Summer concert season tanks

L. Bird pkeets at
Mon Jul 12 12:31:44 CDT 2004

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included in the top 10 acts.  Be sure and vote for The Who, of course.  :)

By Michael E. Ross
Updated: 6:47 a.m. ET July 12

Concert promoters are grappling with a so-far disappointing concert season, 
with ticket sales down despite rising consumer confidence and an economy 
that’s on the rebound.

It's stumped the professionals. “We can't really come up with reasons why 
business is off — and we're talking 20 to 50 percent,” said Gary 
Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of Pollstar, which monitors the U.S. concert 
business. “It's got all of us scratching our heads.”

In short order, tours that had featured the cream of rock talent have been 
shuttered: The high-profile Lollapalooza national tour, announced in April 
and set to star PJ Harvey, Modest Mouse, Morrissey, Sonic Youth, the Flaming 
Lips and others, was called off last month for poor ticket sales.

The June 26 stop for the Rolling Rock Town Fair tour was moved from the 
higher-capacity King County Fairgrounds outside Seattle, to a smaller 
theater in the city — due to slow ticket sales, organizers said.

The national Blues on Tour revue, starring such blues legends as Ruth Brown, 
Pinetop Perkins, Little Milton, Bobby Rush, Ike Turner and Robert Jr. 
Lockwood, was also canceled for middling sales. And while there have been a 
host of official reasons for tour cancellations by Marc Anthony (work on an 
album), Jessica Simpson (kidney infection), Christina Aguilera (strained 
vocal cords), Missy Elliott (logistical problems and concerns about 
terrorism), concert industry insiders offer a translation: Nobody’s buying.

April, the cruelest month
“We started out having a strong year,” Bongiovanni said. “First-quarter 
revenues started out well — Prince and Rod Stewart had expensive tours but 
they did pretty good business.

“It was right around April when ticket sales started to slow down 
dramatically,” he said. “People started tightening their purchase of concert 
tickets right around April 15, and it's been that way since then.”

Phil Gallo, associate editor at Variety, the entertainment trade 
publication, concurs. "There's been a noticeable drop-off in concert tickets 
since mid-April,” he said. "People are uncertain about the economy in this 

But that sentiment is not obvious from the economic numbers. The Conference 
Board’s consumer confidence index increased in June jumped to a 22-month 
high, indicating high consumer likelihood to spend money. And another poll 
of consumers found confidence and comfort on the rise.

Too few fresh faces, too many costs
To Gallo, part of the concert problem is generational. Perfomers who year-in 
and year-out sell huge blocks of tickets are the older attractions. “They're 
veteran acts; consequently they're getting veteran concertgoers,” but aren't 
drawing drawing younger concert-goers, he said.

The average ticket price in 2004 was $58.71, up 13 percent from last 
summer's average of $51.81. In 1995, the average ticket price was $25.05.

“We haven't seen the rise of groups that evolved from club acts to midlevel 
to arena acts that you had years ago,” Gallo added.

Fixed expenses, such as the costs of renting major arenas, are another 
issue. “Certain expenses will be the same whether you're selling five 
hundred seats or 5,000,” Gallo said. “When your big-ticket concert tours are 
playing in basketball arenas, you're doing a lot of shows at a higher ticket 

And Pollstar's midyear snapshot of average ticket prices year-over-year show 
those prices going up.

Other distractions
Gallo mentioned other distractions vying for the entertainment dollar, 
diversions that siphon money away from concert business. “Video games, 
movies and to some degree, baseball — where ticket purchases and attendance 
are way up this summer — are certainly pulling money from concert coffers,” 
he said.

Some acts are getting it right. Gallo found much to like about the strategy 
behind Prince's current greatest-hits tour: reasonably-priced tickets with 
the value-added feature of a free copy of Prince's new “Musicology” CD to 
every concertgoer. “He's got a rabid audience that hasn't seen him in that 
setting. For him, this has been a bonanza,” he said.

Lollapalooza’s problems
Other projects, like Lollapalooza, the independent rock tour started in 1991 
by Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell, may have been doubly cursed this 

“The Lollapalooza show had a bill that largely appealed to older fans,” 
Bongiovanni said. “When you’re talking about a two-day long event, most of 
it on weekdays, I don’t think the lineup was such that your average 16- or 
17-year-old — the people in the demographic they need — thought it was 
appealing. PJ Harvey fans would probably prefer to see her in a theater.”

‘The audience for true alternative rock just isn't that big anymore.’ — SETH 

A shift in musical tastes may be to blame. “The audience for true 
alternative rock just isn't that big anymore,” promoter Seth Hurwitz told 
The Washington Post recently. “Lollapalooza was big in the early '90s, when 
the scene was exploding, when you had bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana, and 
it was something new and truly alternative. Now you turn on the TV and 
everyone is pierced.”

And Gallo observed that for Lollapalooza, and other indy-rock ventures, the 
need to secure a major sponsor to help hold down costs is inescapable. “If 
you don't go out and get a corporate sponsorship, you're kind of hosed,” he 

Signs of hope, maybe
It's not all bad news; Bongiovanni said Madonna's current tour would be a 
bright spot; the Material Girl is expected to gross about $46 million for 
the first six months of year, he said.

Things may turn around for other acts, especially with such longtime draws 
as the Ozzfest 2004 tour kicking off its summer tour (Ozzfest began Saturday 
in Hartford, Conn.). “Ozzfest has the added benefit of Black Sabbath 
reuniting, so we'll see,” Bongiovanni said. “Some of those acts do pretty 
fair walkup business.”

‘You never really know until you ask the public to pull out their wallets if 
it’s going to be something the public wants.’— GARY BONGIOVANNI editor, 

And the 2004 edition of the Warped Tour just started, featuring a 
customarily huge bill of rotating artists (this year, among many others 
there's NOFX, Bad Religion, Anti-Flag, and Juliette & the Licks, starring 
actress-singer Juliette Lewis). Taking a page from Prince's playbook, tour 
producers have arranged for giveaways of a double-CD set with every pre-sold 

To Bongiovanni, it's all proof of the guesswork seemingly built into the 
concert business, and how inventive it has to be these days.

“You never really know until you ask the public to pull out their wallets if 
it's going to be something the public wants,” he said. “You never know for 
sure. The concert business is as much art as it is science. Sometimes it's 
more art than science.”

© 2004 MSNBC Interactive

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