2020* will forever have a huge, indelible asterisk beside it. It will serve as a stark reminder that the most challenging year our industry has ever endured was an anomaly, an aberration, a pox on our businesses, one that deviated widely from all norms and can’t end fast enough.
Congratulations to Sir Elton John, whose phenomenal “Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour” crowned Pollstar’s Year-End Top 100 Worldwide Tours with $87.1 million grossed from Nov. 30 to March 7. His multi-year trek, which was No. 2 on 2019’s tally with a $212 million gross, is shaping up into something special and will further burnish Sir Elton’s incredible legacy as it continues into 2023. And kudos, too, to the rest of the chart’s Top 10, rounded out by Celine Dion, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, U2, Queen + Adam Lambert, Post Malone, Eagles, Jonas Brothers, Dead & Company and Andrea Bocelli – but for one thing: 2020*.
In March, two-and-a-half months into the year, however, the live industry for all intents and purposes was done. 2019, by stark contrast, was an apotheosis for the industry, setting all-time records and capping off a decade worth of wildfire growth between 2010 and. 2019, which saw average grosses on the Worldwide Top 100 Tours chart jump 91.1%, average attendance per show up by 39.8% and total grosses rise by 72.1%. That momentum helped 2019’s Worldwide Chart set all-time records with the highest total gross ($5.5 billion), average gross per show ($1.3 million) and average attendance (13,397). As phenomenal as 2019 was, 2020* was going to be even better. One could even tell just by the lineups.
Sir Elton John who had 2020*’s highest grossing tour performs at Mt Smart Stadium on Feb. 16, 2020, in Auckland, New Zealand.
“Disappointingly, we had to cancel Paul McCartney’s sold-out tour, which should have ended in Glastonbury for their 50th anniversary,” Barrie Marshall, of Marshall Arts, told Pollstar for our Year-End Thought Leaders Survey. “We lost shows with Elton John, Lionel Richie, Celine Dion, Herbie Hancock, Al Di Meola and moved these concerts into 2021 or 2022.”
But that’s just one incredible promoter’s active world-class roster, there were many others who similarly never got the chance they should have in 2020*, which was shaping up to be live music’s all-time greatest year. This included (inhale): The Rolling Stones’ “No Filter Tour;” Eagles’ “Hotel California Tour;” Billie Eilish’s “Where Do We Go? World Tour;” Justin Bieber’s “Changes Tour;” Def Leppard and Mötley Crue’s “The Stadium Tour;” Kenny Chesney’s “Chillaxification Tour;” Harry Styles “Love On Tour” (with Jenny Lewis); Alanis Morrisette’s world tour (with Garbage and Liz Phair); The Weeknd’s “After Hours Tour;” Luke Combs’ “What You See Is What You Get Tour;” Green Day, Weezer and Fall Out Boy’s “Hella Mega Tour;” The Black Crowes Shake Your Money Maker anniversary tour; Dan + Shay’s “The (Arena) Tour;” BTS’ “Map of the Soul Tour;” Dead & Company’s summer tour; My Chemical Romance’s reunion tour; Kiss’ “End of the Road Tour;” Pearl Jam’s “Gigaton Tour;” Rage Against The Machine and Run The Jewels’ “Public Service Announcement Tour;” Rammstein’s North American stadium tour; Foo Fighters’ “Van Tour;” James Taylor and Jackson Browne’s tour; New Order and Pet Shop Boys’ “Unity Tour” Bob Dylan’s “Never Ending Tour;” The Black Keys’ “Let’s Rock Summer Tour;” Snoop Dogg’s “I Wanna Thank Me Tour;” Kesha’s “High Road Tour” with Big Freedia; Doja Cat’s “Hot Pink Tour;” Maluma’s “11:11 World Tour;” Phish’s summer tour; Bon Jovi’s “Bon Jovi 2020” tour; Garth Brooks’ tour; Metallica’s “WorldWired Tour;” Little Big Town’s “Nightfall Tour;” Alicia Keys’ “The World Tour;” Guns N’ Roses’ tour; Tame Impala’s “Slow Rush Tour;” Bad Bunny’s “YHLQMDLG Tour” and Sturgil Simpson and Tyler Childers’ “A Good Look’n Tour” (exhale).
There were other cancellations and postponements, including Vegas residencies (Lady Gaga, Jonas Brothers, Shania Twain, Kelly Clarkson, among others), as well as highly anticipated treks that included Thom Yorke, Bikini Kill, Thundercat, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Caribou, Vampire Weekend, Schoolboy Q, Stormzy, Angel Olsen, EarthGang and Mick Jenkins, Marshmello, Andrew Bird, Calexico and Iron & Wine, Against Me!, Shawn Colvin, Foals and Local Natives, Swans, Tegan and Sara, Shania Twain, Niall Horan and Car Seat Headrest. There was even talk of a glorious AC/DC reunion.
And let us not forget 2021’s possible Grammy sweeper, Taylor Swift, whose album folklore dominated a strange but creatively fruitful year in recorded music. She was to play European festivals and had two massive, two-date stadium festival events lined up in America for the summer: “Lover Fest West,” to have been the opening concerts at L.A.’s state-of-the-art SoFi Stadium, and “Lover Fest East,” which was set for Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.
“2020 started off great,” Messina Touring Group’s and Swift’s longtime promoter Louis Messina told Pollstar. “Then March came and then, what was that Mellencamp song? ‘When the walls came tumbling down’?”
Others had similar trajectories. “2020 started robust for Nederlander Concerts,” CEO Alex Hodges said. “However, two and a half months in, we went from over 191 concerts, and 92 special events confirmed to nothing.”
Mark Owens / MarkOwens/Photo.com –
Billie Eilish, whose tour was set to be one of the biggest of 2020, perfroming with her brother Finneas O’Connel at the kick off for the “Where Do We Go? World Tour” at Miami’s American Airlines Arena on March 9, 2020.
“The year was going to be a bumper year and then it literally all ground to a halt in March,” said CAA’s Chris Dalton. “We all became doctors and experts on something we did not understand or comprehend and we were all wrong.”
Fueling the industry’s misdiagnosis and optimism was glorious data. By all 2020* Q1 metrics, the year was set to be the greatest year in live. Pollstar’s first quarter, which ran Nov. 21-Feb. 19, was well in the books by the mid-March shutdown and reached new heights. This included a record-setting Top 100 Worldwide Tours gross, which jumped nearly 11% (10.92%) to $840 million ($839,653,875), while ticket sales grew 4.5% to 9.4 million (9,438,879).
But in the second week in March, just as business was ramping up for what promised to be the biggest touring year on record, the global pandemic pulled the rug out from under the entire live industry. “Can you print it’s been a ‘shit storm’??? OMG,” Robyn Williams, CVE Executive Director of Portland’5 Centers for the Arts said. “We prepare for a lot of things in the venue world but we never thought we’d ever see ‘zero business.’”
“Without a doubt this worldwide pandemic has been like a meteorite strike for the entire live entertainment industry,” said Peter Schwenkow of DEAG Detsche Entertainment AG. “This crisis has had an impact on every single player in the industry which makes this situation incomparable to previous crises.”
Lorne Thomson/Redferns – Laura Marling performs her new album “Song For Our Daughter” in an empty Union Chapel, June 6, in London, England.
“What was projected to be the highest grossing year in live entertainment history has resulted in 90% loss due to the pandemic,” said Henry Cárdenas, president and CEO of the Cárdenas Marketing Network. “After April we were forced to cancel/postpone more than 85 shows for the balance of the year, not to mention all the shows that were planned that were never put on sale. Most of those shows had massive media behind them resulting in losses and non-refundable expenses inclusive of artist deposits, hotel, travel production and logistics. The impact of crisis has resulted in the scaling down of operations in order to continue to keep our lights on until we can produce live events again.”
Amidst this mother of all “shit storms,” as Robyn Williams aptly put it, it was impressive to see the wide variety of innovation and pivots the pandemic inspired as traditional touring revenues evaporated, a whack-a-mole game of canceling and rescheduling ensued, the scope of the crisis grew and new approaches to public performance arose.
“Luckily, in just five months, we pivoted quickly and will end this year, presenting over 50 drive-ins,” Nederlander’s Hodges says. “As of today, we have hosted 12,000 cars, grossing over $3 million.”
Jerritt Clark / Getty Images / McDonald’s – Do Fries Go With That Shake?
Travis Scott, whose partnership with McDonald’s this year was one of the year’s most visible, surprises crew and customers at McDonald’s for the launch of the Travis Scott Meal on Sept. 8, 2020 in Downey, California.
“We paused, rerouted and began to pitch and create opportunities in branding and virtual experiences, both public and private, for our clients,” says Cara Lewis of the Cara Lewis Group. “The first opportunity we created was a partnership with Levi’s for a charity-driven livestream series featuring virtual performances by our clients Chase B, Questlove, Ravyn Lenae, THEY. and Vic Mensa. Partnerships that followed included the hugely successful Travis Scott/McDonald’s collaboration which featured an animated commercial, massive merch and charity components, and the first celebrity meal since Michael Jordan in 1992.”
Lewis mentions other initiatives including Khalid’s Levi’s campaign and virtual performance for U.S. Open x Chase Sound Check; Erykah Badu’s Verizon virtual performance; The Roots and Questlove’s many virtual performances; Ludacris’ virtual performance for a movie premiere, Common’s virtual performance for the Chicago Urban and what she says were “numerous virtual college opportunities.”
David Zedeck, co-head of music at UTA, led the agency through a number of successful pivots. “UTA leadership took very quick and essential steps to tackle the challenges that arose,” he said. “From virtual shows, to working with brands, writing books, acting, or developing podcasts, TV and film projects, our group worked with colleagues across the agency to keep our clients active.” This included “virtual events such as Post Malone’s Nirvana Tribute, Offset’s Oculus/Facebook Festival and Kaskade’s performance at the Grand Canyon,” and Marc Rebillet’s “first-ever drive-in theater tour.”
“Our electronic group worked to bring dance music to drive-ins across the country – including the first drive-in electronic festival – and our college and corporate/private group booked hundreds of virtual shows,” Zedeck said.
For some, pivots came out of furloughs, layoffs, terminations and resignations. “There are a few bright spots here and there,” said Ali Hedrick, formerly of Paradigm and Billions Corp, who co-founded the new independent agency Arrival Artists, “one being the deconsolidation of major agencies.” The new agency, whose impressive roster includes Sufjan Stevens, Khruangbin, Nubya Garcia, Car Seat Headrest, Andrew Bird, The New Pornographers and Joan Osborne, followed other new indies including TBA Agency and the MINT Talent Group.
Elsewhere, Feld, which promotes its own creative content, seemed to power through the year. “We took the eight months we were shut down to develop a strategy to relaunch ‘Monster Jam’ and ‘Disney On Ice’ in a thoughtful and responsible way,” said the company’s CEO and chairman Kenneth Feld. “As the global leaders in the live family entertainment business, we knew it was our responsibility to set new standards for our guests. In June, Supercross was the first sport to successfully complete its season and crown a new champion. Of course, the event was without fans in attendance, but in November we relaunched Monster Jam at AT&T Stadium with a 25% capacity and did over 30,000 people in two days. We are also proud to have ‘Disney On Ice’ successfully touring in the Midwest and Texas.”
Livestreaming, after a decade, improved and proved itself to be an effective platform which will certainly have greater traction in the post-pandemic market. “Livestreaming has also been very helpful,” says Best Friends management’s Danny Rukasin. “With Billie [Eilish] specifically, we found the opportunity (and great partners) to produce an incredible interactive live stream show for her that was at the standard of what she would want for herself and to make a very special experience for her fans. Without touring, no single moment this year was as effective for her to bring to life her live show and the response was incredible. It was also really helpful to bring our very valued touring team in help produce the show and keep them working.”
Mark Owens / MarkOwensPhoto.com – Echo In The Canyon:
Kaskade performs at the Grand Canyon West’s Skywalk May 14, 2020.
Some managed to expand business and find new opportunity amidst the shutdown where other saw none. “The virus has altered the live business environment which will also create some new opportunities. We’re looking for further expansion as we did this year with the John Jackson-K2 deal,” said AGI CEO Dennis Arfa who in August, under the auspices of Ron Burkle’s The Yucaipa Companies, entered into a JV with the U.K.’s K2 Agency.
But despite all the pivoting and innovation, the revenue generated paled next to the year’s losses. Based on Q1’s growth rate, Pollstar put the year’s revenues at $12.2 billion and the losses at $9.7 billion, which no amount of livestreaming or drive-ins could recoup.
“Although our drive-in model has proven successful for us,” Hodges said, “it is not financially sustainable and is just a stop-gap solution.”
Gareth Emery, at Anaheim’s City National Grove drive-in, who performed 3 sold-out nights Sept 18-20, 2020.
If one were to add the multiplier effect of each ticket, revenues generated off each ticket across the entirety of the live music industry economy, it doesn’t take much calculus to arrive at a full economic impact of greater than $30 billion. That figure includes unreported events and ancillary revenues, including ticketing, sponsorships, merch sales, concessions, transportation and more. A concert ticket, as this business understands, also represents per capita spending on merch and concessions, which was commonly estimated at $10 a head (greater if you’re Metallica, AC/DC, Travis Scott, Billie Eilish, KISS or another merch monster) but is certainly higher with pre-pandemic’s inflated prices. In addition, there’s transportation, parking, gas (another $25 -$50), restaurants and lodging (often for festivals, fairs, residencies, etc.) and other economic activity tied directly to live events.
PricewaterhouseCoopers’ study entitled Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2018-2022 projected 2020 revenues would reach more than $34 billion. “Due to persistent consumer demand for live entertainment, the Concert and Event Promotion industry in the United States is expected to thrive over the [next] five years to 2024,” the report said. “As a result of favorable macroeconomic conditions and growing consumer interest, total industry revenue is forecast to increase at an annualized rate of 1.9% to $36.6 billion over the [next] five years to 2024.”
Pollstar also considered the 147,000 live businesses listed in its industry-leading directories that generate billions in revenues. And at press time, as Congress and White House were on the cusp of finally producing a much-needed relief package; a draft offered by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell included $15 billion earmarked specifically for venues. If the aid, primarily tied to the venue segment of the live industry, is to last for three to six months, it’s not a much of leap to conclude the live industry revenues are at well over $30 billion a year. And hats off to all the industry advocacy groups, including NIVA, NITO, Save Live Events Now and others who helped elevate the importance of our beloved venues with bi-partisan support – something unfortunately all too rare in 2020*.
“I think the only apt description is… WTF?,” said NIVA board president and First Avenue Productions CEO Dayna Frank. “The silver lining is working together with independents across the country, advocating for our mutual survival. We had a lot of friends, but never really had an opportunity to collaborate before. Now, we find ourselves talking all day every day. So I would say solidarity, mutual admiration, respect and support, and advocacy of course is our strategy.”
Thankfully, as we close out this asterisk of a year, which is a nice way of putting it, we find ourselves again at an inflection point – in a year filled with inflections. This time, however, with vaccinations commencing, more accurate and rapid testing technologies, accrediting organizations, established safety protocols, political will and more, we finally seem to be turning a proverbial corner, though COVID infections and mortalities are painfully high and the loss of lives and livelihoods is beyond tragic and unfathomable.
– Floodgates Hopefully Opening
Osheaga is among a handful of festivals, including Bonnarroo, Lockn’, Outside Lands and Riot Fest, already on the books for 2021.
The question facing the live events industry now is how and when are we coming back? As we close this issue, vaccines are being rolled out and several festivals are on the books for 2021, including Bonnaroo, Outside Lands, Lockn’, Osheaga and Riot Fest stateside and Primavera internationally – some with lineups.
“That’s the billion dollar question,” says Danny Wimmer Presents’ President of Live Entertainment Joe Litvag. “We don’t consider ourselves optimists or pessimists. We are realists. We believe that the good news we’ve been handed over the last month is really encouraging, and for that we’re thankful. But we also believe that the timing of the recovery may take longer than some predict for a variety of reasons, so we are fluid with our plans.”
Flexibility will be key in this transitional period which is starting to crystallize with much of the industry looking to early summer as the starting point of sorts for comeback. “DWP’s opinion right now is that most of 2021 will be in a constant transition phase of re-opening, and that segments of the industry, particularly those that appeal to the younger demographics will gain confidence quickly and will build faster than the those that appeal to older demographics, which will take more time,” Litvag surmises. “But things will progress month by month next year, and spring 2022 we think the industry will be back and fully integrated into the new normal.”
“I have plan A and plan B and plan C for every artist I work for,” Messina says. “If I don’t start here, then I’ll start there. But I know that everyone is anxious to play their music to their fans. I just I don’t want anybody to jump the gun, to be so anxious to get out there and it’s not the right time. To me, it’s just being smart.”
Up to the minute information and data is also key to any comeback. Monitoring government and industry organizations like the Health & Safety Alliance, accreditation organizations like Global BioriskAdvisory Council Star and Well Advisory on Sports and Entertainment Venues, are pivotal to a recovery.
Marshall Arts, as Barrie Marshall explained, has dedicated one its senior staffers to working on advocacy issue and staying up to date on all information. “We have one of our key executives, Craig Stanley, dedicated to working on behalf of the Concert Promoters Association, LIVE and the Arenas, Stadia, Theatres, Health and Safety Authorities and individual personnel to raise funds for the Industry and establish how these funds can best be implemented,” he said. “It has been a sharp learning curve and has served to consolidate the interests of everyone and to raise the standards of everything we do – to serve the Artists and the public.”
Mario Tama / Getty Images – Stadium Arcadium
An aerial view cars lined up at Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium for COVID-19 testing on Nov. 30, 2020. Some expect testing sites will be transformed into vaccination centers.
For many, the answer lies in the promise of the vaccines, which are just being rolled out. “I do think that in the same breath that you see all of these people sitting in these long lines at Dodger Stadium waiting for a COVID test, if you change that and it ends up becoming a vaccine, I think you’re going to see masses of people there getting the vaccine,” says Judi Marmel, president of Levity Live. “I would say by late April, early May, you’re going to see it start affecting attendance in every kind of venue. And I think by June, it’s going to be the roaring 20s.”
Then of course, that roar could turn into a traffic jam as Hedrick and others surmise. “A challenge for everyone is going to be that once shows start up again, it likely won’t be a slow ramp up, it will be all systems go at the same time. Essentially two years of touring being crammed into one year. Promoters and agents need to be planning for this in a time when most staff are furloughed, which will be challenging.”
But this industry, as has been proven time and time again throughout this most challenging of times, is incredibly resourceful, resilient and innovative when its back is up against the wall. Robin Shaw’s Upstaging Inc., out of Chicago, turned to making and transporting face shields to hospitals shortly after the pandemic hit. Musically Fed teamed up with production guru Jake Berry, nonprofit Just A Bunch Of Roadies, and production companies like Rhino Staging to help the families of live event workers. Michael Strickland of Bandit Lites has been on forefront of advocacy for our industry in the coming days has a confirmed meeting with Sen. Mitch McConnell and will testify before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection on Dec. 15 and who told Pollstar that “in both of these meetings I will have the opportunity to speak to the needs for a broad form of economic relief for our entire industry.” These people are heroes.
And there are many other heroes in this business. We would be remiss to not mention the year’s racial turmoil during this most difficult of years which brought to light once again the scourge of racial inequality and injustice. It was, however, incredibly encouraging to see corporate America and the vast majority of the live industry commit to greater diversity and inclusivity measures. Lance “KC” Jackson and Bill Reeves’ Roadies of Color United (see guest post on page 70) which had been calling for inclusivity well before this year, got more deserved attention than ever before. And Noelle Scaggs’ Diversify Our Stages and Live Nation Urban’s Black Tour Directory were just a few of the crucially important initiatives that formed this year.
Leave it to the always articulate and wise Shawn Gee of Live Nation Urban to sum up how this industry is going to get out from under this asterisk mark of. A year “I don’t have the answer to when the live industry will be back,” Gee said. “That will be driven by science and governance, and we will follow all rules and protocols until that time presents itself. However, my answer to HOW the industry will come back is stronger than ever.”