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Stones Tour Pays Off

Group grosses $50 million from three-month tour

Mick Jagger performing onstage on June 19th, 1982.
Jan Persson/Redferns
January 21, 1982

The Rolling Stones' 1981 U.S. tour was more than just an artistic triumph. It was also a spectacular financial coup — the headiest windfall in rock & roll history. In its aftermath, Mick Jagger stands revealed as a master career strategist of the first order — the toughest, shrewdest businessman to emerge on the entertainment scene since Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra. Some supporting facts:

¶ Ticket sales: More than 2 million people paid at least fifteen dollars apiece to see the Stones over the course of the twelve-week tour. The Stones' cut of this approximately $34 million gross is reliably estimated to have ranged from seventy-two percent to as high as ninety percent, depending on the venue. Say $25 million to $30 million.

¶ Merchandising: Sales of Rolling Stones T-shirts, jerseys, bumperstickers, badges and tour programs constituted a separate bonanza in themselves. Midway through the tour, it was widely estimated that merchandising sales were averaging one T-shirt (ten dollars) per customer — a gross of more than $20 million. Toward tour's end, however, at least one regional promoter insisted that the final figure would be double that. The Stones' share — reckoned to be twenty-five percent — could thus be as much as $10 million.

¶ Record sales: The Stones' tour gave a considerable boost to what was already the group's strongest album in years. It was expected that by year's end Tattoo You would have sold a total of 3 million copies in the U.S. alone; figuring that the Stones command a very high royalty rate — perhaps as much as $1.50 per album  — this would add $4.5 million to the group's income (exclusive of song-writing royalties, which accrue solely to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards). In this context, revenues from the two singles released so far from the album, and two past albums that have reentered the charts, seem like small change. Looming larger would be publishing royalties. In the Stones case, these will run about four cents per song — forty cents per album — for a total of $1,200,000.

¶ Video: The Stones' Hampton Coliseum concert was scheduled to be broadcast live to cable-television subscribers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Phoenix, Dallas, Chicago, Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Ann Arbor, Boston and Miami. A half-million people were expected to pay ten dollars apiece for the pleasure of watching, yielding a gross profit of $5 million. At press time, the Stones' percentage of this venture was unknown, but their immediate profit would only be preliminary, as the tape of the show seems certain to become a cable-TV staple, and probably a hot draw on the midnight-screening circuit.

¶ Tour sponsorship: Jovan, Inc., a major perfume manufacturer, gave the Stones "several million dollars" to help offset production costs and, it was said, to underwrite small-theater gigs that the group would otherwise have had to play at a loss. (Only one such intimate gig occurred, though  — at the 4000-seat Fox Theatre in Atlanta.) In return for this upfront largesse, Jovan received permission to create and sell its own Stones tour poster at fragrance counters around the country, the right to have the company's name printed on concert tickets and a large block of those tickets with which to run radio giveaways in each concert market. (According to Jovan's advertising director, David Miller, the Stones' audience now includes two distinct generations, ranging in age from midteens to midthirties. The radio tie-ins, he said, were particularly valuable in reaching the younger end of that spectrum, "fifteen, sixteen  — people who are just starting to think about wearing fragrances.") Estimates of Jovan's promotional donation to the Stones have ranged up to $4 million.

The final tally: a possible gross of more than $50 million.

The key word here, of course, is "gross." Tour expenses were unusually high. Promoter Bill Graham's Raindrop Productions provided the Stones with state-of-the-art sound and lighting, as well as two custom-designed outdoor stages, a remarkable rotating indoor stage and a cumbersome, hydraulically powered cherry picker to swing Jagger out over the crowd during "Jumping Jack Flash." Hotel and food bills for the Stones' tour crew — sixty-eight people for the outdoor gigs, fifty-two inside — were also expensive. And the tab for the rented jet that carried the group and its entourage around the country — a 103-passenger Boeing 727 redesigned into a fifty-three-seat "executive configuration," complete with built-in bars and couches — was said to total $500,000.

And though the Stones saved money by booking locally available bands in each region (rather than carrying one or two groups around with them), those acts still had to be paid. (Not much, however: James Brown, scheduled to open the New York City concerts, canceled out on the day of the first show after the Stones failed to come up with what he considered a dignified amount of dough.)

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