SR 04 Numbers In
New York, NY (February 28, 2005)--The hottest weather of the year usually brings with it the hottest months for the touring business, but in spite of record grosses, looking back at 2004, many saw it as the "endless bummer." After eight consecutive years of roaring successes, the concert industry was slammed by one of the most difficult summers in years, brought on by a glut of boring tours, sky-high ticket prices and scant hit tours. While strong tours in the fall helped stop some of the bleeding, the industry nonetheless felt wounded. What all that will mean to touring sound companies this year, however, will play out in the coming months.
Despite low ticket sales across the industry, 2004 managed to still be a record breaker--but just barely. Billboard estimates the industry's take at $2.2 billion in grosses, while Pollstar places it closer to $2.8 billion. Neither record keeper will dispute, however, that it was a difficult year, and most of the blame is being placed--for now--on ticket prices.
The average ticket price in 2003 was $50.35, while in 2004, it jumped to $52.39, according to Pollstar. However, what those numbers don't show is that in June, 2004, the average ticket price was in fact more than $59, an increase of 18 percent on the previous year. It's hardly a surprise then, that around April, the ticking-buying public decided to take its disposable income elsewhere. As a result, business fell off by as much as 35 percent, according to some estimates--a blow that was mostly felt in echoing amphitheaters where acts played to houses that were half full, or less.
The industry's short-term answer, then, was start papering away, offering two-for-one tickets specials, cut-rate prices on certain shows and more. While the emergency maneuvers put backsides in seats again, they also alienated fans who bought tickets early at full price, while inadvertently teaching johnny-come-latelys that tardy ticket purchases pay off. Despite the finagling, concert attendance dropped 6 percent, according to Billboard--a statistic suggesting that an increasingly smaller pool of concertgoers are being gouged with higher prices to maintain the industry's ever-rising grosses.
Despite the harsh realities that Summer brought, with cancelled dates and tours, the fall was nonetheless strong enough to make up for the drought. A number of the year's top touring acts, such as Metallica and Bette Midler, chose the cooler months to visit arenas, helping boost numerous promoters' bottom lines, just when they needed it most.
So, with amphitheaters hurting the most from last summer's washout, industry watchers are now looking ahead to this year's summer season, waiting to see what--if any--changes will be made. Some expect the number of shed tours to drop in general, while others predict a season emphasizing younger acts instead of amphitheater mainstays who may have toured too often in recent times. If the prediction of fewer tours comes to pass, it will undoubtedly heat up the coming months for national sound companies, as they put in long hours to land tours that will keep their systems and crews busy.
If nothing else, 2005 will be a busy concert-going year, with a number of high-profile acts hitting the road. Acts such as U2, the Eagles and Paul McCartney will certainly draw attention, while heavily rumored jaunts by the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond, and an Eminem/50 Cent/Linkin Park stadium run could make for an exciting (but yes, wallet-torching) year. While the question of "what sound company will land that tour" is a given in many of these cases, the larger pool of top-shelf acts on the road this time is bound to bring the public's focus back to seeing concerts.
All of those superstar acts can charge premium ticket prices if or when they tour, so with the industry currently claiming to take lower prices (and as a result, lower artist guarantees) to heart, the onus will fall to mid-level tours to theoretically pare down their price tags. Then again, with so many musical giants expected to traverse the nation, there may be no other way to go if fans are going to afford seeing both superstar and mid-level tours. When there's a consumer choice between seeing a top-shelf act and a mid-level tour, the top-shelf show will usually win out, even when it's a toss up between seeing McCartney or Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band. For now, promoters say they've learned the lessons of 2004, but only time will tell if prices get back to where they once belonged.