Building Back Better: Q1 2023 Up Significantly Over 2022, Close To Historic Highs

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LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 17: Musician Sir Elton John performs onstage during the Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour at Dodger Stadium on November 17, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images)

In the first quarterly recap of 2023, worldwide boxoffice results reflect increases across the board in gross and attendance at live events in comparison to the same Q1 period last year. Total grosses and the average gross per show are both higher in a year-to-year analysis. The same is true for ticket sales, as the total number of tickets moved in Q1 and the number of tickets sold per show both improve on last year’s counts.

2023’s Q1 gross of $1.7 billion – accumulated during the three-month timeframe of Nov. 17, 2022, through Feb. 15, 2023 – is a 20% increase over the $1.42 billion total from last year, based on reported sales figures in Pollstar Boxoffice archives. Likewise, this year’s gross average of $175,330 per show is 9% higher than 2022’s $160,260 average.

With box office reports coming in continuously throughout the year, totals identified for Q1 at this point in the year are generally much less than numbers calculated a year from now. So, the current $1.7 billion figure will rise as 2023 progresses.

For example, when we compiled the 2022 Q1 recap in March of last year, grosses then totaled $1.09 billion. Now, one year later, a report created from shows that occurred during that timeframe is about $327 million higher. That much more data was submitted during the remainder of the year. And should there be a similar result in 2023, the box office haul from this year’s first quarter could ultimately approach the $2 billion range, landing near the level of pre-COVID totals.

The most recent year to fall into that category is 2020, with a cutoff date for that year’s first-quarter recap occurring about one month before the shutdown – so Q1 2020’s numbers were not affected by the outbreak of the pandemic. In 2020, the Q1 gross reached $1.99 billion and, if reporting trends continue as is typically the case, by the end of this year we could be in that same ballpark.

Historically, 2019 had the best Q1 results reported in the past five years (omitting 2021 since live activity was still severely limited in Q1), and those totals still stand, as 2019’s overall gross of $2.35 billion remains the highest on record. It was a 14% jump over 2018’s total that topped out at $2.07 billion.

The average gross per show during the past two years, however, is one metric that exceeds the box office results in any of the three years prior to the pandemic. Q1 2018 saw worldwide grosses average $130,190 per show, a total that was surpassed by 2019’s $142,093. Then it dipped in 2020 to $137,070 but, last year, in the first full year after concert activity resumed, the average gross rose 17% to $160,260 per show. That result was a catalyst for much discussion about higher ticket prices and the many reasons behind that phenomenon in the live industry, both pandemic-related and otherwise. And that discussion will continue this year with the per-show gross average for 2023 topping last year’s record high by 9% – up to $175,330 per show.

An upward trajectory can also be seen in ticket sales averages so far in 2023. And, like the grosses, ticket averages from the first quarter in the past two years are both higher than in 2018, 2019 or 2020.

With 24,331,347 tickets sold globally during the first quarter from 9,696 reported shows, 2023’s Q1 ticket average is 2,509 per show – up 15% over last year’s 2,188-ticket average. But both years outperformed the three prior years with ticket averages totaling 2,084 in 2018, 2,132 in 2019 and 2,047 in 2020.

Overall attendance, however, tells another story when compared to pre-pandemic levels. While this year’s 24.3 million total is 26% higher than the 19.3 million last year, the ticket count in 2023 is still 5.3 million less than the 29.7 million in 2020. That difference will shrink throughout the year, but how much remains to be seen.

And as was the case with grosses, 2019’s Q1 recorded the largest ticket count in the five-year period with 35.3 million sold. Attendance in 2018 landed between those from the surrounding years, with a sum of 33.2 million tickets.

One significant factor in the ticket sales scenario is that there have been considerably fewer shows reported in the two years since the industry rebounded. That has certainly affected the lower number of sold tickets recorded in quarterly recaps in the past two years.

This year’s number of reported shows was 9,696 for Q1, a 10% bump over last year’s 8,843 show count. And, as reporting continues in 2023, that number will grow and inch closer to the counts from 2020 and earlier.

But the archives show that 14,493 first-quarter shows were reported in 2020. The 2019 total was 16,573 and 2018 had 15,933 – all notably higher numbers than the show totals in either of the past two years. This year’s show total will grow as the year proceeds, but closing the gap with totals from the three earlier years is a tall order. Certainly, it all highlights the importance of box office reporting.

Charting The Best Of The Quarter

The Q1 charts identify the top performers in the live industry – both the artists on stage and the venues that host them. Top talent buyers are also included in the mix and presented on a Top 50 list ranked by gross.

The top tours are also ranked by a collective gross from all performances occurring during the Q1 eligibility period. Venues are ranked by gross on one chart but also by the number of sold tickets on another, as the name of the game for facility professionals is filling seats.
Few 2023 headlines compare to those for Elton John who, earlier this year, surpassed his fellow countryman Ed Sheeran to claim the title of highest-grossing tour of all time. With ticket revenue from his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour passing Sheeran’s record-setting $776 million gross from “Divide” (2017-19), Sir Elton’s gross is now well over the $800 million mark as he heads into the final leg of the tour, set to wrap this summer.
Of his overall gross, $64.4 million came from his January trek through Oceania – enough to claim No. 1 for the quarter.

Landing at No. 2 on the Top 100 Tours chart is Daddy Yankee (see cover story on page 34) who was the only other concert headliner to top $60 million at the box office.
Harry Styles’ “Love On Tour” follows with sales from shows in Latin America and Southern California, while Bad Bunny, who ranked No. 1 among 2022’s highest-grossing tours, lands at No. 4.

Then, Red Hot Chili Peppers hit the chart in the fifth spot with an eight-show stadium gross from Australia and New Zealand.

Rounding out the Top 10 are K-pop group Seventeen, Billy Joel, Guns N’ Roses, orchestra conductor André Rieu and George Strait.

Two venues top the rankings on the Top 100 Arenas charts with New York’s Madison Square Garden racking up the highest gross of $41.2 million. However, Zürich’s Hallenstadion moved the most tickets – 483,097 – to claim No. 1 on the chart ranked by ticket sales.

Among the Top 50 Theaters, Radio City Music Hall in New York excels on the charts in gross and attendance, taking the No. 1 ranking in both. With a gross of $101.2 million from 987,367 sold tickets, 96% of the venue’s box-office totals came from the annual “Christmas Spectacular” starring the Radio City Rockettes.

Alejandro Sanz logged the highest gross among all artists with $1.5 million from two shows.

The Paramount in Huntington, New York, scores the top ranking in both gross and attendance among the Top 50 Clubs based on $2.6 million in revenue from 51,301 sold tickets.

The top draw at the venue was Atlanta’s Yacht Rock Revue with a ticket count of 3,146 from sold-out shows Dec. 2-3.

Heading up the list of Top 50 Promoters for Q1 are Live Nation, AEG Presents, OCESA, Frontier Touring and Cardenas Marketing Network.

Combined grosses from the Top 50 total $1.6 billion – more than 95% of the total gross for the entire quarter. Their ticket count totals 20.3 million, based on reported sales figures.