The Sunny Success Of Winter Jam

Every year, for more than a decade, the Christian worship event

In other words: 100 percent walkup, no advance ticket sales.  It’s cash at the door with an entrance fee of $15 – but it’s not required.

Eddie Carswell
– Eddie Carswell

Yet, in 2016, Winter Jam was listed as No. 136 on Pollstar’s Top 200 North American Tours chart, averaging nearly 12,000 tickets per show with an average gross of nearly $180,000. In 2015, with Skillet as the headliner, the tour ranked No. 22 on Pollstar’s Worldwide Ticket Sales Top 100 chart, drawing nearly 670,000 people total, beating out the likes of Madonna and The Rolling Stones.

The tour, which is currently out with headliner Lecrae and returns in January with Skillet, is an all-day event that does not center around music.  The current itinerary includes a 15-minute set by Family Force 5 and a 30-plus minute set by Lecrae, but the day consists of worship, testimonials, recruitment and information. Kids and their parents line up early in the morning with blankets and food, with the doors opening around 4:30 p.m. and the show running through 10 p.m.

And yet, with a modest fee (that was recently raised from a suggested price of $10), Winter Jam incorporates seven trucks, 13 tour buses and 147 tour personnel, with video boards and full staging.

Co-founder Eddie Carswell, the frontman for Newsong, came up with the concept 36 years ago.

“Back then they would have concerts at (Christian) book stores,” Carswell told Pollstar prior to Winter Jam’s Nov. 12 performance at Fresno, Calif.’s Save Mart Center. “I kept hearing people saying they loved our band, and our friends’ bands, but had never seen them. They had a family of five or six and, whatever the cost was, times five or six was a lot of money. So, I thought, ‘What could we do where money wouldn’t be an issue?’”

He worked with a promoter to come up with a show that would be 100 percent donation at the door. It drew 6,000, even though Newsong had a P.A. designed for 1,500.

“We thought, that’s kind of crazy, that’s odd,” he said. “Next year we brought it to Chattanooga and Greenville. Same thing.”

As for keeping costs down, that’s what volunteers are for. Winter Jam, with the help of Shane Quick and his team at Premier Productions, will reach out to local youth ministries and churches in advance of a show. Several dozen volunteers will act as box office employees, collecting cash at the door.

“The contracts are the same as any other show,” Save Mart Center’s Mitzi Evans told Pollstar.  “The team at Winter Jam gets us all the tour art, all the social media elements, and we try to mainstream it as much as we can.  But these kids are pros; we just stand back and let them do their jobs. I want to hire half of them.”

Nick Luchau
– Lecrae
Bluestem Center For The Arts, Moorhead, Minn.

Another advantage to the Winter Jam concept: No scalping.

“Every other show our team has to tell somebody that they are holding a bogus ticket, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Evans said. “With Winter Jam, everybody gets in.  It’s such a relief.”

Carswell estimates about 90 percent of the audience pays the suggested price. And, yes, a tour accountant counts it all.

“We have an accounting room, counting $5 bills,” he said. “I think it started off at $3, then $5 and everybody was happy, then $6, then $7.  I thought it would ruin things when we went to $10 but they’re giving us change anyway; and we’re giving back 10s at the door.”

Carswell added that the team is always concerned about the turnout but “we’ve got a pretty good history of it so we have a pretty good feel.  Through social media, we can see what’s going on.”

He added that the bottom line has been padded by the recent addition of Jam Nation, or the Pre-Jam Party – a VIP experience where, for a few extra dollars, the fans can arrive early and have a meet-and-greet with the artists, plus get a T-shirt.

Korey Cooper of Skillet
Owen Sweeney / Invision / AP
– Korey Cooper of Skillet
Santander Arena, Reading, Pa.

“If we have enough people involved in it, we know it should be a pretty good night,” he said.