The Live Biz’s Robust – And Then Some – 2019 Mid-Year

Gonna Tour ‘til I can’t no more:
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Stagecoach
– Gonna Tour ‘til I can’t no more:
Lil Nas X, with his massive hit “Old Town Road” pioneered a new live trajectory in 2019 that took him from video app TikTok to his first ever live performance at Stagecoach Festival in Indio, Calif., with Billy Ray Cyrus and Diplo before some 80,000 fans as seen here on April 28, 2019.

Some mid-years are more eventful than others; 2019, in terms of the live business, was especially so. There may be no greater sign of the live industry’s vitality and well-being than the big deal making, the new touring paradigms, the record-breaking earnings reports, the hyper competitiveness between agencies, promoters, venues and others, the sold-out mega festivals, the IPOs, the new revenue streams, the international expansions and so much else. And, of course, Pollstar tracked it all, both editorially and with our industry-leading touring data. 

For this mid-year we tracked some $2 billion for the Top 100 Worldwide tours, which included everything from comedy to K-pop to German Schlager to Latin trap. Average ticket prices ranged from $21.52 for the contemporary Christian music festival Winter Jam to $506 for “Springsteen on Broadway” and literally a world in between. What this survey shows us, as much as anything, is the universe of different approaches for touring in today’s marketplace.
Take 17-year-old wunderkind Billie Eilish’s wildfire success that saw her go from a club tour in late-2018 to the hottest underplay currently on the road. As her music exploded across multiple platforms, an insatiable demand turned sold-out venues into a massive underplay tour. It’s an example of just how powerful the demand for live can be in 2019.
And Eilish’s music is available on more platforms than ever, including: on an album inspired by the Oscar-winning film “Roma;” the TV series “Thirteen Reasons Why” with Khalid;  #MyCalvins ads; and on no less than 12 Sirius XM stations heard in a recent rental car. Also, her name has been uttered thousands of times in my home with an 11-year-old, an 8-year-old and a smart speaker. And for the first time, Eilish, who wasn’t a largest-font Coachella headliner, even had her own ticket bundle after the fest’s tickets had sold out. But be forewarned, promoters, agents and managers: moving a theatre show to an arena in a town like Chicago can cause vociferous fans to lose their minds on social media.
Madonna purposely made underplays part of her latest reinvention for her fall “Madame X” tour.  She radically altered her tour strategy from performing before an average of 38,997 fans per market, according to Pollstar Boxoffice, to playing venues a fraction of the size. This includes multi-night stands at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (capacity 2,109), the Chicago Theatre (3,600) and L.A.’s Wiltern (1,850), among others.

Also this mid-year, a new artist had his first performance ever at the massive Stagecoach Festival, which reportedly drew 80,000 fans per day. Lil Nas X’s meteoric country-rap breakout single “Old Town Road,” recorded in his bedroom, became a viral sensation via TikTok, a video sharing app, and had a massive crossover hit with the Billy Ray Cyrus’ remix. Lil Nas X may be causing some to revisit ideas of “growing an artist” after his performance at Stagecoach (with Cyrus and Diplo). Lil Nas X has since obtained representation in presumably big deals with Maverick, CAA and Columbia Records. 
Big deals over the course of the mid-year have been a hallmark. In late May, Endeavor, the media conglomerate whose holdings include top tier agency WME, announced it was going public. In August 2017, the entity was valued at $6.3 billion. Endeavor, which also owns a number of content platforms (UFC, Professional Bull Riding and NeuLion), said in its SEC filing that it plans to continue creating “content assets” and “selectively pursue merger and acquisition opportunities” that fit within its larger ecosystem.  
iHeartRadio, in mid-April, in a surprise for many, announced an initial stock offering a year after declaring Chapter 11. This came as part of a reorganization plan that would help the over-leveraged company pay off debts taken on a decade ago. 
This helped creditors extend new debt to keep operations running while its debt burden was reduced to $5.75 billion from nearly $16 billion. 
And just a few weeks ago news leaked of a failed blockbuster merger that would have had far reaching consequences for the agency business. If UTA, one of the top talent agencies, had merged with the musically robust Paradigm, it would have put it in a league with the larger full-service heavyweights. That news may augur an era of greater consolidation among agencies in this highly competitive space.

In February, Live Nation announced its eighth consecutive year of record growth for 2018 revealing overall revenue up by 11% for a record total of $10.8 billion over the year. Net income was $60 million, an improvement from a $6 million net loss in 2017. Concert attendance was up 8% to 92.8 million. Ticket sales were up 14% to 483 million. Sponsorship and advertising revenue rose 14% to $504 million and operating income was up 13%. 
The mid-year also marked another year that the largest promoters made a concerted run at clubland. Live Nation’s Clubs & Theaters added Los Angeles’ iconic 350-capacity club The Echo as part of an acquisition of Mitchell Frank’s Spaceland Presents. Frank told Pollstar that seeing AEG pickup San Francisco’s Slim’s and The Great American Music Hall in 2018 was something of a wake-up call to a changing club market. This came in the wake of a number of SoCal pick-ups for LN: The April acquisition of the Observatory in Santa Ana and Observatory North Park in San Diego; a strategic partnership with O.C. club Chain Reaction; and an exclusive booking deal with San Diego’s Soma.  
According to LN’s president of Clubs & Theatres Ron Bension, “We have the ability to matriculate bands through different levels of venues in a market, which is good for the bands, it’s good for the fans, and it works.” 
Meanwhile, AEG’s Bowery Presents and BSE Global in April reopened Manhattan’s Webster Hall in grand style with Jay-Z. And with Brooklyn Steel among its holdings, AEG/Bowery Presents now operates two nearly 2,000-cap venues in the New York market, both of which Bowery’s Jim Glancy calls “anchors.” This follows the promoter’s announcement in March of a new, 3,500-capacity concert venue in Boston, and the company’s late-2018 pick up of Philly’s Electric Factory. 
AEG, the world’s second-largest promoter, made a blockbuster deal in late February for its AEG Facilities to merge with SMG to create ASM Global, the world’s largest facility management company, with some 310 venues in its portfolio. 
A robust festival market continued as Bonnaroo in 2019 had its first clean sellout of 80K since 2013 and Live Nation’s acquisition in 2015. And the aforementioned Stagecoach drew its largest crowd to date. 
– Satisfaction:
The Rolling Stones’ No Filter North American run is back on just months after Mick Jagger’s heart valve surgery, with a 17-date stadium run kicking off at Chicago’s Solder Field June 21.
Boutique festival producer Synergy Global Entertainment continues announcing new events this summer, including the Super Mega Ultra Giant Mad Decent Block Party at Gillette Stadium and the hip-hop Real Street festival at Anaheim’s Honda Center. The inaugural Miami Beach Pop Festival just announced its lineup for Veteran’s Day weekend with veteran promoters Paul Peck and Jim Tobin; and a new Tennessee rock festival Exit 111, from AC Entertainment and C3 Presents, is set for October on the Bonnaroo grounds with Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Slayer, selling well. Also just announced was an eye-popping hip-hop fest by Goldenvoice, with “Day N Vegas” set for Nov. 1-3 topped by J. Cole, Travis Scott, Kendrick Lamar with a second line that could headline many fests. 
This came as Barcelona’s acclaimed Primavera Sound announced it’s coming to Los Angeles in 2020 and C3 is debuting a music and gaming fest with Metarama set for Las Vegas. 
On the other side was a cautionary tale that grabbed much of the festival headlines in Woodstock 50, which is theoretically set for mid-August but heavily imperiled after financial backer (Dentsu), two production companies (Superfly and then CID) and its original venue (Watkins Glen Raceway) backed out. 
A lawsuit between Woodstock 50 and Dentsu brought mixed rulings but as of yet no confirmed venue or onsale date. With some seven weeks left, chances of the fest happening are dimming, despite a strong lineup 
(facilitated with assistance from Danny Wimmer Presents) and a storied brand that lives in the hearts of many. 
Much like The Rolling Stones who, in what seems a miracle of modern medicine and the modern concert business, endured legendary frontman Mick Jagger, at 75 years young, undergoing heart valve replacement surgery at the end of March, and the postponement of its 17-date U.S. and Canada “No Filter” tour, and two and a half months later on June 21 kicked off its tour at Chicago’s Soldier Field before 61,500. As Concerts West’s John Meglen told Pollstar at the time, “There is the old adage: ‘If everybody starts freaking out, do the right thing and things have a way of working out.’”   
As this issue was being put to bed, news broke out across the pond that AEG and MSG, which resolved their year-long block booking squabble last September, were apparently back at it.  In the first half of 2019, it seems just business as usual and again speaks to the robust, hyper-competitive and ever-evolving market we work in—and the second half promises to be just as wild.