Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, acquired last year by Live Nation, took a hit at the box office earlier this month with ticket sales dropping by more than 28,000 from the previous year.


Photo: Jessica Tezak/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP

Bonnaroo 2015 - Festival celebrate entering the gates during the first day of Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tenn.

According to figures obtained by the Tennessean, total ticket sales were 45,537 – down 46 percent from the festival’s all-time high in 2011. The previous low of 65,164 was tallied in 2008. Bonnaroo doesn’t release box office numbers, but the newspaper obtained figures from a public records request to Coffee County, Tenn.’s budget office and calculated the number of tickets sold.

The drop represents a $9.07 million dip in revenue from 2015, according to WBIR-FM. Unnamed “industry experts” told the NPR station that some of the drop was the result of a less than blockbuster lineup that included LCD SoundsystemDead & Company, and Pearl Jam, along with competition from a glut of other summer music festivals. A Belmont University professor suggested to WBIR that cost may be a factor, saying some of his students passed on the $324 average-priced ticket.

“I have had students pass on some festivals, telling me that they can go to Florida and see their favorite act in a one- to two-day event, stay at a cheap hotel on the beach, drive back and spend less than most VIP packages,” music business professor David Herrera told WBIR. “But, given that live shows are still showing growth, it can be any of these reasons. “Could be the heat, humidity, or perhaps what business theory calls the 'law of diminishing returns’ – each time you go back, you are a little less satisfied and are less likely to attend again, unless you can attract new talent or really improve the facilities.”

Fleming Artists agent Jordan Burger, who booked three of his clients at Bonnaroo, agreed that Bonnaroo has a lot of competition but also a lot to praise. “To me, it’s the best-run festival in America,” Burger told WBIR. “But at the same time, there’s Pilgrimage, there’s CMA Fest and there’s a festival in every direction 200 miles away from Nashville. There’s so much more opportunities for music fans and competition for summer festivals.”

Apparently the dip in attendance wasn’t unexpected, as Bonnaroo notified county officials weeks in advance of the dropoff in revenue. Bonnaroo pays a flat $30,000 fee, plus $3 per ticket sold, to Coffee County.

The Tennessean submitted a public records request to Coffee County for the annual payments, deducted the $30,000 annual fee, and divided the remainder by three to determine the number of tickets sold. Whether the drop is an anomaly or a sign that the festival market is oversaturated isn’t clear, but Live Nation – which made a significant investment in upgrades to the Manchester, Tenn., festival site – isn’t daunted, at least not according to a statement provided to Pollstar.

“Celebrating our 15th anniversary this year, Bonnaroo continues to be recognized as an iconic staple of the American festival scene,” Live Nation said. “This year we made a significant investment into site improvements on The Farm, which were met with overwhelmingly positive responses from our fans, and we're committed to continuing to enhance this unique experience even further.

“The spirit of Bonnaroo is truly represented by our community and we're extremely grateful for the support of over a million fans over the past 15 years. We're already planning for 2017 and beyond and can't wait to be back on The Farm to do it all over again next year.”