Two years after the most disastrous summer touring season in decades, the concert business has crept back to almost full health, according to mid-year sales numbers released Thursday by industry magazine Pollstar.
Led by Cirque du Soleil's "Michael Jackson: The Immortal," as well as Roger Waters, Van Halen, Drake, Bruce Springsteen and Elton John, sales for the Top 100 jumped 11.3 percent, total tickets increased 1.2 percent and average prices dropped from $67 to $61.
"More people are touring, and the shows are doing better than last year," says Mark Campana, co-president of North American concerts for Live Nation, the world's biggest promoter. "And in terms of the economy, I don't want anybody to think we're out of the woods, but we're definitely seeing more people spend more money beyond the tickets when they're out there."
After artists and promoters jacked up 2010 prices for even B-level stars (such as a pre-Voice Christina Aguilera and the Lilith Fair tour), fans stayed away, forcing last-minute deals. Van Halen managed to gross $44.9 million in early 2012 even after abruptly canceling most of its late-summer shows, while the Cirque tour took in $78.5 million, Waters grossed $62 million and Drake and Springsteen scored $30 million apiece. Campana argues artists and promoters have collaborated since then to lower salaries and costs in order to keep prices reasonable: "The industry is working together more effectively."
But not everybody is convinced the trend of decreasing face-value prices and higher sales reflects a healthy business. The problem, says Seth Hurwitz, co-owner of I.M.P., the Washington, D.C., promoter that runs the 930 Club and the Merriweather Post Pavilion, is still that scalpers jack up prices for the best seats beyond typical fans' means. "It pisses people off. It makes it feel like an elitist experience," he says. "And, yes, they will pay it ... and then they don't have money for other shows. Until the hijacking of the best seats stops, this business will continue to have problems."