Concert Sales Sag As Temperatures Rise

Revenues from concert ticket sales declined substantially during the first half of 2010, according to a recent report from Pollstar. Promoters and artists are blaming the sluggish economy. But some say the industry deserves part of the blame for this year's rash of canceled shows.

The summer concert season is in full swing -- or what passes for full swing in 2010. Some big-name artists are finding a chilly reception on the road this year.

Pollstar, a trade publication that tracks the concert industry, has released an analysis of concert ticket sales for the first half of the year. It shows a significant drop in the combined gross revenue for the top 100 tours of North America -- down 17 percent from the same period last year.

Promoters and artists are blaming the sluggish economy, and that certainly has something to do with what Pollstar reports is a 12 percent drop in the number of tickets sold. But some say the industry itself deserves part of the blame for a rash of canceled shows this year.

The Lilith Fair tour had to cancel 12 dates because of slow ticket sales, according to co-founder Terry McBride. "We're still very much in a recession," McBride says. "If it was just us that was being affected, then I would say it's Lilith. But everyone's been affected. We're just one of the more obvious sort of meters of it."

As summer concert tours go, Lilith Fair seemed like a good bet -- the festival of women in music features a different lineup for each city, anchored by headliner Sarah McLachlan.

But Lilith has been joined by Christina Aguilera, Limp Bizkit and the Jonas Brothers, who've all canceled shows -- or whole tours.

Glenn Peoples, an editorial analyst at Billboard, says that when these shows were booked months ago, many of the acts and promoters assumed the economy would recover faster than it has and that fans would spend money like they always have.

"The story of the summer so far is overconfidence," Peoples says. "It trickled through what kind of tours were booked, what kind of venues they were booked in and what they were priced."

Pollstar reports that the average ticket price is actually down from last year -- to $60.77. You can still sit on the lawn at most summer shows for less than 40 bucks. But if you want to be anywhere near the stage for Bon Jovi or Ozzy Osbourne, you'll have to spend well over $300 per seat.

'They're Just Greedy'

Longtime industry observer Bob Lefsetz says artists and promoters have finally gone too far.

"They're just greedy," Lefsetz says. "[It] used to be people went to concerts on a regular basis, maybe once a month. Now, going to a concert is like going on vacation. The face value is 250 bucks. Times two, plus parking and food. You're in for 750 bucks -- if there's just two of you."

Lefsetz says there's a limit to what consumers will pay, especially for a show they've already seen.

Take The Eagles, one of the most dependable touring acts of the past two decades. The band simply may have toured too frequently, and it's been forced to cancel dates this summer. Still, with sales of recordings in decline, Billboard's Peoples says the concert industry is looking to squeeze out every last dollar it can.

"Everybody is trying to do more with ticket prices," Peoples says. "Earn more while on the road, stay out on the road longer. And it's not surprising that it might eventually come back to bite them in the butt."

But veteran talent manager and former label executive Danny Goldberg says high ticket prices aren't the main problem.

"I think it really depends on the artist -- how recently they were in the market," he says. "If someone just played last year, it's less sexy or exciting than if they haven't played there for 10 years."

Stars like Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber are doing very good business in 2010, Goldberg says. So is a tour pairing veteran songwriters James Taylor and Carole King.

"The interest in seeing live music is very healthy. If there are some concerts that are overpriced, believe me, next time into the market, the artists and promoters will adjust the prices," Goldberg says.

Lilith Fair's McBride, for one, says concert prices are due for an adjustment.

"I think the consumer has said this summer, 'Too much,' " he says.

And not just by staying home. McBride says fans are more savvy about waiting until the last minute to buy tickets at steep discounts as promoters scramble to fill empty seats.

"They know if they hold out long enough, the chances of getting tickets on a two-for-one promotion will actually happen," McBride says. "So they just hold off. It's like the consumer's been trained to hold off buying tickets until the last minute."

The trouble is, if everyone waits until the last minute, there won't be enough advance ticket sales, and the show will get canceled. That's a lesson many artists, promoters and fans may learn the hard way before the summer is over.

Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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