How Bon Jovi Conquered The World: ‘The Man, The Voice, The Songs’

David Bergman for Bon Jovi

GOODNIGHT NEW YORK: Bon Jovi, with lineup Phil X, Hugh McDonald, David Bryan, Jon Bon Jovi, Tico Torres, John Shanks and Everett Bradley, celebrates two sold-out performances at New York City’s Madison Square Garden April 14-15, 2017.

A small boat, even a Thames Clipper, chugging up the River Thames in London isn’t unusual enough to draw large crowds to the docks on any given day but, on June 24, 2007, such a boat pulled up to a jetty adjacent to the barely-completed O2 arena and unloaded passengers from New Jersey who had the entire city’s attention.

Bon Jovi made a splashing entrance at The O2 that day, and provided the electricity for the sellout crowd as the new arena opened its doors for the first time, selling 17,200 tickets for a gross of £1.3 million ($2.4 million) with ticket prices ranging from £50-£100.  Three years later almost to the day, on June 10, 2010, Bon Jovi returned to launch a 12-night, sold-out residency with an outdoor concert from the rooftop of the O2’s now-iconic dome. 

This time, the 21,000-capacity O2 was not only the biggest-selling arena in the world but Bon Jovi was the biggest-selling band of the calendar year, ending with 1.9 million tickets sold. The residency surely helped secure that lofty position with more than 187,000 fans ponying up £12.6 million ($18.3 million). Worth noting: the lowest-priced ticket was actually half that of the show three years prior at £25. 

The story of Bon Jovi and The O2 can be considered a case study of the band and its charismatic leader, Jon Bon Jovi. He may be better known for his 1,000-watt smile and addictive rock anthems than for his business acumen, but the savvy of Bon Jovi’s “CEO” is borne out by the longevity of his band’s continued massive successes.

Bon Jovi O2
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Up On The Roof: Jon Bon Jovi, still in safety harness, on the roof of The O2 arena in London to perform an outdoor show and kick off a 12-night residency at the world’s biggest selling venue. By the end of the calendar year, Bon Jovi would be the world’s biggest-selling band.

“Well, if you consider numbers, we’re as big or bigger than ever. You see how they come back again and trust in the change in lineup and the musical direction in as much as I’m not trying to rewrite ‘You Give Love a Bad Name,’” says Bon Jovi, discussing the runaway success of his latest “This House Is Not For Sale” tour which wrapped in October. “I think that speaks to me as the leader and primary songwriter, that they trust me as an audience. 

“And that’s a leap of faith for them to take, because they bought into a certain thing that they may have grown up in or grown up with. They have to then trust me, and if it wasn’t worth their time and money, they would move on and keep the memories wherever music fans store them.”

That trust is something Bon Jovi has engendered for many decades. Rob Hallett, who was promoting Bon Jovi along with many other European tours for AEG Live (now AEG Presents) at the time and now works for Live Nation Touring, considers the O2 concerts pivotal and metaphorical as both the venue and band were starting the decade at the top of their respective games, and have only become bigger.

“The Bon Jovi single at the time was ‘(You Want To) Make A Memory’ and the whole thing was to make a memory opening the O2,” Hallett tells Pollstar. “They came up the river in a boat and landed at a jetty, walked into the O2 and that gig is how it all started. Jon came back three years later because he loved the venue and did the 12 nights, which we launched with the stunt on top of the roof. One of the world’s most iconic artists on the roof of the world’s most iconic buildings.”

There’s more to unpack from this tale of two tour stops than meets the eye. If anything, Bon Jovi is more successful almost a decade after his O2 residency than ever. He had his single highest-grossing night just last December, grossing $9.1 million at Melbourne, Australia’s Cricket Grounds, in front of more than 60,000 fans. 

One can count on one hand the number of rock bands that broke out in the 1980s that are not only still successfully touring today, but doing so with fresh, new music that retains the authenticity that is at the heart of the best in rock ‘n’ roll.

Bon Jovi is one of them, having just wrapped up its “This House Is Not For Sale Tour” and ending the decade at No. 5 on Pollstar’s Top Touring Artists of the Decade chart with more than 8.78 million tickets sold and $868,715,392 grossed over five tours in 10 years. 

With a current lineup of Jon, Tico Torres, John Shanks, Everett Bradley, Phil X, Hugh McDonald and David Bryan, Bon Jovi survived the 2013 departure of former guitar slinger Richie Sambora. Other changes were made around the middle of the decade, too, which is all part of the band’s evolution. 

“This isn’t a band that is dependent on the guitar player like Van Halen or U2 or something, it was about the songs and it was about me,” Jon Bon Jovi tells Pollstar of its current incarnation and the departure of Sambora. “We got it. I wish he was here, too, because we were a formidable duo. Our voices were the magic and he’s a great guy and all that kind of stuff, but his choices have led him astray.” 

But Jon Bon Jovi is not one to let anything get in the way of his band. Until recently, he was more or less self-managing, overseeing production costs and ticket prices to make sure he was properly monetizing his band’s business but also looking out for fans. 

In recent years, he’s added Full Stop Management and co-founder of Oak View Group (Pollstar parent company) Irving Azoff to his team. “The difference is having been lucky enough to get Irving Azoff to say to me, ‘I’ve got one more in me,’” Bon Jovi tells Pollstar

“Having him as my manager has been one of the great blessings of my career. Knowing that he’s looking out for all of his artists at all times, knowing that he’s personally managing my life, has been a great blessing,” Bon Jovi says.

His latest “This House Is Not For Sale Tour,” which wrapped in October, is the band’s first promoted by Live Nation. And he test drove a new tour strategy that spread 100 shows over three years instead of into one. He wrote and recorded a new album, 2020, which doesn’t yet have a release date. A tour, quarterbacked by Live Nation’s Bob Roux domestically and Denis Desmond in the UK and Europe, is expected to be announced.

David Bergman For Pollstar

The small circle of friends and colleagues who have heard 2020 say it’s some of Bon Jovi’s best work – which is high praise indeed coming on the heels of This House Is Not For Sale, which garnered similar accolades when it was released in 2016.

“Jon’s new music is some of the best work he’s ever done and has a timeless quality about that makes this new album so special,” Azoff says.

Bon Jovi’s team at this juncture in his career is an all-star cast of music execs that includes Azoff, Roux, Desmond, CAA’s Head of Music Rob Light and agent Chris Dalston, and Island Records President Darcus Beese and COO Eric Wong. 

“When you have a career that lasts that long, people want to point to the people who are around it. It all starts with the artists,” Light tells Pollstar. “Jon and that band were exceptional and have always, and continue to, write amazing songs.”

Live Nation President and CEO Michael Rapino was well aware of Bon Jovi’s successes even before he came over to Live Nation.  “Jon’s three-decade career in this business didn’t happen by accident. I’m continually in awe of his work ethic and passion. But the real secret to his longevity are the songs.”

Dalston entered the Bon Jovi orbit as the band’s international agent more than 20 years ago. He says Jon Bon Jovi has been instrumental in opening up global markets, seeing the opportunity to win new fans and spread the gospel of rock ‘n’ roll where it was nearly unheard before.

“Jon listens to music and knows trends and genres as well as anyone,” Dalston tells Pollstar. “He is very competitive. This is his career and he wants it to last as long as possible. Many young bands can learn a lot about work ethic from watching Jon.”

Bon Jovi has been a fixture on Pollstar’s Boxoffice charts since the breakout success of 1987’s Slippery When Wet. By the time the “New Jersey Syndicate Tour” in support of New Jersey wrapped, the band’s numbers rose exponentially as it sold more than 1.76 million tickets in 1989, according to Pollstar Boxoffice reports. Not every tour outperformed the one before but, as the music industry was about to go through a convulsive phase with the advent of file-sharing and digital music, Bon Jovi saw an opportunity. 

By the end of the century, the tour successes of the mid- to late-’90s had begun to flatten out and it must have seemed like a good time to rattle the cage, because Bon Jovi became the second artist – Prince famously being the first – to embrace the practice of bundling recorded music with live performances. 

On 2002-03’s “Bounce Tour,” each concert ticketbuyer received a physical copy of the Bounce CD. Jon was closely involved in developing the marketing strategy.

David Bergman for Bon Jovi

STRIKE A POSE: Bon Jovi performs at The Forum in Los Angeles on the “This House is Not For Sale” tour on March 8, 2017 during the first leg of a three-year, 96-show outing.

“It was risky,” former AEG Live President Randy Phillips says of the gambit, “because it was so early in the idea of bundling and tickets for touring. It was so early in the merging of recorded music and live performance, so yeah, nobody knew how that would be received.”

But the bet paid off. The “Bounce Tour” was Bon Jovi’s third most successful to that point, moving 626K tickets and grossing a whopping $35.1 million in 2003 dollars. The tour finished the year at No. 14 in Pollstar’s Top 50 Tours and Promoters chart. 

Bon Jovi
Denis O’Regan

IT’S MY LIFE: Jon Bon Jovi remains at the top of his game, leading manager Irving Azoff to say of the charismatic Bon Jovi frontman: “I’ve never seen an artist with the staying power of Jon Bon Jovi.”

“Jon was very much involved in the pricing and the execution,” Phillips says. “One of the biggest considerations, especially for the Billboard [record] charts at the time, was to figure out what we were going to charge, how much of the ticket was actually going to be allocated for the CD, and whether the consumer was going to be able to have the opportunity to opt out. That was very critical in those negotiations,just to deal with chart position.”

The practice of bundling music and concert tickets continues to this day and it’s a marketing strategy that’s been perfected by Team Bon Jovi and helped This House Is Not For Sale top the record charts twice, nearly a year apart. 

Bon Jovi is also a splendid illustration of how a phenomenal live show keeps cash registers ringing when record sales slow – and during the aughts, file-sharing and the beginnings of streaming were taking their tolls.

Bon Jovi remained good business for Universal Music Group – spread among its Polygram, Mercury and now Island labels – as that business evolved.

“I have known and worked with Jon for over 30 years.  He is exceptionally talented in so many ways – as a songwriter, musician, vocalist and actor,” UMG Chairman and CEO Sir Lucian Grainge testifies.  “His authenticity as an artist comes out in his willingness to drive positive change on so many important issues. I’m proud that we continue to be in business together as well as friends after so many years.”
Island Records President Darcus Beese is a relative newcomer to Team Bon Jovi, but is well aware of the band’s live legacy.

“Fans around the world have considered Bon Jovi’s records and live shows to be at the very top of the rock pantheon for more than three decades,” Beese tells Pollstar.  “When I first met with Jon it was crystal clear his artistry and energy is unmatched.”

Despite the disruption the digital age wrought, for the next decade the Bon Jovi juggernaut continued. 

In 2006, Bon Jovi reported calendar year sales of 1.46 million tickets and ended the year at No. 2 in tickets sold behind The Rolling Stones; in 2008, the band sold 1.82 million tickets and finished again at No. 2 on the calendar year, this time behind Madonna. 

Then came the watershed 2010 “The Circle Tour,” in which the bridesmaid streak was smashed, which happened again in 2013, with Bon Jovi at No. 1 with 2.6 million tickets reported sold. “We did four tours together,” Phillips says. “And grossed [over a billion dollars] over those four tours.”

That a London venue would serve as something of a zenith to mark Bon Jovi’s entry into a new decade shouldn’t be surprising. 

Jon was one of the first North American rockers to recognize the emerging international markets of Europe, Asia, Australia and beyond, developing a global fan base through relentless touring.

Hallett looked over his records while talking to Pollstar and realized that he’s promoted seven tours for two different promoters across the U.K. and Europe with Bon Jovi since 2006. “Good God,” he said, laughing. “How did that happen?” 

What happened was development of a touring strategy following a rule of threes: One-third of each tour is booked in North America, and two-thirds of Bon Jovi’s touring is abroad. The band would visit the UK and Europe, as well as Asia, Oceania and Latin America, like clockwork, every two to three years. For the “This House Is Not For Sale Tour,” Bon Jovi decided to add another rule of three: spread the tour over three years.

“I do remember the beginning of the conversation and, it must have been in 2014, telling Tico my thought processes,” Bon Jovi tells Pollstar. “That instead of doing 100-show tours and then you’re tired into Year Two, and then in Year Three you write and record a record and start the cycle again, why not do the same 100 shows over the course of the same three years. Everything is much more civilized, and therefore you could be writing and recording simultaneously, never missing out on the home stuff, if we scheduled it properly,” Bon Jovi explains. 

“So then you could go out every year and not wear out your touring markets, because every third year, that market would be ready for you again.”

Paul Korzilius has been one of Bon Jovi’s key team members since 1987 and the “Slippery When Wet Tour,” either as a manager, a tour director, friend, and often all three. He’s seen Jon, the band, the music and the live industry evolve coming on four decades.

“Bon Jovi’s always worked on a worldwide business,” Korzilius says. “Doc McGhee, their first manager, believed in international touring. Jon came to believe in international touring, too. He knew he had to go do all those shows and now everybody in the touring business understands that you just have to go there to start your fan base. You go every place you possibly can go because when you show up, that’s when you make your connections with the fans. That’s when it becomes real – when they purchase the ticket, when they walk in to the show, they see the show, that’s the connection and it’s real,” Korzilius says.

 “Jon was really one of the first artists to realize it is a worldwide market, long before other bands began doing this many shows internationally. It’s part of why he’s a worldwide phenomenon,” Light adds.

Bon Jovi has toured the UK, Europe and Japan on a regular basis since early in its career. Latin America was added to the global itinerary in 2010 including stops in Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Peru as well as Mexico. By mid-decade, Australia and New Zealand visits were expanded to include Oceania states like Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Former Eastern Bloc countries like Estonia (42,403 tickets in June) and Russia (35,419 in May) itself – nations Jon Bon Jovi could only have dreamed of playing when his career began – did sellout business in 2019. 

“International and domestic touring have grown considerably and you are, especially today, in a situation where there’s a certain level or standard of professionalism that is prevalent in the industry that is pretty high,” Korzilius says. 

David Bergman

SPRECHEN SIE DEUTSCH: Bon Jovi proves again that music is the international language as the band performs to a packed Olympic Stadium during Open Air 2011 in Munich on June 12, 2011.

“There’s still places in the world that are emerging markets, and some that are growing markets, and the industry as a whole is doing a better job of producing and making it possible to produce first class shows on a worldwide basis.”

This observation also points to the fact that new arena and stadium construction has virtually replaced the loose network that existed when Bon Jovi began touring. With new buildings expanding markets and creating more opportunities to perform, production technology and other amenities facilitate more entertaining shows. And Jon Bon Jovi, ever watchful of trends in the business, has kept up with – and often led – the new paradigm.

“Jon surrounds himself with the best of the best and that’s been on display with the production team constantly finding new ways and new designs to keep the stage shows fresh and exciting,” Azoff says. 

Bon Jovi Japan
Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images

ITS’ A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL: Jon Bon Jovi and then-manager Doc McGhee recognized the importance of a global market early on. Here, Bon Jovi performs at Nakano Sun Plaza in Tokyo, April 20, 1985.

“The video and lighting is second to none, and the team developed unique camera angles for shots from behind the band looking out to the audience that fire up the crowd and made them part of the show like never before. The fans never know what to expect but they know they will get one of the best shows of their life.” 

Korzilius adds Jon’s attention to details elevates the band with its already formidable bedrock. “You have to fine-tune your tour based on your last tour, knowledge-wise,” he says. “You take advantage of production elements that make touring more efficient. 

“Two trucks, LED and moving lights that, in the early days, weren’t even a line item on the budget. Now it’s a substantial line item, depending on whether a show is indoors or outdoors. It’s very important to keep an eye on every line item and every expense and it’s a balance between providing a great show.” 

Korzilius explains that, on the “This House Is Not For Sale Tour,” the design mantra was “the man, the voice, the songs” and the production was based on those elements. 

“Our job in production, or anywhere, is to deliver a platform on which the artist can do their job. 

“Live video, logistics, and so on are designed for the start of the show,” Korzilius continues. “So, if the show is at 8:45 p.m. on a Thursday, the entire previous 24 hours have been designed to make sure the artist arrives and gets on that stage and sees and feels familiarity so they can do their jobs.”

Stage production is but a part of the function of the venue and the artist’s role in it, however. Tim Leiweke, CEO of Pollstar parent company Oak View Group, has known Jon Bon Jovi for decades and, during his time as CEO/President of AEG, produced and promoted hundreds of shows for the man he considers a close friend as well as business partner. 

He no longer promotes concerts but, with a company focused on being a positive disruption in the sports and live entertainment industry while developing and managing high-quality venues, he is again in position to help Bon Jovi continue to grow his career with OVG and its Arena Alliance – and he says Bon Jovi helps him, as well.

“He gets new arenas,” Leiweke says. “He could probably go out and develop arenas better than I can now. Interestingly enough, Jon’s opened most of the arenas and/or stadiums that I’ve built or been a part of. 

“Whether it was for The O2 in London, what he did for us [at then-AEG Live] when the Prudential Center opened [a 10-show residency in 2007 that sold 138,322 tickets and grossed more than $16.6 million], he’s been remarkable at understanding these buildings.” 

In conversation with those who work with Jon Bon Jovi most closely, to a person they all say that he’s motivated and single-minded about his business as the band’s “CEO,” a gifted artist, and a supremely decent human being as well.

“Jon has not been defined by touring or the band,” Leiweke says of Bon Jovi and his life outside of the band. “Jon’s defined by the Soul Kitchens, and Jon’s defined by his marriage, and by his family and by his friends, and by giving back to those in need. It’s one of the things I respect most about him.”

Island Records’ Wong notes that Bon Jovi’s recent “Unbroken” single release “to help out veterans living with PTSD and spotlight the good work being done by the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation is just another example of Bon Jovi’s spirit of dedication.”

JBJ Soul Kitchen is a community restaurant serving in-need customers he and his wife, Dorothea, founded. “He’d rather talk about that than about the next tour,” Leiweke adds.

“He’s an extremely balanced human being and I think that’s why so many people in the industry respect him, because they know that at the end of the day, he has his priorities right and he builds his tours around those priorities,” Leiweke says. All these attributes make for a Rock And Roll Hall of Fame caliber career, and Bon Jovi – joined by Sambora – was inducted in 2018. 

“Witnessing Bon Jovi’s induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2018 was one of the proudest moments of my career,” Wong says. “It’s been an honor to work closely with Jon and the band over the years.” 

David Bergman For Bon Jovi

INDY ROCK: Stage production and lighting design for Bon Jovi’s “This House Is Not For Sale” tour was all about “the man, the voice, the songs” as shown March 22, 2017 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

CAA’s Light says the last 33 years he’s been booking shows for the band have been a pleasure for him, as well, saying, “One overarching theme from my point of view: He is incredible to work for and he’s an incredible partner.

“His passion for what he does seeps into everything, and you feel it. You want to work hard for artists like that who just bring 100% every day. I could sit in the audience and watch every show he does, start to finish, because there’s always something special about what he’s trying to do and convey. 

“To be able to do that over four decades and still have No. 1 albums and hits is unprecedented. He’s a special artist and it’s a really special band. I’m honored to work for him.”

Back in London, Hallett looks forward to the new Bon Jovi album and whatever comes next. 

“One of the compliments I can pay to Bon Jovi is that the majority of the set is the music that he’s recorded in the last 10 years. Most acts with their pedigree, you go to a show and the majority of the set is from last century. Whereas with Bon Jovi, the set is not only this century but this decade, which I think is unique amongst his peers.

“The new single is one of the best things he’s ever done,” Hallett says. “The new album is amazing and the new single from that album is amazing. He’s truly an artist. He defies aging, he defies trends, defies fashion. He’s Bon Jovi and will continue as long as he wants to.” 

Bon Jovi
Denis O’Regan for Bon Jovi

BROTHERS IN ARMS: Bon Jovi enters its fifth decade in 2020 with a new album, tour, and the distinction of being one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most innovative and consistently high performers in history.