BEN SISARIO 01/06/13 NY Times
Sales of concert tickets, a vital measurement of the health of the music industry, returned to their former strength in 2012 after two slow years, with Madonna and Bruce Springsteen leading the most popular tours.
The results, however, point to two trends that have long worried critics of the business: rising prices and the predominance of aging superstars whose fans care little about their new material.
The top 100 tours in North America had $2.5 billion in gross ticket sales last year, nearly equal to their peak three years ago, according to Pollstar, a trade publication. Madonna was the biggest attraction, with $134 million in sales, followed by Cirque du Soleil’s tribute to Michael Jackson, “The Immortal,” which had $113 million; Mr. Springsteen was No. 3 with $105 million.
Madonna also topped Pollstar’s worldwide chart, with $296 million in gross sales, followed by Mr. Springsteen with $210 million.
These numbers are welcome for the concert business, which faltered in 2010 after more than a decade of swift growth, for reasons variously attributed to the recession, weak lineups and overpriced tickets. It had only a slight rebound in 2011.
Yet fewer tickets were being sold at higher prices. Fans bought 36.7 million tickets for the Top 100 tours in North America last year, still down from 40.5 million in 2009. Last year, the cost of an average ticket rose to a record $68.76. The Rolling Stones’ handful of 50th anniversary shows was the most expensive, at an average of $519.
And while fans flocked to see Madonna and Mr. Springsteen in concert, they largely avoided their new albums. Madonna’s “MDNA,” released last year, sold 527,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan; as many as a third of those were given away with the purchase of a ticket, according to estimates. Mr. Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball,” also released last year, sold 490,000 copies.
“The well-established acts don’t need new records to help them sell concert tickets,” said Gary Bongiovanni, Pollstar’s editor. “Fans are coming for the hits, and at today’s ticket prices, the acts had better deliver. Play a new song and that’s an audience cue for a bathroom break.”
Eight out of the top 10 North American tours featured older performers in 2012; in addition to Madonna and Mr. Springsteen, they included Roger Waters, Van Halen, Barbra Streisand and Elton John. The biggest acts under 40 last year were Coldplay (at No. 6 with $55 million), whose members are in their mid-30s, and the 18-year-old Justin Bieber (No. 11, $40 million).
Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga, two major young concert draws, were mostly absent from the North American market last year, but will return in 2013. (Lady Gaga’s shows in Asia, Europe and elsewhere last year sold $161 million, putting her at No. 5 on Pollstar’s worldwide chart.)
Pollstar’s numbers count only the face value of a ticket, not the service fees and other surcharges that can add as much as 40 percent to a customer’s final cost.