Live music business slumps in first half of 2019, with world’s Top 100 tours down $752m year-on-year

The MBW Review offers our take on some of the music biz’s biggest recent goings-on. This time, we analyze the health of the global live music circuit, using new numbers published by industry data source Pollstar. The MBW Review is supported by Instrumental.

Is the live music industry getting its ticketing strategy wrong – or are there simply not enough megastars touring right now?

These are the big questions the concerts business will be asking itself today, as MBW reveals a significant slump in global touring revenues in the first half of 2019.

The news arrives via MBW analysis of fresh Pollstar figures which detail the Top 100 highest-grossing tours, both across the world and in North America.

The Pollstar stats show that Elton John was the global highest-grossing act in H1 2019, generating $82.6m across 56 shows.

The British singer/songwriter, currently on his farewell tour as biopic Rocketman graces movie theaters, was above P!nk (No.2 with $81.8m), Justin Timberlake (No.3 with $75.5m), Metallica (No.4 with $69.7m) and Fleetwood Mac (No.5 with $67.7m).

However, dig deeper into the Pollstar numbers, and some potentially concerning stats for promoters, agents, venues, ticketing companies and artist managers come to light.

First, the basics: according to MBW’s number-crunching of Pollstar’s data from last year, the Top 100 global tours in H1 2018 turned over $2.81bn in gross sales.

In H1 2019, however, this half-year worldwide figure for the Top 100 tours stood at $2.06bn – falling by 26.8%, or $752m, year-on-year.

In other words, global live music industry ticket sales, on average, generated over $100m less per month in the first half of 2019 than they did in the equivalent period of 2018.

[UPDATE: It should be pointed out that for Pollstar’s H1 2019 Midyear data, it’s measured November ’18 through May ’19, while for H1 2018’s Midyear data, it measured January ’18 through June ’18. This results in a less-than-ideal-apples-to-apples comparison.] 

There was one obvious culprit for this perilous drop in revenues: the total volume of global ticket sales took a hammering in H1 2019.

Pollstar’s data from last year, analyzed by MBW, shows that 31.29m tickets were sold for the world’s Top 100 highest-grossing tours in H1 2018.

However, in the equivalent six months from this year, that half-year ticket sales number had fallen by over 9m, or 28.8%, to 22.28m tickets.

Interestingly, there was one number which did move north in H1 2019: the average ticket price.

MBW’s calculations suggest that the average ticket price of the world’s Top 100 shows was $92.42 in H1 2019 – up from the $89.85 average price posted in the first half of last year.

Obviously, some will query whether this increase in average ticket prices has had an impact on softening demand for shows globally – but elsewhere there seems to be evidence pointing towards a lack of superstar tours in H1 2019 being a key factor.

If we just review at the Top 5-grossing artist tours around the world in H1 2019 (Ed Sheeran; P!nk; Justin Timberlake; Metallica; Fleetwood Mac), they cumulatively grossed $376.6m in ticket sales.

However, the equivalent Top 5 shows in the first half of 2018, according to Pollstar, grossed significantly more, at $621.7m, broken down thusly: No.1: Ed Sheeran, $213.9m; No.2: Bruno Mars: $113.4m; No.3: The Rolling Stones: $100.8m; No.4 Taylor Swift: $98.0m; No.5: P!nk: $95.6m.

That’s a year-on-year decline in Top 5 global touring revenues of $245m, or 39.4%.

These trends are accentuated when we focus on just the Top 50 highest-grossing shows worldwide.

In prior years, Pollstar has supplied detailed numbers on this midyear global sample (Top 50), providing us with a useful historical comparison.

As you can see below, looking back over the past five years, the amount of money grossed by H1 2019’s Top 50 biggest tours globally ($1.67bn) is the smallest half-year figure since 2014 ($1.65bn).

In addition, the total ticket sales in H1 2019 (16.34m) appear to be the smallest on record: previously-published Pollstar numbers show that every half-year Top 50 global ticket sales tally since 2010 has been above 18m.

Stat of the day? The $2.21bn generated by the world’s Top 50 tours in the first half of last year was more than the $2.06bn generated by the world’s Top 100 tours in the first half of this year.

Again, it’s also worth looking at the average ticket price here (calculated by taking the total gross divided by the total ticket sales in the period.)

According to Pollstar data and MBW analysis, the average ticket price in the Top 50 global tours during H1 2019 was $101.93 – breaking the $100 barrier for the first time in history.

This figure was dragged up by tours from the likes of BTS (average ticket: $146.62), the Eagles ($177.02) and Lady Gaga ($269.94).

The increase in average ticket prices seen in the past few years has been partly driven by dynamic pricing, which certain artists use to capture more value from the demand of their fans on the primary market – before this potential gain is squandered on ticket resale sites.

This partly explains why the average Top 50 global ticket price in the first half of 2019 was 20.8% higher than it was as recently as 2017 ($84.40).

Putting this year’s average ticket price climb further in context, it’s worth noting that in H1 2018’s worldwide Pollstar Top 100 list, Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Springsteen On Broadway’ was at No.16, carrying a whopping average ticket cost of $508.78 – an outlier figure in its priciness.

Springsteen On Broadway was less significant in H1 2019, down at No.88 on the global Top 100, with an average price of $506.39.

Finally, Pollstar’s new figures also give us the ability to put the microscope on North America. (You can see Pollstar’s half-year Top 100 tour lists for North America for H1 2019 and H1 2018 through the relevant links in this sentence.)

According to MBW’s analysis of the numbers, North America saw exactly the same declining trends as those which hit the globe in H1 2019.

For one thing, the total concert gross amongst the Top 100 tours in NA during the first six months of this year reached $1.55bn, down by a hefty $97m year-on-year.

Total ticket sales also fell significantly year-on-year. H1 2019 saw cumulative ticket sales of 16.9m, according to our calculations of Pollstar’s data.

This was down 2.2m on the equivalent six months in 2018 – and by a serious-looking 5.9m on the same period of 2017.

According to Pollstar, these Top 100 North American concert tours in H1 2019 were led by P!nk, who generated $81.8m in ticket sales during the period.

She was followed by Justin Timberlake ($75.5m), Elton John ($74.7m), Fleetwood Mac ($67.7m) and KISS ($58.1m).

The average ticket price of The Top 100 North American tours in H1 2019 was $91.88, up on the $85.97 seen in H1 2018.

Most expensive average ticket prices in H1 2019 amongst the TOP 100 NORTH AMERICAN TOURS, ACCORDING TO POLLSTAR
  1. Bruce Springsteen, Springsteen On Broadway ($506.39 average)
  2. Lady Gaga ($269.94)
  3. Aerosmith ($205.02)
  4. Bruno Mars ($193.76)
  5. Andrea Bocelli ($176.41)
  6. George Strait ($173.74)
  7. Gwen Stefani ($170.24)
  8. Eagles ($157.86)
  9. BTS ($146.62)
  10. Fleetwood Mac ($143.58)

The MBW Review is supported by Instrumental, which powers online scouting for A&R and talent teams within the music industry. Their leading scouting platform applies AI processes to Spotify and social data to unearth the fastest growing artists and tracks each day. Get in touch with the Instrumental team to find out how they can help power your scouting efforts.Music Business Worldwide

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