The best metric for determining an artist’s true popularity is their ability to sell tickets for a live performance.
There was a time when radio airplay and recorded music sales were the best measure of who is hot, but today’s world of fragmented music consumption also includes on-demand audio or video streams, commercials, video games, and fashion shows.
Artists' ability to pay their mortgages now relies predominately on touring revenues generated from ticket and merchandise sales. While recorded music revenues have been in steady decline, live music dollars continue to grow despite sharp increases in ticket prices.
The Top 100 Tours of North America grossed a record $3.34 billion which was up 7% over last year’s $3.12 billion. The top 100 acts sold a record 43.63 million tickets. That is over 1.5 million more tickets or 4% higher than the previous year.
The average ticket price also hit record levels at $76.55 which is up 3% or $2.30 over 2015. The Top 100 Worldwide Tours generated $4.88 billion in sales which was up about 4% over the previous year but a bit short of the record $5 billion set in 2013.
The total tickets sold was 60.49 million, up from last year’s 59.78 million but still below the record 63.34 million sold in 2013. The Worldwide and North American Tour charts include estimates for any unreported concert dates.
The Pollstar database includes a record $9 billion in detailed 2016 concert grosses. In most cases projections are only a small part of the total data set. Only 16% of the Top 100 worldwide tour dates required estimates.
In North America only 8% of the dates played needed estimates. Pollstar estimates that North American ticket sales hit a record $7.3 billion in 2016. The concert industry has shown tremendous income growth especially if one considers that 20 years ago our estimate for North American ticket sales was barely over $1 billion.
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band did the year’s biggest tour with a career best $268.3 million in sales on 2.4 million tickets.
Beyoncé finished second at $256.2 million worldwide and 2.2 million tickets sold but was No. 1 in North America with a gross of $169.4 million. Coldplay came in third at $241 million but sold an industry leading 2.7 million tickets.
Ticket prices continue to increase as the $100+ average ticket price becomes less of a rarity with 20 acts hitting that level. In today’s world it takes a $200+ average price to get attention. Barbra Streisand was no surprise at $260.20 a ticket but Madonna at $216.01 and Jennifer Lopez at $206.69 definitely stretched the consumer’s wallet.
Desert Trip set a new world single-event record with a staggering gross of $160.1 million from the twin weekend bill of the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, Bob Dylan, The Who, and Neil Young. Goldenvoice/AEG sold 150,000 tickets at a pricey $399 to $1,599 for an event that clearly catered to an older, more affluent crowd. Add in all the ancillary revenue streams and the real event gross could be north of $200 million.
The Springsteen stadium juggernaut produced the largest single-act concert gross of the year with $18.2 million from a three-show run in August at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
On a global basis, top honors went to Coldplay’s massive $29.7 million gross from four shows in June at Wembley Stadium in London.
Live Nation continues to grow its global presence as it makes it easier for many tours to stop in countries where they might not have felt comfortable with just a local promoter.
The company reported sales of more than 44.3 million tickets. AEG also had a good year reporting 15.2 million tickets sold.
OCESA/CIE was third at 3.7 million tickets. There were 17 additional promoters who sold more than 1 million tickets, including SJM, which was the top UK-based promoter with 2.1 million sold.
Older rock acts still dominate the ticket sales charts but their numbers continue to diminish as death or retirement claims Prince, Eagles, David Bowie, George Michael, Leonard Cohen, Rush, and The Tragically Hip.
Although some country music festivals experienced an off year, the genre itself is still healthy and generating new headliners.
Luke Bryan had a great year, selling more than 1.4 million tickets on his way to an $84.1 million tour gross. And few people doubt that Chris Stapleton will be a touring force for years to come.
Kevin Hart did the top comedy tour again with a gross of $27.3 million.
Despite the collapse of SFX this year, EDM festivals continue to post big numbers for what is more of a fan experience than a true concert.
But the day of the DJ may be slipping into the rearview mirror because not a single EDM act made the Top 100 Tours chart.