2020 Business Analysis: What Might Have Been Vs. What Was

credit: J Faatz
– Billy Strings Drive-In

In the first quarterly analysis of 2020, Boxoffice tallies hinted at what might have been a trailblazing year in concert touring and live entertainment. Overall gross and sold tickets among the Top 100 tours showed a healthy bump of 10.9% compared to 2019’s Q1, while ticket sales rose 4.6% over the previous year.

At the end of 2020, totals reported this year for events that occurred during Q1 show an even higher percentage of growth based on averages per show among the Top 100 tours. First-quarter events averaged $510,895 per show, a 12% jump over 2019’s $449,749 average. Also, the average ticket count per show was 10% higher – 5,818 for Q1 in 2020 and 5,244 for the same period last year.

2020 Year End Charts

Using the first quarter’s growth percentages for the Top 100 tours, we estimated in the Q1 analysis in March that grosses potentially could have reached about $6 billion if the global pandemic had not occurred, triggering the shutdown of live performing. And, estimating revenue from all concert activity worldwide – the Top 100 and beyond – 2020 might have produced the first $12 billion year in Boxoffice earnings.

But that was not to be. With the majority  of 2020’s live entertainment cancelled or postponed because of COVID-19, Boxoffice revenue for the Top 100 tours ultimately totaled $1.2 billion this year, a 78% plummet in worldwide grosses compared to 2019’s $5.5 billion.
The overall ticket count of 13.4 million meant a similar plunge of about 77%, because 2019’s Top 100 tours moved 57.7 million tickets.
However, the percentage drops were smaller when analyzing per show averages by the Top 100. The average gross was $647,701 in 2020, 50% less than the $1,288,387 average in 2019, and this year’s average ticket count of 7,100 was 47% lower than 13,397, the 2019 average. Comparisons to 2018 show an even tighter gap. The average gross among the Top 100 tours two years ago was 44% higher, while the ticket average was 41% more than this year.


Looking at touring in North America only, the Top 100 tours grossed $818 million from 9 million tickets. The $3.7 billion gross in 2019  was 78% higher, and the ticket count of 39.2 million last year topped 2020 by 77%.

Interestingly, the calculations for the Top 100 tours show the percentage differences are only 1% higher when comparing the Top 100 to all reported Boxoffice data worldwide. The 2020 overall gross of $2.5 billion tumbled 77% in contrast to last year’s $11 billion total. The number of tickets in 2020 is 38 million, down 76% compared to the 159 million tickets sold in 2019.

The overall global Boxoffice averages this year are closer in relation to 2019 with only a 23% dive in the average gross per show: $132,363. Also, the average tickets per show in 2020 is 2,015, 18% fewer than a year prior. The average ticket prices show a 6% difference with $69.60 in 2019 and $65.70 this year.
In North America, all reported concerts and live events produced a gross of $1.7 billion in 2020, down 77% against the overall gross of $7.4 billion last year. Sold tickets numbered 25 million, while 2019 tickets totaled 108 million, also 77% more.

So, for both worldwide and North American touring, the accumulated grosses and number of tickets sold in 2020 was roughly less than one quarter of what the live business produced a year earlier prior to the impact of the coronavirus.

An annual feature of the year-end recap is the ranking of the year’s top tours, venues and promoters based on boxoffice success recorded during the Pollstar chart year. For 2020, that time frame was Nov. 21, 2019 through Nov. 18, 2020. Although there were concerts reported after the mid-March shutdown, our rankings are based almost completely on events that happened prior to the pandemic because of the stark difference between Boxoffice results before and after the shutdown.

Live shows that happened before March 15 produced a total worldwide gross of $2.5 billion with 37 million tickets purchased. After March 15 and during the remainder of the year, grosses only reached $37 million from 988,876 tickets worldwide.

Per-show averages also show a dramatic difference with a $139,365 average for gross, 2,097 average for tickets and an average ticket price of $66.45 before mid-March. Afterward, the average gross was $30,601 with a ticket average of 815. The average ticket price was $37.57.

Drive-in concerts were a remedy for social distancing and accounted for 49% of all the events that occurred after March 15. Drive-in shows logged 419 events, grossing $18 million with 434,418 attendees.

2020 Worldwide Ticket Sales

So, for this year it was solely the pre-pandemic boxoffice results that determined the ranking of top touring artists. Elton John has been the top grosser throughout the year based on $87.1 million earned on his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour from Nov. 30 through March 7. Likewise, Celine Dion’s “Courage” trek has followed in the second spot this year with a $71.2 million gross from shows through March 8. The remainder of the Top 10 are Trans-Siberian Orchestra, U2, Queen + Adam Lambert, Post Malone, Eagles, Jonas Brothers, Dead & Company and Andrea Bocelli.

Seven of those acts also land on the Top 10 North American tour ranking with Dion moving to No. 1 since John’s tour only played markets in Australia and New Zealand during the eligibility time period. U2 and Queen + Adam Lambert also only had international dates outside of North America, so joining 
the top 10 are George Strait, Aventura and Cher.

With traditional, full-capacity concert  touring absent for much of the year, Pollstar introduced a weekly ranking of streamed live shows based on the number of views during the first two days after the performance. Both the Top 100 Livestreams and Top 100 Livestreamers are new in the 2020 year-end.