The Shape Of The 2018 European Live Market: Ed Sheeran Owned It

A man, a guitar, masses:
Zakary Walters
– A man, a guitar, masses:
Ed Sheeran serenades London’s Wembley Stadium on June 16. His estimated 2018 European tour gross of $229.7 million is by far the largest of the year to date
It’s only fitting that our European-themed issue, timed for this year’s Reeperbahn Festival and Conference in Hamburg and the International Festival Forum in London, should open with a touring juggernaut helmed by a native of the continent who thus far has dominated 2018 like no other.

Ed Sheeran, the 27-year-old touring wunderkind from West Halifax, England, owned the year-to-date European touring market with eight of the Top 10 highest grossing tour reports, according to Pollstar’s European Boxoffice data. This included the tally’s highest grossing stop: four mind-bogglingly massive mid-June nights promoted by Kilimanjaro Live / DHP Concerts at London’s Wembley Stadium before nearly 300,000 (299K) fans and grossing $28.7 million all while bucking the “optimized” ticket pricing trend with seats at a reasonable £40-£80 (about $51-$103) with nary a VIP package in sight.

Clad often in a Hoax skateboarding T-shirt and jeans, Sheeran’s modest, pared down, one-man band featured little more than him on a Martin acoustic electro guitar, an array of pedals and a large video screen but has generated an eye-popping $229.7 million in Europe, selling 2.66 million tickets over the course of 48 shows, according to Pollstar. It’s proof positive that the power of song and fan connection can trump all the stage production flash and bombast. Sheeran’s exhortations for massive communal sing-alongs, “doncing” and celebration buoyed by the melodious smashes from his ÷ (Divide), one of 2017 and 2018’s biggest albums, is essentially all any fan needs.

And his performances have resonated: Four shows at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium grossed $21.2 million and was Pollstar’s second highest European tour gross for the year thus far. Add in four shows at Manchester’s Etihad Stadium grossing $19.8 million along with three shows each at Dublin’s Phoenix Park ($14.4 million), Newcastle’s St. James’ Park ($13.5 million) along with two nights at Paris’ Stade de France ($13 million), Glasgow’s Hampden Park ($12.2 million) and Munich’s Olympiastadion (11.5 million) to round out Sheeran’s eight top 10 appearances.

Sheeran’s manager, Stuart Camp of Grumpy Old Management, told Pollstar when his client dominated our mid-year tally that his team’s live strategy remained unchanged. “A great show put on at an affordable ticket price for Ed’s fans,” he said. “The bottom line is that we have to make the experience special and we have to make everyone want to come back again.”  

While The Rolling Stones may not have quite the same ethos, especially with ticket prices (which ranged from roughly $42 to $830), the veteran road warriors placed 11 European stops in the Top 30 as compared to Sheeran’s 14 (and the latter were often multiples). While the band may or may not still be the world’s most dangerous band, they are certainly one of the most in-demand even at higher ticket prices. 
The Stones’ highest European grossing show, according to Pollstar data, was a double in late-May at London Stadium promoted by Concerts West/AEG with openers Florence + the Machine and Liam Gallagher. Some 137,475 fans caught the shows, which grossed a hefty $20.5 million. Their next highest European haul came at Berlin’s Olympiastadion, where some 67,295 caught the band with the Kooks for a gross of $12.1 million. That show, co-promoted by Concerts West, AEG Presents, FKP Scorpio Konzertproduktionen, was good enough for the No. 9 spot while their show at Twickenham Stadium grossed some $11.1 million with 55,000 and James Bay opening came in at No. 12 on our tally. 

Coming in at No. 11 on the survey was Jay-Z and Beyonce’s On The Run II double at London Stadium in mid-June promoted by Live Nation Global Touring, which brought in some 126,443 fans and grossed $11.2 million. It’s the hip-hop/R&B king and queen’s second stadium go-round and slated to end Oct. 4 in Seattle. An artist to make the Top 20 not named Ed, the Stones or Jay-Bey was Dutch violinist and composer André Rieu who performed a whopping 13 shows at the Het Vrijthof Opera House in Maastricht, Netherlands, before some 103,324 for a $9.7 million gross, which was enough to rank No. 16 on our tally.  

But no one can touch Ed. His estimated total projected European tour gross is a staggering $229.7 million for 48 shows as compared with $116.6 million for the Stones, and $87.6 million for Beyonce. Taylor Swift has yet to report her European numbers, but Pollstar estimates her six shows grossed roughly $45 million. What this portends for the year-end final tally is not clear, but based on Sheeran’s record-smashing Australian spring dates, phenomenal European summer leg and early North America, 2018 is all Ed’s.