In 1964 the Beatles were paid $6500 for two concerts, back-to-back, at Carnegie Hall. The next year, at Shea, their price was up to $160,000. For a fix on what a Beatles reunion might be worth today, we checked in with four promoters: Bob Arum, who put together the multimillion-dollar Evel Knievel Snake River Canyon jump and heads Top Rank Inc., the largest promoter of closed-circuit boxing matches in the world; Jerry Perenchio, sometime music promoter who staged the Billie Jean King/Bobby Riggs tennis match and the first Ali/Joe Frazier fight; Shep Gordon, who took a lightly employed New York actor and turned him into Alice Cooper; and Bill Graham, rock's resident impresario whose activities this year have included the Dylan tour, producing a $10 million gross for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and the upcoming 30-date George Harrison tour.
Gordon: "I'd take a year and a half to put it together, may be even longer. I don't think I'd do a tour, because there aren't places big enough. I'd do a closed-circuit shot from some place out of the way. Probably Liverpool, where it all started. That'd become a movie ... television after ... an album and. ... The reason that I'd take a year and a half to two years is because the merchandising is unbelievable."
Gordon figures two million seats could be sold in the U.S. at an average $10 ticket price, for a $20,000,000 gross; another $5 million could be earned from European and Australian viewers. Album sales (a reunion LP before the concert and a two-disc live album) would add $15 million. Merchandising includes a lithograph ("I'd have a top artist do it, signed by the artist and the Beatles, with a run of, say, 5000") for a potential $1 million; and spinoffs like posters, programs, T-shirts to be sold at the concerts for another $1 million. Gordon would do a radio special--conversations with the Beatles and their fans--and market it exclusively to a major sponsor, like Coca-Cola or Sears, for another $1 million; and figures film rights would sell for $2 million. Other merchandising (lunch boxes, notebooks, key chains ... "And I'd talk to people about other products, educational toys that carry the same ideas as the Beatles songs about peace. ... They changed my life more than anybody ...") would add $1 million. Finally, Gordon says that sales of old product, stimulated by the event, should hit $4 million, or an additional $2 million in royalties, and future TV rights could be sold for $2 million.
That's a $50 million package already, and Gordon isn't finished. "There's got to be a great book to come out of it, the story of how it was put together. You know, I wish they'd do it. I'd love to go see it." Then he laughs this Goofy kind of chuckle. "I'd also love to do it."
Arum: "First of all, existing closed-circuit equipment is not adequate–either the sound or the picture–for a Beatles concert. But we're working on new equipment, testing it right now, for a marriage of rock and what used to be called closed-circuit TV. The old system gave you five cycles of dust; we're getting 15 cycles of studio-quality sound. We're getting screens with ten times better lumination, and we're going to use three screens that would give you a panoramic view. That would do the Beatles justice.
"I'd put the equipment in 40 locations, 650,000 seats–you can't put it everywhere. You could get $15 a seat. You'd have the live concert&20,000-30,000 at $10 a head. You'd have a $10 million gross; costs would be about 40%; so you'd have a $6 million net. "
Movie rights are only speculation–one Stones movie sold good; the other didn't. A record album ... I don't know. Merchandising could be huge, but any guess is only foolhardy–Evel Knievel had a built-in toy business, the biggest part of the ancillary profits, and the Beatles don't have that. Merchandising could add $1 million more. All I know for certain is a $6 million profit, from the electronic theater. Maybe $8.5 million. They'd have a concert they could be proud of. If the Beatles have any sense of integrity, they won't want anything but the best."
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Perenchio: "I have made an offer to the four Beatles, if they would get back together for one night: $6 million guarantee plus 50% of profits over $12 million. That offer stands. I want to do closed circuit throughout the world; you could gross upwards of $35 million, $40 million, may be $50 million.
"The minimum in the U.S. alone–you could put together two million seats in the U.S. and Canada at $20 apiece for $40 million. The rest of the world has a potential $5-$10 million. The live gate–you could go into a place like the new 100,000-seat super-dome in New Orleans with tickets priced like a fighting gate ... from $5 to $50. The live gate's an easy $20 million. Or you could do it for Charity, put the live gate into, say, UNICEF–for the children of the world. You could get $100 a seat for a potential $100 million for charity. Or they could do it in my living room, if that's what they wanted.
"If they say, OK, one more time by popular demand, the Beatles–it's World War III you're promoting, you know. I'd do it in quad stereo, a quality system, and use only color. That's something I'd go see. You could put some other substantial acts on the show. A Seventies version of Woodstock. You could sell program books, medals, whatever, but that's incidental. Movies, merchandising, that's not where the rub is. I'd say realistically between $40 million and $50 million gross. And I'll make that offer right now."
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Graham: "What would I do if the Beatles wanted to get back together? I'd put 'em on stages. What would you do, have dinner with 'em?" Graham suggested a 50-city tour–"a large, extended tour using the largest available houses, and at the end of the tour a closed-circuit or regular TV show for those who didn't get to see them.
"I'm against closed-circuit TV because part of rock & roll is the audience. It's hard to get off on anything on TV–may be a Midler or a Jagger. ... Frank Sinatra can get you on the box. He gets me. But the Beatles play straight-ahead, stand-up music. If you're asking me would it work, yes–because it's the Beatles."
Graham's forte is the live concert–"that's what rock & roll is about"–and he wouldn't speculate on ancillary profits. "A tour would earn them $4-$6 million–maximum. You would charge the same prices as a Dylan or a Harrison. You could charge $15-$20, Sinatra does, but I don't think they would. God forbid that Dylan would charge $15. ... If Harrison charged $15 he'd be booed. You're dealing with a different element of the society."