More and bigger shows promise to heat up summer concert climate

May 01, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Though the weatherman may be unwilling to guess how high the mercury will climb this summer, the concert industry is already predicting one of the hottest seasons in memory.

Pink Floyd, Barbra Streisand and the Rolling Stones will be touring, as well as a reunion edition of the Eagles. Billy Joel and Elton John are pairing up for some stadium shows, as are Traffic and the Grateful Dead. There's another Lollapalooza on the way, as well as at least one Woodstock anniversary show.

Add in such seasonal stalwarts as Jimmy Buffett, Bonnie Raitt and the Moody Blues, and the summer of '94 promises to deliver more shows -- and bigger shows -- than any season in memory. The only question is, will there be fans (and dollars) enough to fill all the seats?

"Based on the level of and number of acts out working, and the fact that there are so many stadium tours," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert trade publication Pollstar, "Pollstar is forecasting that this is going to be the biggest year in the history of the concert business, in terms of ticket sales volume.

"Now, whether it's the most profitable or not is a whole other question," he adds. "There are so many acts out working, and really, we don't know what the depth of the market is. I mean, you have so many millions of dollars being taken out of these markets by Pink Floyd or Streisand, or the Eagles or the Billy Joel-Elton John -- how is that going to impact some of the mid-level acts?"

Bongiovanni isn't exaggerating when he talks about millions of dollars, either. Even before Pink Floyd began its current 3 1/2 -month tour, it had sold more than 3 million tickets -- with premium seats going for as much as $75. Barbra Streisand, though playing just a handful of cities, sold $30 million worth of tickets in just a few hours. Four shows at Giants Stadium by Billy Joel and Elton John brought in a total of $10 million.

Amazingly, these tours are selling well or selling out despite prices that would have seemed nightmarish 10 years ago. Where $18-$20 tickets were once typical for big-name rock and pop acts, today's fans find themselves paying $35-$45 a seat for stadium Billy Joel (left) and Elton John will tour together during what is predicted to be a landmark concert year. Moreover, thanks to a concept called "golden circle" seating, the best seats in the house are even more expensive -- $75 for Joel-John, $115 for the Eagles, and a bank-breaking $350 for Streisand.

When people spend that kind of money, says Bongiovanni, they're no longer working out of the "concert budget" they usually would.

"To some extent, the concert business is competing with record sales, video games and every other way people have to spend their money," he explains. "So you expect that some of the money is not just coming at the expense of other concert tickets, but at the expense of other discretionary purchases."

Still, even the most affluent fans have only so much money. Consequently, savvy agents and promoters started selling the summer of '94 much earlier than usual.

"The whole marketing campaign for the Pink Floyd tour was brilliant," says Bongiovanni. "They went on sale [early], and really took the money out of the markets before there was anything to compete with them. And I think that's probably why it was as strong as it was -- or at least one of the reasons, anyway."

Competition from these tours was one of the reasons the Merriweather Post Pavilion announced its subscription series offerings earlier than usual, says Jean Parker, the pavilion's general manager. And so far, that tack seems to be working to Merriweather's benefit.

"Jimmy Buffett went on sale at the end of March, and it sold out the fastest it has ever sold," she says. "We had the subscription series released early, and two of the series are doing better than they've ever done."

Although some economists insist consumers are still watching their spending, Parker hasn't seen any evidence of a recession in this year's ticket sales.

"Our season has not been affected," she says. "It seems that the concert-buying public has the discretionary income to afford -- or at least charge -- those shows coming into the market."

Still, Bongiovanni says that some acts definitely ought to worry about filling seats this summer.

"Each attraction will be judged on its own merits, and those that manage to offer good value or something unique, at least in the public mind, will succeed," he says. "On the other hand, if it's an act that tours every summer and doesn't have a hit record, while under normal circumstances you might think they would do OK, this year they may find themselves hurting.

"But that's the case every summer, because there are too many shows in too short a time. I mean, two-thirds to three-fourths of our business occurs in the three months of summer."

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