The State Of The Stadium Play: After ‘Year Of The Stadium,’ Are Shrinking Bookings Cause For Concern?

Morgan Wallen's One Night At A Time 2024
ONE STADIUM AT A TIME: Morgan Wallen, performing here at Nissan Stadium in Nashville on May 2, is just one of a young cohort of artists who are playing – and filling – stadiums in 2024. (Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images for Morgan Wallen’s One Night At A Time 2024)

What a difference a year (or two) makes. Back in 2022, which Pollstar termed “The Year of the Stadium,” it seemed like every artist who could pick up a guitar was out on the road touring as soon as their agents could fill in their post-pandemic routings.

And so they trekked to stadia all over the globe: Bad Bunny, Ed Sheeran, Elton John, Coldplay, Def Leppard/Mötley Crüe, The Weeknd, Lady Gaga, BTS, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kenny Chesney, Harry Styles, Los Bukis, Dead & Company, Chris Stapleton, Metallica, Dua Lipa, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Eric Church, Daddy Yankee, Zac Brown Band, Karol G, Swedish House Mafia, Blackpink, Morgan Wallen, the Lumineers, Iron Maiden, Garth Brooks, and Guns N’ Roses are just some of the more prominent artists to play the big buildings that year.

Pollstar’s Top 100 stadium tours in 2022 racked up more than $2.68 billion in grosses and 23.8 million tickets. The trajectory only continued upward in 2023, with more than $3.62 billion in grosses and 29 million tickets sold. By then, artists including The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and Madonna had joined the party.

See: 2022 Is The Year Of The Stadium

But as midyear 2024 approaches, data points to softness in the stadium market in comparison.

Pollstar Boxoffice reports show that from Nov. 15, 2022 to May 15, 2023, stadium shows grossed $1,153,191,474 and sold 11,166,474 tickets across 393 shows reported. During the same calendar period from 2023-24, initial reports indicate that grosses dipped to $887,225,885 on 8,683,796 tickets moved over 248 shows, or a 23.06% decrease in grosses and 22.23% drop in tickets sold across 36.9% fewer shows presented in the same period.

It’s important to note, however, that 2024 mid-year Boxoffice Reports are still being filed and will increase in the coming months.

A slower 2024 stadium season doesn’t surprise Live Nation Chief Financial Officer Joe Berchtold, who told investors on a May 2 quarterly earnings call, “What we’ve been saying for the past six-plus months, we expected that this isn’t going to be a big stadium year…”

Going forward, he predicts some international sports events including the Summer Olympic Games in Paris will squeeze some venue availabilities but expects a rebound and strong stadium market in 2025.

Omar Al-joulani, Live Nation’s president of touring, U.S. concerts, explains further. “The stadium pipeline varies from year to year based on both artist and venue availability, from mainstays like Billy Joel, Metallica, and Coldplay – the last few years have seen new headliners such as The Weeknd, Bad Bunny, Karol G and others join the ranks of stadium stars. We will continue to see many of the same familiar faces, as well as the addition of artists across all genres of music. This trend is extending to global stadiums as well, especially in Europe.”

Of those Pollstar spoke with on the subject, there’s consensus on one point: the business is cyclical. What appears to be a “flat” season is simply a “recalibration” of all that full-blast, firehose stadium business of the last two years, as Steve Lundy, Terrapin Station Entertainment’s executive vice president of business development, put it. But there are other factors.

Agent Dennis Arfa, chairman of music for Independent Artist Group, represents his share of stadium-level artists including Billy Joel, Def Leppard, Metallica, Mötley Crüe and Rod Stewart.

“Most artists who play stadiums cannot play the same stadium year in and year out,” Arfa says. “You can probably come up with 30 essential artists that can play stadiums and they’ll rotate – some of them can do multiple stadium shows, some of them can do one stadium, some of them can play baseball stadiums and some will play football stadiums.”

Terrapin Station is a fairly recent entry to the field, known primarily for producing family and other non-traditional entertainment. But it also manages artists across genres and has a division that represents and consults with professional sports teams and stadiums around the country to help develop their live concert and event businesses. They’ve got skin in the game.

CEO Jonathan Shank spent 10 years at Red Light Management before opening Terrapin Station in 2019. He sees the stadium slowdown not as a problem, but an opportunity.

“In some ways, we benefit from the [current] challenges,” Shank says. “We fit in the puzzle by being able to fill the gaps and the holes, find relationships for these teams and agents, managers and promoters they might not otherwise have had… We’ve have more stadium content this year than before. It’s difficult for us to say that there’s a downturn this year where we’re in the middle of a huge year of great shows.”

Shank and Lundy work primarily with soccer and baseball stadiums, which in many ways offer a different experience from the megastar concert in an NFL stadium. And for many of those buildings, live entertainment content is a relatively new and welcome addition.

“We work with a number of MLS stadiums with capacities in the 20,000 to 25,000 range, as opposed to 35,000 to 40,000-plus. They live in that arena-plus size part of the industry,” Lundy adds. “They’re getting different artists and packages that can fill those spaces; buildings that have never had shows are now getting booked, which has been great.”

Howard Handler, president of 313 Presents in Detroit, oversees a company that serves as talent buyer for a portfolio of venues including Comerica Park, Little Caesars Arena and Fox Theatre in Detroit, along with some regional amphitheaters and festivals.

313 Presents worked with Messina Touring Group and Louis Messina to bring George Strait with Chris Stapleton and Little Big Town to Jack Trice Stadium at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa at the 52,000-capacity Jack Trice Stadium on May 25.

“It’s a given that it’s going to be a little bit cyclical and unpredictable in terms of people’s touring schedules,” Handler says of the current stadium environment. “Last year was such an incredible year when it came to stadiums. In Detroit, we had Beyoncé, Metallica and, obviously, Taylor [Swift at Ford Field]. I don’t think you can do that year after year after year.”

Handler says creative packaging and artistic vision play roles in successfully staging big shows in baseball stadiums that sometimes are an advantage over single-artist extravaganzas in 80,000-seat NFL stadiums.

“[Where to play is] ultimately an artist-centric question,” he says. “Any artist is going to make a decision about what’s right for them. Ballparks are more intimate than NFL stadiums, because of the size and configuration. We’re able to put a stage in the middle of the outfield. There’s lots of people, and they are much closer [to the artist] than when they’re in the end zone of an NFL stadium. I like to think of our stadiums as their palette, and it’s part of the artistic vision.”

Arfa considers his artists’ vision and goals when deciding where and how to book them any given year.

“The pinnacle, at least for me and for most of the artists who we represent, is if you can reach that stadium level,” Arfa says. “We try to accomplish those goals for our artists and we sometimes package them with other artists to get to the stadium level. Last year, there was a stadium boom because a lot of people were touring at the same time. There are just not as many artists touring [this year] who can play stadiums on the same level as last year. But there’s still a lot.”