Pollstar Projects 2020 Total Box Office Would Have Hit $12.2 Billion

Life Is Beautiful
(FilmMagic/Getty Images)

What Could Have Been: Based on Pollstar’s Q1 data, 2020 could have had a record-setting $12.2 billion in box office revenues had the year remained constant. Pictured here festivalgoers at the Life Is Beautiful Festival on Sept. 23, 2018.

Pollstar’s quarterly numbers are in and the preliminary gross revenue for the Q1 Top 100 Tours chart was up 10.9% over 2019’s record-setting year to $840 million for 2020 while ticket sales rose 4.5% to 9.4 million. Based on that growth, Pollstar can project the year’s box office would have reached $12.2 billion had Q1’s percentage growth remained constant. Pollstar can also forecast the live industry would lose up to $8.9 billion of revenue if the rest of 2020 were to remain dark – a worst-case scenario and certainly not what is expected.

In recapping concert box office activity from the first quarter of the year, Pollstar may very well be experiencing the one chance in 2020 to report anything similar to “business as usual.” The data also allows the opportunity to forecast what the industry would have earned. The pandemic arrived at a time when box office success from global concert touring was steadily on the rise, a “Live Golden Age,” with grosses and attendance figures reported to Pollstar showing unprecedented growth. Even if quarterly figures showed a slight bump here or a minor dip there, the overall trajectory has pointed upward for the past decade when counting dollars earned and butts in seats at concert venues.






See all Pollstar charts here

That trend was continuing full steam as we entered 2020, based both on anecdotal evidence – most agents, promoters and managers we spoke with were bullish on 2020 and forecasted a record-setting year – and analysis of our latest box office numbers.

Data reported from live performances during the Q1 chart eligibility period, which spanned Nov. 21 through Feb. 19, was largely unaffected by the pandemic, and in fact grew significantly year-over-year. The Top 100 Worldwide Tours chart, based on reported global ticket sales, saw increases in both number of sold tickets and total gross. At the end of Q1 2020, the gross figure amassed by the top 100 totaled $839,653,875, a significant rise of nearly 11% (10.92%) compared to what was tracked for 2019 Q1. Ticket sales also saw a rise this year, with 9.4 million (9,438,879) sold tickets reported at concerts during the first quarter – a 4.5% bump over the same three-month span last year.

Our methodology to extrapolate a “what-might-have-been” number is to use those same growth percentages to provide insight into potential 2020 box office receipts. Pollstar’s calculations show that by the end of the second quarter, a more robust touring period,ticket sales from the Top 100 Worldwide Tours, at the same percentage increase, would have reached 23 million, with gross closing in on $2.2 billion. And, stretching further into the fall, after figuring in potential activity from a busy summer season that would have likely been record-setting, third quarter analysis suggests that total tickets sold would have reached the 45 million point, with more than $4 billion grossed. Thus, estimating potential box office results from a robust year of touring in a longstanding era of growth, 2020 could have seen gross sales among the Top 100 Worldwide Tours reach $6 billion (5.97 ) from over 62 million tickets sold.

Elton John
(Mackenzie Sweetnam / WireImage).

Captain Fantastic’s Potential Year: Elton John with his 3-year “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour was an early contender for top tour of the year coming in at No. 2 on the Q1 charts and a whopping 93 shows ahead of him. Seen here performing at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena on Dec. 10, 2019.

Some of the biggest tours slated for this summer included the Rolling Stones “No Filter Tour,” which was to hit fifteen North American stadiums including Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Minneapolis’ U.S. Bank Stadium and Nashville’s Nissan Stadium. With a rough average gross of $10 million a show, that would’ve been $150 million off the top. Another big tour was Eagles’ “Hotel California Tour,” with twelve arena dates, moved to next fall. The group’s three shows at MGM Grand Garden last fall grossed a massive $18.6 million, or roughly $6.2 million a show. At that rate, the band stood to gross nearly $75 million. 

A Kelly Family Affair

Another massive tour was the double stadium bill of Def Leppard and the returning Mötley Crüe which, along with supporting acts Poison and Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, had 22 stadium dates lined up, including Inglewood’s new SoFi Stadium. And Elton John, who is amidst his three-year “Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour,” was Q1’s No. 2 artist with 31 shows totaling a whopping $67.6 million. He had 93 shows(!)  slated for the rest of the year which, when averaged out, would have brought in about $225 million – which very possibly could have been the year’s biggest haul.

Keep in mind these are only the top 100 tours, which make up the majority of live’s revenue and account for a little more than half of the reported overall grosses reported in Q1 – 50.85 % to be exact. If grosses for the entire year may have reached $6 billion, adding the many tours below the top 100 would have put the year’s estimated revenue at some $12.2 billion.

Estimating what might have been lost obviously depends on when the business rebounds. But if the rest of the year is dark – which could very likely not be the case – the potential $12.2 billion yearly estimate minus the grosses from all the shows completed before cancellations and postponements places potential losses for the remainder of the year right at $8.9 billion. Much less, about $2.3 billion, if touring is possible as early as late-May. And if quarantines continue through the summer, say, late-August, industry losses could total about $5.2 billion in just missed ticket sales alone.

While $8.9 billion in lost box office for the year is a massive, the impact of that loss on the larger economy is even great. If one were to add the multiplier effect of each ticket, what revenues are generated off each ticket and who is earning income  across the entirety of the live music industry
economy, it wouldn’t take too much calculus to arrive at a full economic impact as high as an estimated $20 billion.

A single concert ticket represents per capita spending on merch and food, which is commonly estimated at $10 a head (greater if you’re Metallica, AC/DC, Travis Scott, Billie Eilish or other merch mavens), as well as transportation, parking, gas (another $25 -$50), restaurants and lodging (often for festivals, fairs, residencies, etc).

Additionally, each tour pays or helps pay the salaries of tens, if not hundreds of thousands who work in venues, production, marketing, concessions, security, box offices, sponsorships and more. Consider: each parked bus that would have been carrying crew not only includes other passengers who would be earning a living, but every night in every city on the route, hundreds of people would have been involved in making the magic happen at venues that now sit empty.

Another significant sector incompletely tracked by Pollstar is the massive amount of live music that takes place outside the radar of Pollstar reporting. Tens of millions of dollars per year are generated from live music in the form of small venues shows, casino and gaming resort entertainment, private shows, and countless fairs, festivals, rodeos, and sporting events that employ – and pay – live entertainers and those that make the shows happen. The $10 million Sweet 16 birthday party for the daughter of the CEO of MegaCorp featuring supertar X? Not happening.

When the industry does return in 2020, fortune will favor the nimble. The complexity of a global megatour employing scores of personnel and a fleet of rolling stock makes uncertainty the enemy in a wildly divergent global economy and state of recovery. Some of these tours will sit out 2020. But tours with 10 or less crew, playing venues with capacities of 5,000 or less, with the ability to pivot to whatever market is available and price tickets at $50 or less will be positioned to take maximum advantage of fans pining for live music and eager to resume the shared experience that makes live the greatest industry in the world.