2003 Comes Alive

Classic-rock acts lead a record year in the concert business.

BY WARREN COHEN

February 5, 2004

While the record biz limped along in 2003, the concert industry soard to an all-time record of $2.5 billion in ticket sales - up nineteen percent from last year, according to Pollstar. Veteran artists led the way, with acts such as Bruce Springsteen and the Eagles toppping the list. In fact, the youngest group in the Top Ten was the Dixie Chicks, who debuted more than a decade ago. “Touring is one of the few areas of the music business where are people have an interest,” says Dennis Arfa, President of Writers & Artists Group International, a talent agency. “You can’t download the live experience.”

Springsteen's earnings of $115.9 million were the second-highest gain in history, behind the Rolling Stones' 1994 take of $121.2 million. Higher ticket prices had a lot to do with it: The average fee for a top 100 tour reached $50.35, almost double the figure from 1996.But the rate of ticket price hikes have slowed to about 8 percent, compared with 15.4 percent in 1997. “There were nominal increases here and there,” says David Lucas, president and co-CEO Clear Channel Entertainment-Music. “But we’re constantly working with our artists to keep ticket prices down - it’s important to the public.”

The Rolling Stones charged the highest gate, with a $158.17 average ticket price. In contrast, the average ticket to see Coldplay or The White Stripes didn’t exceed $30.

Ticket prices rose in 2003, but so did sales. the Top 100 tours sold 38.7 million tickets, up 10 percent from '02. “Our average show attendance was up substantially,” says Lucas.

Some veteran promoters are worried about the lack of hot new touring acts. 50 Cent, for example, sold the most records last year, but his 90-city tour only ranked him 22nd among the year’s biggest acts. "Where are the next headliners coming from as the music business implodes?" asks Randy Phillips, president/CEO of AEG Live, which promoted tours by the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. "It scares me to death."