Four Decades Of Live: Charting The Industry’s Rich History

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LONDON, ENGLAND – JUNE 25: The Rolling Stones perform as American Express present BST Hyde Park at Hyde Park on June 25, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

As “The Voice of Live” during the past four decades, Pollstar has consistently documented the state of the live entertainment industry from year to year with a commitment that has never changed. Along with editorial coverage of contemporary newsmakers and the hottest stories of the day, we have also charted box-office success of the industry’s biggest players. With ticket sales figures shared by talent buyers, venues, booking agents and artist managers, our aim is to highlight live performers and properly present the box-office impact of their endeavors on concert stages around the globe.

As part of the coverage for our 40th anniversary, we have created three special charts that reflect the overall impact of box-office realities during the four decades of the Pollstar Era, beginning in 1980 through the present.

One is the All-Time Boxoffice chart that ranks the top individual live engagements that occurred during the past 40 years. Like our weekly Global Live Boxoffice chart, it ranks engagements of concert headliners at a single venue, whether it is one performance or multiple shows. We also have included music festivals in the mix as well as package tours with multiple artists on the bill.

For the All-Time Boxoffice chart, we have changed our regular procedure and ranked the concert engagements by the number of sold tickets instead of by gross. The reason for this change is that monetary values have evolved and grown considerably throughout the four-decade Pollstar Era, and the value of a concert gross in 1982 is not an apples-to-apples comparison to the gross value for a performance this year. But one ticket is still just one ticket, regardless of the year – or decade – it was sold.

Along with the All-Time Boxoffice chart, we have also created two special charts to present the Top Touring Artists of the Pollstar Era, both ranking the top 150 headlining acts during our entire history. Each listing is comprised of cumulative totals for each artist and compiled from all the thousands of box-office reports we have received since the early 1980s.

Both charts present the Top Touring Artists, but one is ranked by gross and the other by the number of tickets sold. For both, we have counted only headlining shows for each act, omitting results from any festival appearance since the festival itself is eligible to rank on the All-Time Boxoffice chart, as many of them have. We also did not include any event where the touring artist participated as a support act.

Although multiple-day music festivals are not included on the cumulative charts, we did include festival tours or package tours with multiple artists such as the “Vans Warped Tour,” “American Idol Live,” the “Honda Civic Tour” and “Ozzfest” among others.                            

Two iconic rock bands head up the rankings of Top Touring Artists. The Rolling Stones are No. 1 on the chart ranked by gross and U2 tops the ranking by ticket sales. While there are 15 headlining acts that have surpassed the $1 billion threshold in grosses during the past four decades, these two bands are the only ones to pass the $2 billion point.

The Rolling Stones have an astounding $2.165 billion gross from 22.14 million sold tickets since the early ‘80s. Out of almost 50 tours during the band’s longstanding career, the 14 most recent ones fall during the Pollstar Era, beginning with their “American” tour that launched in the fall of 1981. Their first appearance in the archives was two shows, Sept. 25-26, 1981, at the now-demolished John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. Crowds at the venue totaled 181,564 over both nights for a $2.8 million gross (now valued at about $9.3 million).

U2’s first show recorded in the archives was a performance for 1,440 patrons at Warfield Theatre in San Francisco on Nov. 29, 1981, during the band’s “October” tour supporting their second studio album. It was the fourth headlining trek in the group’s touring history and ran for about one year, wrapping in August 1982. Since then, ticket sales on 13 more tours have propelled the group to No. 1 during the Pollstar Era with an overall sold-ticket total of 26,178,043. They head up a list of four acts with ticket tallies topping 20 million: Dave Matthews Band (23.28 million), The Stones (22.14 million) and Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band (20.85 million). And, as one of just two touring artists with grosses over $2 billion, U2’s overall four-decade gross of $2.128 billion lands at No. 2 behind The Rolling Stones.

Grabbing the spotlight on the All-Time Boxoffice chart is Take That, the English group that wowed the live entertainment world in 2011 when they smashed all-time gross and attendance records with an eight-show concert run at London’s Wembley Stadium. The total number of tickets sold reached 623,737 – a record attendance that still stands after 11 years and lands the group at No. 1 on the All-Time chart. With a $62.8 million gross, it also holds the record as the highest gross for a single headliner at a multiple-show engagement.

2010-11 marked a reunion period for the five-member band as former member Robbie Williams returned for Take That’s Progress album and subsequent tour. Running from late-May through July, the tour also featured another eight-show stadium engagement at Etihad Stadium in Manchester with 443,223 tickets sold. It also hits the All-Time Boxoffice chart with the fifth-highest ticket count reported during the Pollstar Era. 

See PDF of charts here:
Top Touring Artists Of The Pollstar Era: Boxoffice Grosses

Top Touring Artists Of The Pollstar Era: Tickets Sold