2019 Business Analysis: The State of the Concert Business Is ‘F**kin’ Perfect’

Pink and Ed Sheeran had two of the top grossing tours of 2019.
– Pink and Ed Sheeran had two of the top grossing tours of 2019.

It was just this past September that Pollstar was putting together its third quarter business analysis and attributing a $75 million decline in year-over-year gross revenues to a phenomenon we termed “The Ed Sheeran Factor.” This was shorthand for the lasting impact of the lodestar that was Sheeran’s record-setting “Divide Tour” and the effect it has had on the concert industry. Over nearly two-and-a-half years, from March 2017 to August 2019, Team Sheeran, led by manager Stuart Camp, set the all-time touring record with a massive $775.6 million gross. However, Sheeran’s annual gross dropped a precipitous 51% from 2018 to 2019, going from an all-time-year-high of $432.4 million to $211.7 million.

Mind you, even with that steep of a drop, Sheeran’s “Divide” juggernaut was still good enough for No. 3 on this year’s 2019 Worldwide Tours (see chart here) and only $3.5 million less than Pink’s top tour of the year honors. By Q3, 2019’s Pollstar Boxoffice Top 100 Worldwide tours grossed $3.96 billion as compared to 2018’s $4.03 billion—roughly 1.8% lower (the aforementioned $75 million differential) than the same period a year earlier. Fast forward three months to 2019’s Year End and the Top 100 Worldwide gross not only grew to $5.55 billion but in the homestretch it surpassed 2018’s total ($5.51 billion) by .7%. Which begs the question, what the heck happened? 

READ MORE: F**kin’ Perfect: Pink Is 2019’s Artist of The Year

Part of that growth can be attributed to Pollstar getting more reports than ever before both for both international and North American dates (thank you Pollstar Boxoffice team: Brad Rogers, Bob Allen, Chad Ivie, Arien Fisher and Mike Oberg). Part of that increase in data is a reflection of the rapid proliferation of venues across the globe as more and more markets open that can accommodate top notch talent, as well Pollstar’s continued outreach to the industry near and far to encourage reporting and making it as seamless and easy as possible (see reporting guidelines here). 

2019’s Top 100 Worldwide Tours is also more evenly distributed than 2018, which was especially top heavy with massive treks sitting up top. Last year, in addition to Sheeran’s ungodly haul, Taylor Swift brought in $345 million and the Jay-Z/Beyoncé co-bill grossed $254 million, both of which would have topped this year’s chart and most other years. It should be noted that Pink, who topped this year’s Worldwide Touring Chart, also had the fourth highest tour gross last year with $169.2 million. 

The Top Ten of the 2019 Worldwide Tours Chart grossed 20% less than the Top Ten tours of 2018, which had a whopping $2.06 billion gross – the first time the Top Ten grosses crossed the $2 billion threshold – compared to 2019’s $1.65 billion. But by the eleventh through the twentieth rankings, 2019 surpassed 2018’s total gross by 7.1% with $924.6 million as compared to $859.1 million. And for the third decile, 2019’s total gross for 21-30 tour increased to 13.8% ($732.8 million for 2019 verses 2018’s 631.4 million); rising to 17.9% by the fourth decile ($554.2 million compared to $455.3 million); and by the fifth segment, spots 41-50, the increase was 19.6% ($444.1 million compared to $356.9 million). All this data indicates that, beyond the Top 10, most of 2019’s boats floated higher with larger grosses.  

There is but one word to sum up the larger five-year industry trend in the Top 100 Worldwide Grosses that artists, managers, promoters and agents alike can rejoice in: Growth. From 2015 to 2019 the Top 100 grosses jumped a massive 41% from $3.93 billion to $5.55 billion, boosted in part by substantially higher average grosses per show. The average gross rose an even higher 49% from $861,887 per show in 2015 to $1.29 million to 2019. Which makes sense as average attendance per show grew 22% from 11,007 tickets per show to 13,397. Both factors undergird the substantial rise in the total higher gross.

Ticket sales in that time, however, only rose 14.9% from 50.2 million tickets in 2015 to 57.7 million tickets five years later. The significantly higher total gross and the less dramatic increase in tickets sold, can mean only one thing: higher ticket prices.

Indeed, between 2015 and 2019 average ticket prices for the Top 100 Worldwide Tours increased nearly 23% from $78.30 to $96.17. Which doesn’t mean there wasn’t a dynamic range in pricing with average ticket pricings going from $38.44 for Train and the Goo Goo Dolls (No. 84) to a high of $288.07 for Lady Gaga, whose “Enigma” and “Jazz & Piano” residencies at the 5,200-capacity Las Vegas’ Park Theatre at Park MGM was an underplay. 

The growth in the North American concert market over that same five-year period, while not quite as steep as worldwide’s 41% rise, saw a 35% increase from $2.75 billion in 2015 to $3.72 billion in 2019. Average grosses similarly increased less than worldwide’s 49% increase, but who’s going to complain about a 38% domestic rise from $692,311 to $958,726?
Much like the global market, North American tickets sold (a.k.a. attendance, a.k.a. butts in seats) increased a relatively paltry 5% from 37.3 million to 39.2 million. 
Average tickets per show increased 8%; in 2015 the average attendance per show was 9,374 growing to 10,111 in 2019. The 2019 North American market’s five-year trend also showed significant revenue growth, similar to worldwide, but the lower increase in tickets sold can again mean only one thing: higher ticket prices. 

Indeed, 2015’s average ticket price for North America concerts was $73.86 which increased 28.4% over the five years to $94.83. North America’s highest and lowest priced tickets were the same as worldwide with Gaga and Train/Goo Goo Dolls.

With the final 2019 numbers in, a look at the larger market trends over the last decade (see chart below) offers further insight elucidating the growth trend currently underway. 
Indeed, the growth between 2010 and 2019 was even more precipitous than the five-year window. According to Pollstar Boxoffice reports, the average gross per show on Pollstar’s Top 100 Worldwide Tours chart between 2010 and 2019 was up a gargantuan 91.1% from roughly $674,000 to an estimated $1.29 million – that’s almost double. 

Total gross was up 72.1% from $3.22 billion to some $5.55 billion while average tickets sold per show were up 39.8% from 9,585 to 13,397 and average ticket price grew 36.7% from $70.33 to $96.17.  

Perhaps the best way to sum up our industry’s phenomenal growth for this year, the past five years and for the decade would be to reference a song title by this year’s Artist of the Year, Pink. 

Her “Beautiful Trauma Tour” topped 2019’s Worldwide Tour Chart with $215.2 million dollars and she’s No. 16 on our Decade Chart, grossing a massive $626 million. As an artist who doesn’t mince words, she might say the many successes of this business are “F**kin’ Perfect.”

Click here to see a PDF of the 2019 Business Analysis, complete with charts.