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Sour Note: Economy, Glut Hit Summer Tours

07:01 AM Thursday 7/1/10 | |

 A slow economy and a glut of choices is turning the once ironclad summer tour season into something of a gamble.

The evidence is everywhere. The always bankable Eagles have canceled dates. Christina Aguilera shut down an entire tour before it got started. Rihanna just canceled her tour opener.

Add in what seems like a large number of injuries, illnesses and mysterious happenings that have led to sometimes legitimate cancelations - U2's tour was postponed due to Bono's back surgery - and at least outwardly it looks like summer tours are starting to see the strain the rest of the music industry has been experiencing.

Korn's Jonathan Davis calls it "scary."

"It's just a sign of the times," Davis said. "We're in a bad place now financially, everybody, and I think people are cutting back. Hopefully when this goes away, whenever it does, then things will get better, but it doesn't surprise me that people don't have as much money to spend as they used to."

Kevin Lyman, the brains behind The Warped Tour, the Mayhem Festival and the new Country Throwdown Tour, acknowledges he was sweating it last week. The always bankable Warped Tour, a 16-year-old traveling punk festival, was struggling to sell tickets for a Ventura, Calif., show and he was looking at a big loss.

He sold 80 percent of his tickets in the last week and ended up with a great turnout, but the struggles he's had this summer - he canceled four Throwdown dates and is worrying about the bottom line more than he has since the late '90s - have him thinking about the mistakes that have been made by the touring industry as a whole.

"Two years ago we were talking about the heyday of touring," Lyman said. "A touring industry that's been around 60 years now, in two years we screwed it up."

Ozzy Osbourne believes the industry is tone deaf when it comes to the main problem - ticket prices. A premium seat with VIP privileges for a top act can go for more than $1,000. A mediocre seat at one of those shows might cost more than $400. Pollstar, the touring industry trade magazine and website, shows the average cost of a ticket in 2009 was $62.57 - up from $25.81 in 1996.

Osbourne, one of rock 'n' roll's most bankable touring stars and the founder of Ozzfest, says "people are getting very greedy."

"You can't charge exorbitant ticket prices," he said. "It's crazy. You have to read the market."

  • Ozzy Osbourne

    25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concert, Madison Square Garden, NYC
    October 30, 2009

    (AP Photo)


That market has appeared strong, running in the opposite direction of the economy the last few years. Pollstar estimated a record $4.6 billion in worldwide tour grosses in 2009 with a record 40.5 million tickets sold. Both figures were significant increases over 2008. The top 10 tours of 2009 grossed about $771.6 million with U2 taking $123 million.

An analysis of first-quarter ticket sales in 2010 by Pollstar showed the trend is continuing with gross revenue and sales up from last year.

Looking at those numbers, Pollstar editor in chief Gary Bongiovanni sees this summer as nothing more than business as usual in an industry that's usually volatile.

Sure, ticket sales are down, but that's to be expected and nothing disastrous, as some industry watchers have claimed. He points out that there are several in-demand tours that are doing just fine.

Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and James Taylor and Carole King aren't having problems selling tickets, perhaps muscling in on the fans of Aguilera, The Jonas Brothers and The Eagles. That out-of-favor acts like Limp Bizkit canceled shouldn't send folks watchers into a tizzy.

"I mean the Limp Bizkit tour was never one that really should've been booked in the first place," Bongiovanni said. "It's hard to say that business is bad because Limp Bizkit couldn't sell tickets. I'm sorry, I don't buy that."

He did say that promoters need to get rid of the glut.

"We're asking an awful lot of the public," he said. "The acts that are really in demand today, fans are opening their wallets and buying tickets, and they're buying the premium seats, too. But in a down economic market, it just means you aren't going to do the kind of volume that you might expect and people are more selective."

Those who make their living one ticket at a time think there's more trouble ahead, though.

Lyman and others believe the cause of all these problems is simple. In an effort to shore up record sales that are bottoming out, artists and their managers and agents have turned to summer tours and the large amounts of guaranteed money now being offered upfront to prop up the revenue stream.

Instead of taking a year or two off between tours, acts always seem to be on the road - sometimes with nothing new to offer. The bigger the venue, the bigger the guarantee and the bigger the risk that a slow start to ticket sales will lead to cancellation.

  • Justin Bieber

    MuchMusic Video Awards, Toronto, ON
    June 10, 2010

    (AP Photo / The Canadian Press)


In desperation, promoters have fallen back on the steep discount, cutting prices, nixing service fees and offering two-for-one deals. Lyman sees this as fool's gold. Once ticket prices are cut, promoters rely on ancillary sales like beer and hot dogs. But he's noticed in these tough economic times, fans will bolt a six pack in the parking lot because it's cheaper than buying $7 beer all night.

"I've been saying it for a year now: We are going to train the public to wait for the discount," he said. "Go out for a fair price at the beginning and people will grow into it. But now we've got a lot of damage to fix in this business."


  1. Livewolf wrote:

    04:11 AM, Jul 02, 2010

    Whoever is to blame, we can fix them by doing one simple thing:  BOYCOTT!  I, like others posting here, used to go a lot to concerts & events, but can't afford it anymore.  The exorbitant ticket prices & fees have ruined it all.  And kudos to the person who mentioned illegal downloaders also; they certainly haven't helped the problem.  In MANY cases since '94 when they started this crap with the Eagles reunion tour at $100 a ticket, I've sat home rather than feed the machine.  If we had just said no back then, this wouldn't be nearly as bad.  Show them that you're not going to sit back & take this crap anymore.  

  2. iceman1 wrote:

    03:04 PM, Jul 01, 2010

    Mr Potato hit the nail right on the head. You can blame TM all you want but it is the Promoter/Manager/Band who control pricing.

  3. mrpotato wrote:

    12:08 PM, Jul 01, 2010

    Dfunk is right. Ozzy is feeling his oats saying it's the ticket prices. The artist's want some crazy rates for their performance. Most can care less if its a full house, they get the same rate anyways. Thus the ticket price goes up. Live Nation and AEG bid for these acts. Since they are fighting against each other, the price goes up. Venue's dont make money if you have no artists to play at them. So It's important for each promoter to have a stable of acts to visit each market.

    Then there are the fees everyone complains about. Sorry but these places need to have some pretty expensive insurance, since everyone things it's ok to act like an idiot. And if they stub their toe, they file a law suit. You'd be surprised how often this happens. Plus they have to staff the venue.  

    Last is the crazy ticket packages. ticketmaster's secondary ticket sales are people who already purchased the tickets reselling them. It's illegal for them to put them up straight for profit. BUT NOT FOR THE BAND and it's fanclubs and things like I love all access! BANDS have it in their concert rider for most front seats to be put aside for themselves. Some bands request auctions, some take care of friends. But it's not the venue or ticketmaster trying to rape you.

    People should need to know what they are talking about , before they can blame people in the media. and for those that ask, why doesn't LN,TM, or AEG defend it's self? Because the real blame is the artist they are trying to keep happy.

  4. JohnnyCotts wrote:

    10:05 AM, Jul 01, 2010

    dfuchs - you're a smart individual.

  5. bigsled wrote:

    10:02 AM, Jul 01, 2010

    I've been seeing concerts since the 70's and now rarely go to a arena show. With ticketmaster and the brokers keeping alot of the good seats and the ticket prices, the indusry is ruining it. I still cant believe what some people will pay but, that will change eventually with the industrys greed. I was lucky enough to see all my bands in their prime and before the industry ruined it . The industry and mtv also ruined music now in general. Good bands will never make it but some pathetic karoeke singer on american idol will, lol.

  6. mrshark wrote:

    09:40 AM, Jul 01, 2010

     need to start doing things like String Cheese Incident is doing by streaming its show via iCLIPS for a low price, so the fans that cant make it won't miss a thing .

    The Allman Brothers use MOOGIS as well..  

     These are things that some of the other groups can start doing also.

     the technology is there....

     Bleed me nation and Ticketmaster are big part of these ticket increases as well.  the fees they add on are crazy high.

  7. dfuchs wrote:

    09:23 AM, Jul 01, 2010

    Aren't ticket prices up because artist fees have gone up in the past few years? Don't venues, sans festivals, base ticket prices on artist fees?  Or maybe I'm just trying to stay neutral for some reason.

    The Limp Bizkit comment was a good one.

  8. iceman1 wrote:

    09:01 AM, Jul 01, 2010

    They will learn one day that it is better to put an act in a theatre that is to small rather than to big. The instant sellout creates the buzz. And people always want what they cannot have

  9. El Perro wrote:

    08:58 AM, Jul 01, 2010

    And one other thing.... Thank you Illegal Downloaders.  Your theft has made the artists/management look for revenue streams outside of the record-selling business.  So they have to jack up ticket prices just to make up for the money they are not earning on album sales. It used to be that a group toured just as a way to draw attention to and sell records. Nowaways, they have to earn the bulk of their income on the road.  Thanks a lot, thieves!

  10. El Perro wrote:

    08:52 AM, Jul 01, 2010

    Thank you, Live Nation (AKA: Clear Channel)!  Your greed and monopolization of the live music world has turned it into a giant cesspool of overpriced tickets, greed, glitz and very little substance.  There are a few Big acts that I absolutely have to see, like Rush. So I'm willing to pay the big bucks for something that great.  But with the majority of acts, bands that I'd like to see but don't have to see, I skip them when they come to my local Live Nation-owned shed/arena.  Time for many of these bands to get back to basics, dump the glitz and just play smaller local theaters and halls, dealing with local promoters.

  11. iceman1 wrote:

    08:52 AM, Jul 01, 2010

    What you mean $1500-2000 a ticket to Mccartney from a decent seat is to much? Who would have guessed.

  12. ed2 wrote:

    08:46 AM, Jul 01, 2010

    People just need to say no and the prices will come down. It should not be a major event to go to a show. Most groups can only make money by going on the road. But as long as you have a bunch of people willing to pay 200 and over for a concert and nine or ten buck for a beer they will keep charging that.