Arenas Welcome A World Of Acts In 2023

South Korean girl group MAMAMOO hit arenas in May and June for their first-ever U.S. dates. They’re pictured on stage at Yes24 Live Hall in Seoul, South Korea, on Oct. 11, 2022. Photo by The Chosunilbo JNS / Imazins / Getty Images

When plotting out MAMAMOO’s U.S. routing for their debut global tour, the South Korean girl group’s agent, Dynamic Talent International CEO Trevor Swenson, initially imagined they’d play theaters.

“The promoters that did the shows, which were Mammoth and Sugar Monkey Live, both said that they felt that it was more arena-level stuff. We did some more research and they were absolutely correct. MAMAMOO [ended up] doing huge arena numbers up to 12,000 tickets a night, which was fantastic, ” says Swenson, who attended the majority of the gigs.

The U.S. leg of MAMAMOO’s “My Con” trek started May 16 at UBS Arena in Belmont Park, New York, and included stops at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Wintrust Arena in Chicago and Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona. The last show was June 4 at the Kia Forum in Inglewood, California, which sold 11,714 tickets and grossed nearly $1.8 million.

The K-pop group, whose sound incorporates elements of jazz and R&B, is just one example of the range of artists headed to arenas for the first time in 2023, along with arena mainstays like cover artist Tool (see cover story here), that continue to find success at that level. While stadium tours from superstars like Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and Ed Sheeran continue to make headlines and break records, there’s a lot of action going on in the world of arenas.

“The industry is as strong as ever, especially with the number of artists that are hitting arenas, and I think a lot of that is actually attributed to the various genres that have absolutely blossomed in recent years,” says Joe Giordano Jr., vice president of OVG Stadium & Arena Alliance (Oak View Group is the parent company of Pollstar).

“That’s K-pop, it’s Latin music, some of the non-traditional stuff and comedy is exploding in arenas. … Whereas before there might have been one to two comedians, there are probably 15-20 comedians that can play arenas – and we get excited about it; It’s not a pit in your stomach anymore. You know these things are going to work … And these [acts] are doing real real business with a lot less overhead on that side of it,” Giordano Jr., adds. “We’re seeing a building like AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas, have an absolute banner year in the same year that we opened the Moody Center. [Moody Center] broke records, not just for Austin, but industry-wide and established itself as a top if not top five building in the country. … It’s a really encouraging thing, just in terms of overall business for arenas right now.”

Other K-pop acts playing arenas include BTS’ Suga, whose first arena tour – booked April through June, including multiple nights at UBS Arena and the Kia Forum – sold out immediately.

Along with Daddy Yankee (who ranked No. 3 on Pollstar’s Mid-Year Top 100 North American Tours chart) and Rauw Alejandro (No. 7), other Latin acts that are making noise at arenas this year include Fuerza Regida (see story here), RBD (who graced the cover of last week’s Pollstar), Carin León, Junior H and Peso Pluma.

Upcoming comedy tours playing arenas include Dave Chappelle, Bert Kreischer and a brief co-bill with Jerry Seinfeld and Jim Gaffigan. Kevin Hart has bragging rights for being the only comedian this year to break through to the Top 10 on Pollstar’s Mid-Year Top 100 Worldwide Tours chart at more than $50 million, with an average gross per show of $909,851 and 8,503 tickets sold per show.

With the volume of business in live, Giordano says that some in the industry may be willing to consider booking an arena earlier than they may have in the past. And then there’s the power of social media, reaching fans in a different way compared to traditional marketing and creating “these FOMO opportunities especially for younger fans,” which has helped some artists reach the next level more quickly than ever.

Swenson surmises that some artists may take the leap into arenas considering that putting on a show in a large theatre is almost the exact price as an arena now and one has the potential to sell more tickets while being able to do similar production in an arena as in a 3,000- or 4,000-cap theatre.

Of course, there’s still something to be said for not skipping steps.

“Arctic Monkeys have a completely sold out-arena run, Lewis Capaldi played some arenas, Hozier has a mix of sold-out outdoor amphitheatres, arenas and the Hollywood Bowl … Zach Bryan is just doing tremendous business, Greta Van Fleet just started up their tour, Kali Uchis is playing some arenas,” says WME’s Kirk Sommer, partner and global co-head of contemporary music.

“Down the road, it will be Olivia Rodrigo, Ivan Cornejo is making his kind of ascension, Summer Walker could potentially be playing some shows. So there are a lot of acts there stepping up in venue size. We do everything with purpose and intention; we like to build the right foundations without skipping steps.”

Sommer notes that artists across the spectrum of genres are doing well at the arena level, including country, Latin, hip-hop, R&B, rock and acts that fit in somewhere in the folk/jam band world.

“Our country business has been a force for some time that continues to grow … Latin is a tremendous growth area for everyone. And I think we’re only seeing the tip of the Latin explosion. … It is a really long list of incredible talent, each one of them are different, but each one of them are really poised to be doing major, major headline business. It’s a really exciting time,” Sommer says.

Looking at Live Nation-promoted tours in the R&B/hip-hop space, SZA (who is booked by Wasserman Music) launched her first-ever arena tour in February in support of her sophomore album, SOS. And a few months ago Doja Cat (booked by CAA) announced her first North American headline arena tour, due to kick off Oct. 31 at the Chase Center in San Francisco.

“Doja Cat’s tour is already 90% sold out several months ahead of its kickoff, underscoring the immense demand from her fans for a headlining arena run,” Omar Al-joulani, President, Touring at Live Nation says.

Challenges remain – from the increased cost of touring thanks to inflation and labor shortages making it hard to fully staff crews post-pandemic – but overall business in the arena world is booming.

Al-joulani adds, “Global arena attendance increased by 19% during the second quarter of this year [compared to Live Nation’s 2022’s Q2 results], driven by more variety in artists across all genres and at different stages of their careers performing successful headlining arena runs.”

One example of an arena that’s been enjoying a fruitful 2023 is Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum, which opened in summer 2018.

Looking ahead, GM Dennis Williams says, “The momentum going into next year has been even more than this year, and fall is shaping up, between Paramore and Drake (see Chart Scene here), and we just announced Stevie Nicks and a few more shows. We’re taking a lot of holds and having a lot of discussions around content in the winter, spring and early summer of next year. Shows thus far, coming out of COVID and still to this point, have been selling really well and attendance has been very solid,” Williams says.

“Our busiest year from a concerts standpoint was our first year, and I think right now we’re trending to be heading in that direction. It’s our goal to reach that number, if not continue to get above that number and keep growing the businesses as we can.”

Sommer points to Live Nation’s recent earnings report as evidence that business has been “super strong,” with the promoter reporting a near-record $5.6 billion in revenue for the second quarter of 2023.

“I mean, everyone was [saying] ‘headwinds, headwinds and pumping the brakes. Be careful,’ with all the threats facing the economy. There doesn’t seem to be any recession in sight for the right live events where fans have a good experience. We’re selling more tickets than ever before – we’re selling the tickets at higher prices than ever before. People are spending more money at the merch stand than ever before, I believe, and they’re spending more money on food and beverage than ever before,” Sommer says.

“I was using the term ‘popping the cork’ coming out of COVID. After everyone had been cocooned, and bottled up for so long. But we’re past that. And this isn’t revenge spending, this isn’t anything like that. I think we’re going to continue to see significant growth globally and people pricing closer to market for years and years to come. It’s pretty incredible.”