FLOTUS In The House: Michelle Obama’s Arena-Sized Triumph

Anda Chu / Digital First Media / The Mercury News / Getty Images
– FLOTUS Speaks
The former First Lady’s “Becoming” book tour stops at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., Dec. 14.

Pollstar’s biannual Top 100 Worldwide Tours chart is filled with artists of all types, sizes and genres, but not all of the star power is found in the musical realm of live entertainment. The industry’s hottest bands, vocalists, orchestral productions and even comedians all appear on the Mid-Year charts (coming soon!) ranking the most successful tours, but there are other events that do not appear – non-musical draws that account for quite a chunk of the live market.

Pollstar’s boxoffice data also includes ticket sales reported from family shows of all types, ice skating, athletic events like boxing, wrestling and the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters, “Hamilton” and tours of other Broadway shows and Cirque du Soleil productions, just to name a few, but one attraction stands apart from the crowd this year – a book tour.

Like others who lived in the White House before her, former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama wrote a memoir. Her book “Becoming” was released on Nov. 13, 2018, and on the same day she began a tour to promote the best-selling book that has now sold millions of copies. But Mrs. Obama took the book tour scenario to a new level by appearing at arenas rather than bookstores or smaller venues that would generally stage a promotional jaunt. Even for celebrities pitching a new book, those appearances usually have been found at performing arts centers or other theater-sized rooms.

Mrs. Obama’s popularity put her in a unique position as a well-known personality from the world of politics, if you will, who could also be a major draw to a live event – a fact that was not lost on Live Nation who produced the tour. In a statement to Pollstar, Tara Traub, Senior Vice President of Live Nation Touring, said, “We knew the demand for Mrs. Obama’s tour would be extraordinary, and we’re proud to have been part of its incredible success. Though unprecedented for a book tour, playing arenas was the most effective way to accommodate the number of people eager to join the unforgettable and inspiring conversations each night.”

The tour – officially called “Becoming: An Intimate Conversation with Michelle Obama” – was launched with an original itinerary of 10 arenas during November and December of 2018 and began with an opener in her hometown of Chicago. The first leg of the tour covered a five-week span and wrapped in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Dec. 19 at Barclays Center which hosted the tour for two nights, the first occurring on Dec. 1.

Successful ticket sales prompted the addition of a second run of shows for this year beginning in February which, in addition to 11 American cities, also included arena bookings in six European countries and Canada. Altogether, Mrs. Obama appeared in 31 cities during the trek that ended with a final appearance at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on May 12 – one of a handful of smaller venues also included on the tour.

For an idea of box-office success from the tour, ticket sales data reported by various arenas on the trek show the average gross per show easily surpassing the $1 million mark. All of the buildings reported sellout crowds in attendance with sold ticket counts well over 10,000 – some with 18,000 or more sold seats for a single appearance.