The Age Of Blockbuster Tours Is Upon Us

Night Two Of Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour East Rutherford, NJ
Look What You Made Me Do: Taylor Swift at MetLife Stadium on May 27, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/TAS23/Getty)

Well before Pollstar began tabulating 2023’s mid-year touring data, it felt like something special was happening in the live industry. Perhaps it was just making up for the lost time and fulfilling the promises many made if we ever got past the pandemic’s sonic void. Or maybe the unyielding onslaught of major tour announcements that began last year and has continued to this day. Whatever the reason, amidst an uneven economy with rampant inflation and mixed consumer confidence, the touring business steadily built up a head of steam segueing out of 2022’s historic return into a strong Q1 2023 that by mid-year had transformed into nothing short of a record-breaking juggernaut.

Pollstar’s 2023 Mid-Year Hub

As Pollstar chronicled thousands upon thousands of tour dates, which included residencies, stadium plays, arena multiples, club and theater shows, international legs, festivals and more, it became readily apparent that the year thus far was unlike anything previous. Now, with the majority of the first six months of touring reports in, we can quantify the 2023 mid-year as an unqualified blockbuster.

Pollstar’s 2023 Mid-Year Top 100 Worldwide Touring chart shows record-setting highs by every available metric with most showing double digit increases over 2022’s record-setting year. This includes a massive 64.7% increase in average show grosses, a huge 49.3% growth in average tickets sold and a relatively reasonable 10.3% increase in average ticket price. Total grosses were up a whopping 51.1% and tickets sold increased 37%. 2023 is also the first year that the average gross of the North American Top 100 Tours has crossed the $1 million ($1.09) threshold and crossed a mind-boggling $1.5 million worldwide (see 2023 Mid-Year Business Analysis).

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band Elmont, NY
Prove It All Night: Bruce Springsteen performs at UBS Arena on April 11, 2023 in Elmont, New York. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

“You’re seeing the strength and the conviction of the consumers,” said Live Nation’s Bob Roux, president of US Concerts, who for all his years working in the live industry seems buoyed by the mid-year’s strong showing. “The shift in discretionary spending to live events and experiences over things has given our industry a big boost over the last couple of years and that trend continues and is growing.”

Darryl Eaton, co-head of contemporary music at CAA – which represents blink-182, The Weeknd, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kelly Clarkson, A$AP Rocky and many others – concurs. “The takeaway here is that live music and comedy is selling across all genres, all venues,” he says. “The club business is way up, the theater businesses is way up, the arena businesses is up, and stadiums are crushing.”

So much are stadiums crushing, that for the first time in Pollstar’s 41-year history, five blockbuster tours – Taylor Swift, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Harry Styles and Ed Sheeran – surpassed a $100 million gross on the mid-year tally. With some on the survey not far off and other tours getting later starts (Beyoncé, Metallica, U2 and The Weeknd among others), this unprecedented spate of blockbusters is something we may never see again.

Run The World: Beyonce’s brings her “Renaissance World Tour” at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 30, 2023 in London, England. (Kevin Mazur, WireImage, Parkwood)

“I think there’s a new club, it’s called the billionaires club,” says Dennis Arfa, CEO and founder of Artist Group International (which at press time had joined forces with APA to form IAG). “In the billionaires club are Taylor Swift, Metallica, Ed Sheeran, Beyoncé, Elton John, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, U2, Coldplay, Harry Styles and a few others. It’s a very select group of artists who are in the stratosphere with demand to see them on a whole other level. No matter what’s going on in the economy, they are as close to bulletproof as you can get.”

But it’s not just tried-and-true superstars playing to the upper decks, there’s a new generation making their way to the largest venues. “Everybody talks about Beyoncé, Taylor, Bruce,” says Eaton, “but the Chili Peppers, P!NK, Morgan Wallen, RBD and Karol G – all these artists are going to the stadiums and it’s pretty incredible.”

Bad Bunny
Sigo Yendo: Bad Bunny performs at the Coachella Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club on Friday, April 14, 2023, in Indio, Calif. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

It wasn’t long ago this industry repeatedly asked itself who, if anyone, will replace the stadium rockers and dudes in black T-shirts of previous decades. In the last two years, that question’s been answered resoundingly.

“You can be a superstar in one genre today and play stadiums,” says Arfa. “There’s so many genres of music and such diversified populations in K-pop, Latin, Country, Hip-Hop and other genres that have artists playing venues at the highest level.”

Last year, Pollstar called 2022 “The Year of the Stadium” as new acts including chart topper Bad Bunny as well as BTS, Chris Stapleton, The Weeknd, Dua Lipa, Grupo Firme and many others played stadiums on their way to the top of the charts. With the trend continuing unabated in 2023, Pollstar sister publication VenuesNow’s mid-year issue aptly christened the continued trend “The Stadium Era.”

65th Annual Grammy Awards Show
As It Was: Harry Styles performing at the 65th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

“I think there’s just an appetite for the fans to see these spectacles,” said Joe Litvag, executive director at Gridiron Stadium Network, to VenuesNow. “As long as the artists keep delivering on their side, which they’re doing, then this is going to continue.” Litvag says that in 2022, 21 different NFL stadiums held five or more concert productions. For 2023, the 16 Gridiron Stadium Network members are hosting 82 concerts, with relative fresh blood such as Morgan Wallen, Luke Combs, Karol G joining the mix of pop stadium superstardom. Some stadiums, including Chicago’s Soldier Field and Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium, hosted nine concerts.

It’s not just stadiums, though, that are seeing eye-popping growth. CAA’s Eaton reels off acts his agency represents who are rapidly working their way up the venue ladder. “A young band like The Backseat Lovers has gone from selling 1,000 tickets in New York a year ago to doing 7,000 tickets. Young artists like Tate McRae, Conan Gray and Ava Max, these young, developmental artists were playing 500-seaters not that long ago and some of them now are nearing arena level business. It’s amazing.”

“We have many artists in rock that have graduated to a higher level,” Arfa adds. “Nick Storch’s roster, for example, with Ghost, Spiritbox, Falling In Reverse, Sleep Token, are all doing great business and have graduated to the theater, amphitheater and arena levels.”

And it’s not just music reaping the fruits of this overheated live market. “I didn’t think I could tell you this year was going to be any stronger than last year – and yet it is,” says Judi Marmel, co-founder and president of Levity Live. “I mean the comedy business continues to pump out new stars left and right and continues to defy all odds.”

Elton John
The Triumphant Return: Elton John performs at Dodger Stadium, which he first sold out for two nights in 1975 on Nov. 20, 2022, the final North American show of his record-setting “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour,. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)

The comedy manager not only cites the runaway success of one of her star clients, Bert Kreischer, but also rising stars like Taylor Tomlinson who’s found international touring success; Leanne Morgan, a 57- year-old grandmother from Knoxville who’s selling out theatres and “moving towards arenas probably next year;” and 27-year-old Matt Rife who’s exploded this year. “Here’s this guy that comes off a TikTok and is doing monster box office business.”

As for her Improv Comedy clubs, Marmel says they’re busy every night: “Sold out Monday through Sunday every week. In some ways, we’re booking more like a theatre than a comedy club. We’re doing a different event pretty much every night because there’s that much demand. One night maybe it’s somebody that blew up on TikTok, the next night it’s a podcast, the third night it’s a reality star who wants to do comedy. Every kind of comedy is selling, no matter what it is.”

Not that this success isn’t without challenges, especially with so much traffic. “Some of these venues you’re 16 holds deep,” says Eaton, “with 16 other artists trying to get the same building ahead of you and you have to challenge through it. We are working and planning much further ahead and holding and booking tours globally much further ahead. I’m working on tours now for late-2024 into 2025, so we have to make some plans two and three years out.”

Still, Live Nation’s Roux is bullish on the year ahead. “Generally, when you see an uninterrupted trend line, it continues until some catalyst enters the picture,” he says. “You continue to invest when times are good and you’re seeing artists do exactly that. These record grosses are yielding some of the highest earnings artists have ever had and you see them putting that money back into their shows. Some of them are so extravagant that the experience is almost unimaginable. And we’re doing the same thing with venues and continuing to invest in more venues. That’s what a good businessperson does. You don’t play for the negative, you play for the positive and continue to find ways to grow the business by making experiences better for the fan, and in return we continue to see the fan supporting. And we will continue with that.”