Letter From Ray Waddell: Year End Special 2022

With the rude interruption firmly in our rear view – let’s call it Boomicus Interruptus – it is time to assert unequivocally that the Golden Era for touring and live entertainment has very much resumed.

That’s my firm opinion as someone who has tracked the live thing for more than 30 years, but it is not just an opinion. Much more valid and relevant than my own musings, the resumption of live’s dominance as a form of entertainment is backed up by Pollstar data, for more than 40 years the authority on the business of ticket sales and the live industry.

Consider this: Pollstar’s 2022 box office data – with reporting up 97% from 2021 – shows record per-show averages for both ticket sales and gross dollars for both North America and Worldwide concerts. Average-per-show data is a telling metric of how the industry is performing night after night on an ongoing basis, and for ’22 to set a record in this regard speaks to a remarkable resiliency for this industry and the ongoing power of the live experience.

Also of huge importance: 2022 was the highest-grossing year ever for concerts, both for the North America Top 200 tours ($5.6 billion) and the Worldwide Top 100 tours ($6.2 billion). That blows away last year’s totals of $1.7 billion for each, and even shatters the historic levels of 2019 as our industry whistled past the graveyard on the precipice of a global pandemic-driven shutdown that knocked us all on our heels.

No doubt much of the record box office revenue of ’22 was driven by a big jump in ticket prices to record levels, but live has always been a business where consumers vote with their wallets. Fans obviously felt tickets were worth the price, even if they bitched about it, which they have always done.

The Worldwide Top 100 Tours grossed a combined $6.2 billion and moved 59,211,267 tickets, according to Pollstar data. It is always reassuring when superstars do what superstars are supposed to do, with Bad Bunny, Elton John, Ed Sheeran, Harry Styles, Coldplay, Def Leppard / Mötley Crüe, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Daddy Yankee, Garth Brooks and The Rolling Stones claiming the top 10 spots. When names like that are on the road, the industry has reason to feel confident and we should never take them for granted.

Along with Bad Bunny and Styles, relative newcomers that have broken in the past few years and can now claim that elite status include Morgan Wallen, Karol G, Post Malone, Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish, and Lizzo. Also important are the acts entering a critical phase in their touring careers when lesser acts might fall off. Built on a live foundation and showing they are here to stay by filling arenas and stadiums are Imagine Dragons, Eric Church, The Killers, The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar, Pitbull and others.

Hits come and go while a great live show fans remember – and they come back. And one would be remiss if they did not recognize the outstanding achievement of Bad Bunny on tour in 2022, who tops the Worldwide Top 100 Tours chart with more than 2 million tickets sold and $393.4 million in box office generated. Probably only his agent, Jbeau Lewis at UTA, would have predicted such a home run as this, the biggest tour of the year.

And thanks to Pollstar’s new Artist Power Index, the first and only chart combining ticket sales with streaming, airplay and social performance, we can finally see the most popular artist of 2022 – Elton John.

Anecdotally, pretty much all of the promoters, talent buyers, and venues are catching their collective breath, however briefly, from the busiest year most can recall. We weren’t exactly going out on a limb a year ago when we predictively dubbed ’22 as the Year of the Stadium, but the numbers sure bore that out, with nearly 2,000 stadium shows reported, churning more than 35 million tickets sold, up 10 million from pre-COVID 2019. The key here is for a big stadium year to happen, it takes artists that can sell 50,000-60,000 tickets coast-to-coast, and we sure had them in 2022. Word is ’23 will be an even bigger year for stadiums, which says as much about the artists this industry is fielding as it does anything.

Versus pre-COVID 2019, amphitheaters were also up in ticket sales, though arenas and clubs were down slightly. If there was a soft spot in 2022, it was on the theaters front, which also reflects what we hear when we talk to those active on that front. Even so, one could say there’s a bright side, as a wealth of acts are graduating to larger venues beyond theaters, while perhaps those that would have moved up the ladder in 2020 and ’21 through clubs and festivals were hampered by the shutdown. Yeah, let’s go with that. They’ll make it up the chain in 2023!

While I am sometimes nostalgic for the preconsolidation, rough-and-tumble times and the colorful characters that populated that landscape, when I go to a show now, I am amazed at how far this business has evolved. The food is better, the merch is higher quality, the sightlines are improved, the production is elevated, and the parking… well, the parking still sucks. Make no mistake, though, we are better now, by virtually all meaningful metrics. That includes the metric of selling tickets and making money in fair and equitable deals to bring dazzling shows to a city near you. The fact is, touring and live entertainment has never been stronger. The numbers prove it. By all accounts, next year will be even stronger as we continue forthwith on our journey of Golden Era 2.0.

Ain’t it great to be involved in the live thing? Wishing you a warm and relaxing holiday season and a prosperous, rockin’ 2023. And, as ever, thank you for letting me look behind the curtain. – Ray Waddell, president of Oak View Group’s Media & Conferences Division, which oversees Pollstar and sister publication VenuesNow