Jennifer Lopez and The Black Keys’ tour cancellation raises questions for industry

For the concert industry, 2023 is the year to pop the champagne. The worst of the pandemic is behind us, with sold-out shows large and small, and major tours from Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Drake and Bruce Springsteen pushing the industry to record ticket sales .

This year, as in many areas of the economy, success on the road appears more fragile. A string of high-profile cancellations and slow sales at some major events have raised questions about an overcrowded market and whether ticket prices are too expensive.

Most notably, Jennifer Lopez and the Black Keys canceled their entire arena tour. In the case of The Black Keys—a rock radio stalwart and pop touring force for nearly two decades—the fallout has been so severe that the band has been in conflict with two managers, industry giants Irving Azoff and Steve · Moyle – Parted ways. Azoff and Moir said through representatives that they had “amicably parted ways” with the band.

Coachella is typically a busy music festival that sells out before performers are announced, and tickets for the second of the California festival’s two weekends are still available when it opens in April.

The issues prompted headlines about the concert business potentially being in trouble. But many in the industry say the reality is far more complex, with no simple explanation for the problems that have arisen across a series of tours, and after an extraordinary few years as fans flock to shows following the Covid-19 shutdown. It may level off.

“I think this is back to normal pre-COVID times,” said Rich Schaefer, president of global tours for AEG, the company behind Swift and the Rolling Stones’ tours. “The popular shows will sell tickets. The middle shows will sell out, but they will take longer. And the ones that don’t have a lot of buzz are going to struggle.

Live Nation said in a statement that sales are up so far this year compared to the same period in 2023, with more than 100 million tickets sold. “Each year, some events naturally get canceled for a variety of reasons, and through 2024, the cancellation rate across all venue types is 4%, the same as last year,” the company said.

In addition to Swift’s Eras Tour, which continues to be popular in Europe, this year’s top events include tours by Olivia Rodrigo, Coldplay, Morgan Wallen and Zach Bryan. Other music festivals, such as Chicago’s Lollapalooza, are also seeing strong sales.

Still, the dramatic cancellations of high-priced shows could present another public relations headache for Ticketmaster parent company Live Nation. . Live Nation has denied the allegations.

The main concern across the industry is that ticket prices, which have been rising steadily for years, may now be too high, deterring fans from attending all but their once-in-a-lifetime bucket list shows. Even tickets for many large tour groups don’t disappear immediately.

For example, when Billie Eilish put her latest arena tour on sale in April, upper-level seats at some venues went for more than $200 and took weeks to sell.

Also behind is a joint tour with rapper Future and producer Metro Boomin, who shared two No. 1 albums and a chart-topping single earlier this year. Even with tickets as low as $44.50, thousands of seats of all levels were available for July’s opening night concert in Kansas City, Missouri. Much to the chagrin of underperformers, the strength of sales can now be seen in real time on Ticketmaster, with each unsold seat showing a blue dot (while seats that are on resale show a pink dot ).

The average ticket price for one of the world’s top 100 tours last year was $131, up 23 percent from the previous year, according to Pollstar, a trade publication that tracks concert tickets.

Steve Martin of Paladin Artists is the booking agent for classic rock acts such as Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.

“The core of the business is made up of things like classic rock bags,” Martin said. “These people are more price-sensitive. Working-class people care about grocery and gas prices.

No single explanation can cover the range of problems in the live streaming market this year. Some tours, such as the Black Keys tour, may simply be a matter of the band overestimating demand.

In 2021, The Black Keys left their longtime manager to form a new partnership with Azoff and Moyle, who also collaborated with John Mayer and Grateful Dead spinoff Dead & Co., The band later praised Azoff for being “focused on touring and selling our tickets.” But even after releasing a new album in April (the band’s 12th), concert sales still lagged, leading to cancellations and behind-the-scenes cleanings.

After the tour was canceled, the group posted on social media that it would be making “some changes” to its tour plans to provide a more “intimate experience.” Representatives from the band’s record label did not respond to requests for comment on the management changes.

Nostalgia alone may not be enough to easily fill venues across the country. Lopez, while still a movie star and tabloid feature, hasn’t had a hit song in a decade. Tickets for Justin Timberlake’s ongoing arena tour have been sold on the primary and secondary markets, with prices on StubHub sometimes well below face value.

Fans outside of high-demand markets like New York and Los Angeles don’t always need to rush to stand in digital queues when tickets go on sale. Tickets for some genres, such as hip-hop, tend to sell out more slowly than others but can still sell out before a show. For example, the latest stop on Nicki Minaj’s tour was a sea of ​​blue dots.

Fares are affected by many factors, from gas and crew wage costs (which have been rising since the pandemic) to macroeconomic factors that are amortized over the course of a trip. Global promoters like Live Nation and AEG often offer artists guaranteed payments that cover all their shows; a larger guarantee means the price has to be higher to recoup the investment.

Dan Wall, Live Nation’s executive vice president of corporate and regulatory affairs, said that while promoters may recommend pricing based on deal guarantees, “it’s the artist’s team that ultimately determines the ticket price.”

Armistice analysis of ticket sales has become another imitated and weaponized element of modern fandom, raising the stakes. Screen grabs of available seats for upcoming concerts have gone viral, sparking media coverage as industry observers on social media compete to showcase their favorite products’ dominance.

“I think people online are just realizing that you can look at seat maps and see what the show is like,” said Sam Hunt, an executive at touring company Wasserman Music. “So I think part of it is that the touring business probably hasn’t changed that much — not every swing is a home run — but people are paying more attention to it and having typical internet reactions.”

Still, some music fans believe that major concerts are more extravagant than before.

Cliff Russell, 39, said in an interview that his two teenage daughters are interested in watching Rodrigo, Drake, Alison blockbuster tours with stars like Eilish and Swift.

But the family, who live outside Toronto, splashed out on tickets to Swift’s Eras tour in November — the total cost for four tickets was nearly $3,000, “not including transportation, parking and souvenirs” — with each ticket costing Spent $300 on upper deck seats.

“What was once the Holy Grail ticket price is now the average ticket price,” Russell said. “You have to be very picky.”

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