People Movers: The Top Draws Of The Decade

Ed Sheeran and Beyonce
Kevin Winter / WireImage
– Ed Sheeran and Beyonce

In determining the most viable box office success stories during the second decade of the 21st century, we look at more than just one metric to portray the key players of the live experience. Although the amount of money earned on the concert stage may be the primary source for determining an artist’s overall impact – as it is in this issue’s celebration of U2 as the Artist of the Decade based on gross sales – the total number of tickets sold is likewise a barometer of touring success.

For U2, securing a spot at the top of any list tracking box office excellence is standard fare for the Irish rockers – whether rankings are determined by cash in the till or butts in seats.
Indeed, during the past decade, the band has been an industry leader as the second-highest mover of tickets in Pollstar’s Boxoffice database with a global sold ticket count measured at 9,300,500. Only Ed Sheeran sold more with a ticket count of 11,329,573 from his first three headlining tours – the debut “+” (Plus) tour that played theaters in 2011-2013, the “x” (Multiply) tour that took him to arena status in 2014-15 and, finally, his record-setting “÷” (Divide) stadium tour (2017-19) that set the all-time record in gross sales this past August. 
During a two-and-a-half-year span, the “Divide” trek amassed a sold ticket count topping 8.8 million – 78% of his overall attendance during the decade.
Although Sheeran holds the all-time gross record now, U2 claimed that title during eight of the past 10 years with its “360” tour (2009-11) that sold over 7.2 million tickets. 58% of the group’s overall tickets sold during the decade came from that trek alone. Also contributing were the counts from the band’s “Innocence + Experience” tour (2015), “Experience + Innocence” tour (2018) and two runs of “The Joshua Tree” 30th anniversary tour – first in 2017 with a five-and-a-half month trek through North America, Europe and Latin America and again this year with a five-week stretch of dates in Oceania and Asia.
Taylor Swift joins U2 as the only other artist in the 9-million-plus group, sporting an overall ticket tally of 9,014,173 during the decade time frame. She reached that number based on sales from all five of her headlining tours beginning with “Fearless” that ran from 2009 through 2010 (55% of that tour’s sold tickets fall in the decade time period). The “Speak Now” world tour (2011-12) was next, followed by ”Red” (2013-2014), her final jaunt as a primarily country headliner. She stepped up her game with “1989” (2015), including more stadium dates on the schedule than on previous tours, and then 2018’s “Reputation” tour with 2.8 million sold seats established her as a bona fide stadium headliner.
Looking further down the list of the Top 20 touring artists based purely on ticket sales rather than gross as depicted on this week’s Artists of The Decade feature, all of them registered more than 5 million sold tickets during the 10-year time span. Aside from U2, the rock genre is well represented with nine more acts among the top 20, namely Bon Jovi, Coldplay, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Metallica, Roger Waters, Guns N’ Roses, Paul McCartney, Elton John and Trans-Siberian Orchestra. 
In addition to Sheeran and Swift, pop acts topping the 5 million-ticket mark number four – One Direction, Justin Bieber, Pink and Bruno Mars. Luke Bryan and Kenny Chesney are the top country artists based on tickets sold during the decade – both with more than 7 million sold seats. Beyoncé is the sole R&B representative with 7.5 million, while Jay-Z holds the hip-hop banner with 5.7 million.
Along with the gross and ticket counts, many other variables can impact a tour’s success quotient and set it apart from the crowd. Perhaps one of the most dramatic contrasts between tours are the differences in ticket pricing. 
The Rolling Stones generated the highest average ticket price among the top tours of the decade with an impressive $186.49 per person, according to the Pollstar Boxoffice archives. The legendary band is one of 18 headliners with an average ticket price of $100 or more in these 10-year tallies. Glancing just at the Top 10, Celine Dion follows the Stones with the second highest average of $161.91 per ticket. Rounding out the list are Madonna with a $147.55 average, the Eagles at $144.45, McCartney with $137.92, Fleetwood Mac at $126.99, Elton John – $124.46, Justin Timberlake – $121.22, Billy Joel – $114.07 and Beyoncé with $113.55.