Louis Messina believes in dreams and magic dust.
He says his impact is in believing – in his dreams, the dreams of his artists and the dreams of his Messina Touring Group staff – and making them come true. “I’ve got the magic dust, and they help me spread it,” he says, laughing.
Who’s going to argue with that? Messina’s roster includes Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, Eric Church and, the granddaddy of them all, George Strait, all of whom have filled stadiums and broken box office records because, however unlikely their success might have seemed early on, they had dreams. Messina modestly says he only helped make those dreams come true.
No other country artist had sold out stadiums before George Strait. A young kid named Kenny Chesney watched him from the wings one night and told Messina, “That’s what I want to do.” A few years later, Messina had a similar experience with Taylor Swift at another Strait show.
“That’s cool,” she said, when Messina said she’d be there soon. Ed Sheeran opened for Swift on three tours and now reigns as the world’s top touring artist.
And Church is a phenom right now. Currently on a headlining arena tour, he’s held the top spot on Pollstar’s LIVE75 for the last three weeks and, across the last three years, he has averaged 17,200 tickets sold and $1.25 million grossed per show, according to Pollstar Boxoffice data.
And now, fresh off a “Saturday Night Live” appearance, 20-year-old Shawn Mendes is about to embark on a global headlining arena tour, with a North American leg capped by his first stadium sellout, at Toronto’s 50,000-capacity Rogers Centre. He has worked with Messina since he was 15.
“You look at Taylor, her new single is huge,” Messina says. “It’s record-setting, out of the box. Bam. That’s where Shawn has gone. He’s at that level. Not many people go to that level. That Taylor Swift level, the Ed Sheeran level, the Kenny Chesney level. Kenny’s been playing stadiums for over a dozen years. George Strait’s 40 years into his career and he’s bigger than ever. The artists I work for are mostly getting to that level and it’s pretty cool.”
Messina ticked off the first names of his clients hitting the road this year – Shawn, Kenny, Eric, Blake, Kelly, George – and Taylor, who released her new single “ME!” in April, was conspicuously absent.
“When I get the phone call, we’ll see!” Messina says, declining to say whether another monster tour like 2018’s “Reputation” trek is in the offing. “Like everything with Taylor, it happens when it happens.” But it takes more than dreams and magic dust to produce packed houses year in and year out, past and future.
“As long as there are great artists and great music, people will come,” Messina explains.
And they do. Last year, MTG tours grossed nearly $600 million in North American, according to Pollstar Boxoffice data.
“Technology has changed our business. Ticketing has changed our business. I hope the secondary market goes away and the government will pass some kind of legislation to curtail that!
“But live music or live events has been pretty much the same thing. If we don’t cannibalize the business by overbooking a market – a secondary market can’t handle five shows a month – it’s a healthy business.
“I think everybody’s smart and I’m not just talking about people like me, I’m talking about my partners at AEG and my friends at Live Nation. They’re all smart people.”
While being smart is good business, not every smart person can change a business. Not long ago, stadium and amphitheater tours were considered a dying market.
Yet, as Messina says, “Look at Shawn. Shawn’s selling out his first stadium in Toronto and it is impactful. Kenny doing his first stadium in Knoxville was impactful. He’s done over 110 stadium shows in his career, and he’s going to have a big ol’ tour next year. I’m predicting that it’s going to be Kenny Chesney’s biggest tour he’s ever done. I’m knocking on wood.”
It’s not just about the stadiums for Messina, though. He says Eric Church asks, “What’s bigger than stadiums?” and he tells him that whatever it is, that’s what they’ll do.
“I have to keep coming back to the artists I work for,” Messina says. “I just follow their dreams and they follow mine. They listen to my bullshit and they believe in me, because they know I always have their back and I do everything for the right reasons.
“I don’t do things because I want to make an extra dollar. I do things because they are the right things.
“But ultimately, the artists keep opening doors and making opportunities for themselves. They are stars because of their creative impact. There are a lot of great artists, but there are only so many stars.”