxscore.

But 2004 was front-loaded to a degree, with big arena tours by Prince, Bette Midler (news) and Shania Twain early in the year helping drive business.

The bottom fell out in April. Dollars from April 1 to June 15 for this year are down 17.6% from the same period a year ago, and attendance is down almost 27% for that period.

“Some big tours are doing great, Madonna, Prince and Simon & Garfunkel,” says Peter Grosslight, worldwide head of music for the William Morris Agency. But he adds that many traditionally strong shed artists are “drastically underperforming.”

“We’re taking a hard look at certain shows to determine if they’re a wise decision,” Lucas says.


The poster child for tours that did not work this summer could be Lollapalooza, which canceled its July-August run because of extremely poor ticket sales.

Since then, the plug has been pulled on the Crusty Demons extreme-sports tour and treks by Britney Spears (news), Marc Anthony and Christina Aguilera (news) for non-sales-related issues.

Several other tours are experiencing less-than-projected sales, including treks by such popular acts as the Dead, Incubus, Dave Matthews Band, Gloria Estefan (news), Van Halen, Eric Clapton (news), Kiss and Norah Jones (news), according to sources.

More cancellations may lie ahead, and some tours, including Jones’ outing, are scaling back to smaller venues in some markets.

In addition to Prince and Madonna, notable successes this summer include Metallica (news – web sites), Sting, Josh Groban (news), David Bowie (news), Chesney and the Nickelback/3 Doors Down shed package.


Any decrease is significant for an industry that has experienced double-digit growth for many years running. But the upward dollar trend of the past several years can be misleading because of increased ticket prices.

“The dollars go up because the cost of shows are up; it’s that simple,” Messina says. “Grosses may be up, but profits are down.”

For many, this summer could be remembered as the season when ticket prices reached their limit.

Ticket prices are a function of artist guarantees, and some sources say corporate promoters like CCE, HOB and AEG Live are taking a beating on some shows this summer, even when attendance tops 10,000 per night.

Gregg Perloff, president of Another Planet Entertainment, gives ticket prices about 60% of the blame for touring’s problems. “When you start charging $80 to $100 for an act with a huge name but no heat going right now, it’s a real problem.”

Such issues might point more to bad deals than bad tours, and just how bad business is can be a matter of perspective.

“I think what people are really complaining about is not how bad is but how bad the deals are,” says Dennis Arfa, president of Writers & Artists Group International, the agency for Metallica, Billy Joel (news) and Rod Stewart (news).

“It may be that an act is doing good business, just not enough business to support the guarantee,” Arfa adds. Though it takes the brunt of blame, CCE is not the only promoter paying artists exorbitant guarantees. “We’re always guilty of that, that’s why the artists love us,” AEG’s Phillips says.

CCE’s Lucas seems to indicate his company’s pockets might not be so deep next year.

“We as an industry have to look at ticket prices and have some sort of downward adjustment,” Lucas says.

House of Blues executive VP Alex Hodges agrees that a correction is needed. “Some promoters have forgotten that each market is different and there are only six to 10 really big markets, another 10 strong markets and that the next 20 markets can’t support the ticket prices demanded to pay the guarantees.”

In the meantime, the concert industry must weather this summer of discontent — with an eye toward change.

“The sky’s not falling,” Messina says. “We’re just bad business people.”


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