Ed Sheeran’s Down Under Tour Sells Record-Setting One Million Tickets; Pollstar Talks To Promoter Michael Gudinski

Ed Sheeran
Phil Walter / Getty Images
– Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran plays the first of three shows at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand, March 24.

Over the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, Australia’s Frontier Touring has toured some major acts – Sir Paul McCartney, Foo Fighters, Drake, Muse and Harry Styles among them. But it was Ed Sheeran who this year put the company in the global spotlight after selling a whopping 1 million-plus tickets (1.06m) to 18 shows through Australia and New Zealand.

It is the biggest concert tour ever Down Under, breaking Dire Straits’ 32-year record of 950,000 for Michael Coppel Presents for its “Brother In Arms” tour. The numbers also surpassed Adele’s 2017 tour where she played to a reported 730,000 fans in 11 shows in Australia and New Zealand.

“One million tickets in this market is an absolute phenomenon and a feat which I don’t think will ever be beaten,” Frontier Touring’s managing director Michael Gudinski told Pollstar. “It’s inspired the whole company, and he’s completely rejuvenated my desire to get in early and develop artists’ careers.”

Indeed, Gudinski, 65, who began working with the British pop star some eight years ago, said he saw signs early on that Sheeran would find great success.

“I was there from the start when he played to 40 people,” he recalls. “He was just 19 years old. Even though it was a small audience, you could see how he connected with them. To see him develop and work with someone who is younger than my kids has been so inspiring to me. I’ve never had such a close relationship with any young artist. He’s a gifted writer, and he listens to a wide array of music. He’s always got the headphones on.”

That first performance was a showcase arranged at Melbourne’s Bakehouse Studios by Warner Music. Australia and New Zealand would become the first countries outside Sheeran’s native England where the young singer-songwriter first broke.

There was another immediate link with Sheeran: his manager, Stuart Camp of Grumpy Old Management, who worked in the London offices of Gudinski’s Mushroom Records. “Just as well I was a great boss!” the promoter quipped.

The tour, the sixth for Sheeran and Frontier, kicked off with two shows March 2-3 at the new 60,000-seat Optus Stadium in Perth – the British singer-songwriter was the first music act – followed by one at the 55,000-capacity Adelaide Oval (March 7), four at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium (March 9-12), three at the 83,500-cap Sydney’s ANZ Stadium (March 15-17), two at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium (March 20-21), three at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland (March 24-26) and three at Forsyth Barr Stadium Dunedin (March 29, 31, April 1) where city authorities created a mini-festival for the 60 percent of the crowd who came from afar.

One reason he played stadiums, as CAA’s Jon Ollier, Sheeran’s international agent, explained, was timing. “The decision to not do the arena run down there in 2017 and hold until 2018 was because we finished there late in 2015,” Ollier said. “As long as we could announce them, we knew the market wouldn’t be offended. The crowds have a very special energy in that part of the world and that is just enhanced when you see Ed walk on stage.”

For Ollier, who reps Sheeran all over the globe, the million tickets sold Down Under is even more special. “I’ve seen Ed break a lot of records all over the world but in Australia and New Zealand you are dealing with a finite population so inevitably at some point it will become impossible. It should not be underestimated what a feat this is.”

The Australian shows also gave Sheeran’s UK promoters at Kilimanjaro Live, Stuart Galbraith and Steve Tilley, as well as Kilimanjaro’s head of production Zac Fox, a chance to see the tour before his upcoming sold-out UK stadium dates.  “I’ve always known how big he is,” says Tilley, “but to actually go out an see it first hand in Australia, literally on the other side of the world, and see him play in packed-out stadiums night after night was … I’ve run out of superlatives, to be quite honest.”

It should been noted that in 2017, Sheeran’s tour ranked eighth on Pollstar’s Year End Top 100 Tours Worldwide and sold 1.5 million tickets, grossing $124 million over the course of 111 shows. In the U.S., Sheeran is repped by Paradigm’s Marty Diamond and Ash Mowry-Lewis and signed to Atlantic Records.

Gudinski noted how diverse Sheeran’s audience has become, from the screaming female teenagers of the early tours to last month when a sizeable portion of the crowds included younger fans attending their first concerts with parents in tow.

Over the years, as Sheeran’s record sales escalated (now 4.8 million singles and 1.5 million albums in Australia), the singer-songwriter moved from theatres to becoming the first solo act to sell out stadiums.

Helping to widen his appeal, Sheeran made targeted appearances that ranged from the Australian Football League grand final to the TV industry’s Logie Awards. On one tour, tickets were priced at A$99 ($77).

For the 2018 run, the planning and timing were perfect, Gudinski says, citing the ticket pricing, lengthy advance sales period and multifaceted marketing.

“We didn’t make a wrong move,” though he admits working with such high numbers was “daunting.”

“But Ed was focussed and professional and he nailed every one of those 18 shows,” said Gudinski, who called him the “Billy Joel or Elton John of his generation.” High praise, indeed, but which the longtime promoter traces to the artist’s genuine caring for his fans.

“At one of the earlier shows, at the outdoor Allianz Stadium in Sydney, it was absolutely pelting down,” Gudinski recalls. “I asked
him if he wanted to delay starting for 20 minutes. He looked at me straight in the eye and said, ‘If my fans are getting rained on, I’m going on.’ He went on and played a fantastic show.” s

Additional reporting by Gideon Gottfried.