Live Nation Q1: Loss Down, Tickets Up

Live Nation Entertainment narrowed its losses in the first quarter of 2011, thanks to a boost in the number of concerts and tickets sold to those concerts, as well as an apparent cut in ticket prices.

The Q1 net loss fell to $48.5 million, or 27 cents per share, from a loss of $122 million, or 83 cents per share, a year ago.

The company released its Q1 report and conducted a conference call with chairman Irving Azoff, CEO Michael Rapino and CFO Kathy Willard taking questions May 5.

Even though the operational loss was less than in the same period of 2010, it still clocked in at near $70 million. However, revenues were also up 17.4 percent to $849 million from $723 million a year ago – far above the $757 million expected by FactSet analysts. Concert revenue climbed to $449 million.

Ticket sales volumes were up 13 percent while revenue increased by only 10 percent — an indication that lower ticket sales were helping to drive volume. The revenue increase would have been even lower had Ticketmaster revenue from before the Jan. 25, 2010, merger been included.

“It’s still early in the year, but fans are responding well to our ticket pricing initiatives,” Rapino said in a statement.

During the earnings call, Rapino elaborated on the uptick in first-quarter sales, crediting strong presales for concerts by first tier artists. He tempered that by noting that concert presales going up now for second-level acts are “somewhat soft” and, without giving specific guidance, said he believes 2011 on the whole will be “somewhat flat – not down, but flat.”

Rapino stated the company expects to do fewer shows in its amphitheatres and will sell about 1 million fewer tickets in the sheds this season.

Azoff made the point that any projections for the year will depend heavily on what happens to gasoline prices, noting that when per-gallon prices go up, ticket sales drop as consumers cut back on discretionary spending.

Azoff and Rapino rolled out the list of artists touring this year expected to bring in the lions’ share of the 2011 haul: U2, Lady Gaga, Kenny Chesney, Eagles, Rascal Flatts, Sugarland and Jimmy Buffett.

And there may be one more to add to the European schedule if Rapino’s broad call-closing hint plays out: Charlie Sheen.

After some stammering when asked if Live Nation made any money off the just-concluded Sheen juggernaut, Rapino said, “We actually did.

“It was a no-guarantee proposition. We were there as the production arm behind the scenes, we did all the merchandising through Irving’s division and played a bunch of our venues,” Rapino continued before going to the bottom line.

“It is rock n roll; we’re not the moral cops but we absolutely delivered some bottom line [Adjusted Operating Income] to the company.” Then came Rapino’s own torpedo of truth.

“The boys in the U.K. liked it the most and they want the show over there.”