Letter From Ray

Ray Waddell, President of Media & Conference at Oak View Group (parent company of Pollstar)

It was the best of times, it was the best of times.

Welcome to Pollstar’s 2023 Impact 50 issue. With the touring industry in the midst of what many are calling the busiest time ever, we are thrilled to shine a light on 50 live entertainment executives who are playing impactful roles in driving these exciting times – arguably, the best of times, especially if ticket sales and dollars generated are the metric of choice. Live events are running at full throttle, which means Pollstar data is a critical tool in evaluating success. Charting ticket sales – the ultimate barometer of fan passion – is what we do. But, as the capsules on the Impact 50 honorees aptly illustrate, true leadership transcends numbers.

With so many good stories happening in live right now, narrowing down the list becomes more challenging than ever for the Pollstar editorial staff. We set out to recognize 50 people on this list, instead of checking the boxes and putting several people under one inclusion for the sake of diplomacy. Too often the discussion ends up about who’s not on the list rather than who is, and limiting the number of people is a challenge. I50 is not about a body of work, though history counts. Rather, each year is about who is having an impact now. So as cycles revolve and new artists emerge, this list should be dynamic from year to year. We take a lot of things into account and we land where we land, and we make no apologies about the outstanding executives we honor here. We understand there are superstars of the biz who aren’t on it … this time. And when it’s a toss-up, with all things being equal, we can always go to the data. That’s another reason to report your numbers to Pollstar, as if you needed one.

Pretty much all of those recognized on our 2023 list are deeply immersed in spinning turnstiles at one level or another, with artists that have been packing the house for decades as well as artists that are post-shutdown box office winners. That’s critical; after all, this is the live entertainment business. But this year’s Impact 50 list also showcases industry leaders who are committed to allyship, sustainability, safety, and creating a better world through the beautiful platform of live entertainment. It’s important to them.

But it’s easier to save the world when you’re printing money. And so many artists are selling so many tickets right now, it begs the question of how high can we go as an industry? As a longtime observer of this business, my opinion is we’re still very much on an upward trajectory. We have veteran artists, what could be categorized as “mid-career” artists, and artists that have risen to the top of the marquees in the past decade or more recently all doing well right now.

Obviously, this business has its challenges, and solving the ticketing conundrum is one of the trickiest gremlins facing the industry today. If fans perceive greed or gouging, they are quick to respond, either from the platform of social media, or by voting with their wallets. In my opinion, this industry learned a lot of lessons from the Great Slump of 2009-’10, and those lessons are holding firm. Touring in 2023 is more expensive than ever in our history, for multiple reasons. Tours don’t set out to lose money, yet the demand for premium seating has never been higher as consumers continue to value experience over stuff. The primary industry is very good at threading that needle, with many tools to methodically price a house in a way that provides access to all levels of fans while also maximizing ROI for artists. It’s the secondary market speculators with zero skin in the game that are gouging fans, and unless our legislators have a plan to aid the industry in combating scalpers, they should stay out of it. Within our Impact 50 package, readers can find several executives addressing this issue, including Impact 50 issue cover subject James Dolan, Executive Chairman/CEO of Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp.

We could devote a whole issue to opinions and analyses of the state of ticketing, and maybe we will. But there are too many great things happening right now to dwell on just ticketing. We will quite likely end up with a new record-setting tour in 2023, which is becoming almost an annual tradition. As stated earlier, artist development is robust and the pipeline feels full. New venues are popping up across the U.S. and around the world, international touring is wide open, the festival business is generally healthy at all sizes, new models are finding traction, and the opportunities for artists to perform for fans in optimal settings have never been more robust.

As always, this is an industry with a conscience, and the commitment to sustainability, inclusivity, and mentorship seems to be at an all-time high. In the pages that follow, you will see how much this industry’s leaders care – about their artists, their peers, the next generation of leaders, and the world. We congratulate those on our Impact 50 list for 2023, and everyone working in this awesome business of live. You are the most creative, resourceful, big-hearted, hard-working people out there. Salud!

As always, thank you for letting me look behind the curtain.