Welcome To The Impact 50

Welcome to Pollstar’s inaugural Impact 50 list, the beginning of a new franchise that reflects our perception of the most impactful live entertainment industry executives for 2019. Compiled by the Pollstar editorial team with input from the industry, the list represents individuals who excelled in our business with such attributes as creativity, innovation, strategic management, financial success, leadership, artist development/career longevity, vision, fan engagement, consistency and commitment to excellence. The list is informed by, but not tethered to, Pollstar’s industry-leading box office data, but as we are told so often, past performance does not guarantee future results.

To properly illustrate what the Impact 50 is, it is perhaps best to explain what it is not. Impact 50 is not about power, though many, if not most, of the individuals listed here would be considered “powerful” by most industry standards. I came into this endeavor well aware of the inherent challenges in assembling a list of this nature, especially when the entire music industry is in play. With Impact 50, and at Pollstar in general, we view everything through the lens of live – which is the most impactful revenue stream for most artists from  inception to well into their golden years as increasingly seen these days. Do label executives, particularly those who directly support touring acts, impact the live business? Certainly, but ultimately their goal is to sell records. Our focus is on the impact toward selling tickets and ultimately the development of artists’ touring careers. 

Impact 50 is not about companies, it’s about people, and the scope, depth, breadth of those people’s impact in a given year. Impact 50 is not about a body of work, though many on this year’s list have been impacting the business for years. It’s not about influence, respect, or being an icon; there are powerful, influential, iconic executives who have impacted countless artists and careers in a profound way, including mine, who are not on this list for whatever reason. I would include people like Michael Cohl, Alex Hodges, Gregg Perloff, Danny Zelisko, Seth Hurwitz, people we admire and respect and that make a difference, who aren’t represented this year, but are nevertheless impactful. Such is the nature of this endeavor. 

While we consider national more impactful than regional scope, Impact 50 is not dictated by sheer volume of business or revenue generated. With a current book that includes the likes of Pink, Ariana Grande, J. Lo, Jonas Brothers, New Kids, Paul McCartney, J. Balvin, Cher and others, who out there right now is doing more business than Brad Wavra, senior VP of Touring at Live Nation? No one could legitimately argue that Wavra isn’t dominating right now. Everybody in the business knows guys like Wavra, Rick Franks, Ryan McElrath, and others from a slate of expert LN tour promoters, are having a huge impact on Live Nation and, by extension, the entire concert industry. The same could be said about those on the ground with tours and festivals at AEG Presents, as well as the local/regional promoters bringing the joyful noise to their respective markets at the highest levels of expertise. Impact 50 will be fluid from year to year, and we will attempt in each case to put together a list reflective of what is going on and who is making a difference, and we expect more names will be part of the rotation, given the ebbs and flows of live.

Impact 50 sticks primarily with the core live proposition of U.S. promoters, agents, managers, and marketers. Venue executives, a critical part of this equation, and the businesses that work with them (like ticketing, merchandisers, etc.) will be accounted for in the upcoming Venue Allstars/Best Of… project for our sister publication, VenuesNow, to be revealed in September and already underway. One exception is Jared Smith at Ticketmaster, as the broad impact of TM on the touring industry we felt must be taken into account. 

With Impact 50, we are making a statement about the importance of brands and marketers in the live entertainment and touring industry, artists and fans. Brands like AmEx and Citi, through staging pre-sales and fan engagement campaigns and sponsoring tours, jumpstart awareness and help underwrite tours and promotions to the tune of millions of dollars every year. Tour marketing specialists, both on the agency and promotion sides, are the leading edge on moving millions of tickets annually, and are frequently the touchpoint with both venues and fans. 

And, at a time when touring industry dynamics are in transition and the role of agents is evolving, discussions for Impact 50 were frequently dominated by talk of agents – which agent, working with which acts, on which tours, and which trajectory? What can be said in terms of artist development or career longevity impacted by the agent? “Impact” is an elusive term, but decisions for Impact 50 were influenced by such things as which acts represented by a specific agent are on tour in 2019-20, what is the agent’s role in that career, how are these agents perceived by their peers, how are their actions influencing others in the business, what do they bring to the table, what specifically did the agent do or will do to facilitate industry growth and best practices? Ken Fermaglich at UTA, for example, pulled off a tremendous feat of agenting in steering the massive Guns ’N Roses reunion tour, and would have been a no-brainer if this list had appeared in 2015-18. The same can be said for many other agents (or managers, or promoters) in other years, many of them partners or critical components of teams; in many cases, touring cycles for meaningful artists tipped the scale. 

In compiling Impact 50, we were dead set on recognizing 50 people, and only 50 people; no doubles or triples per entry. Sometimes that means only one of two or more equal partners were recognized under that entry, which is not intended to diminish the other partner(s). We also made a decision not to rank people, so the debate of who is ranked higher than whom won’t come to bear. Still, too often the discussion ends up about who’s not on the list rather than who is. Such a challenging task as this is also indicative of how deep this industry’s bench is, when 50 top execs are frankly not enough spots for all who make significant contributions to the business every day. We landed where we landed, 50 names come quickly, try it some time. 

Finally, we were beyond conscious of inclusivity when compiling this list, and we hope it shows. We wish the Impact 50 were more diverse. The industry is where it is today, and, with 16 women deservedly included in the 50 this year, we do believe we are better in this regard than we would have been 10 or even five years ago. The industry is more diverse than it was, but, like many other sectors, has far to go. We look forward to the day when this isn’t even a thing. It’s coming. With certainty, the people on this list all deserve to be on it, period.  

The 2019 Pollstar Impact 50 is just the beginning, and we look forward to honoring Impact NexGen, Impact International, and such sectors as tech, agencies, talent buyers, production pros, and elsewhere. We salute those leaders of the inaugural 2019 Impact 50 and this entire industry that is uniquely driven by work ethic, innovation, creativity and leadership. Thanks for paying attention to our grand experiment and, as always, thanks for letting us look behind the curtain. – Ray Waddell