Pearl Jam's Road Woes: What It Would Cost

From their highly publicized feud with Ticketmaster, Pearl Jam may have left as much as $30 million on the table

Crowds at the Pearl Jam concert at Downing Stadium in New York City.
Patti Ouderkirk/WireImage
Crowds at the Pearl Jam concert at Downing Stadium in New York City.
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Having played to roughly 240,000 fans during their recently concluded 12-date American tour, the members of Pearl Jam have pocketed some handsome paychecks. But just how many millions have the band walked away from by feuding with Ticketmaster, staying off the road for so long and playing nontraditional, out-of-the-way venues? One industry insider estimates the tally at just more than $30 million.

According to one manager of a prominent band, if Pearl Jam had simply plugged into the established summertime concert system both this year and last – playing approximately 40 shows each summer at mostly Ticketmaster-controlled amphitheaters – they could have earned $20 million from ticket sales. The band could have raked in an additional $5 million from merchandising and $6 million from corporate sponsorships.

Assuming that Pearl Jam had sold out 20,000-seat-capacity venues at $23 a ticket, generating $460,000 in revenues each night, the band would have taken home $330,000 for each of the 40 performances, or $13.2 million each summer. After deductions for eight-week production costs ($800,000), an agent's 6 percent commission ($792,000) and a manager's 15 percent commission ($1.7 million), that would have left Pearl Jam with $9.9 million each year.

Those figures, however, do not include merchandising. According to the source, for every $23 T-shirt sold at a concert, Pearl Jam would have made a $12 profit. The prominent band manager, who requested anonymity, estimates that an act of Pearl Jam's stature performing to 20,000 fans would have sold approximately 5,200 shirts – $62,000 in profit – each night. Multiplied by 80 dates over two summers, that's roughly $5 million in T-shirt sales per season, hats and other items not included.

As for corporate sponsors, the anonymous manager says that likely suitors – particularly beer companies eager to buy the band's credibility – would have easily ponied up $3 million per tour. But like everyone else in the industry, the manager is well aware of Pearl Jam's ban on sponsors. "It's like saying, 'What are the chances of winning the lottery?"' he says of the band's likelihood of using corporate sponsors. "It's not going to happen."

Meanwhile, to the victor go the spoils. Pearl Jam will be interested to learn that Ticketmaster is going public. The ticketing giant recently filed an initial public offering with the Securities and Exchange Commission in hopes of raising $92 million to help pay off the company's $80 million debt. In an effort to woo investors, the company reports that it plans to expand its service-fee ticketing operation "to include . . . museums, zoos, amusement parks, state and county fairs, golf courses, ski resorts and trade shows."

This story is from the November 28th, 1996 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 748: November 28, 1996