Tough year for concert sales may push ticket prices down

A TOP PERFORMER: Lady Gaga, who played the Verizon Center in September, had a successful tour.
A TOP PERFORMER: Lady Gaga, who played the Verizon Center in September, had a successful tour. (Tracy A Woodward)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 31, 2010

It's official. The concert business had a lousy 2010.

On Wednesday, Pollstar, a trade magazine that tracks the vital signs of the concert industry, released its annual ranking of the top 50 concert tours for the 2010 calendar year.

And it's ugly. The top tours in North America grossed 15 percent less than in 2009, dropping from $1.99 billion to $1.69 billion. Ticket sales fell 12 percent. And the total number of concerts was down about 3 percent. Oof, ouch and bummer.

But heading into the new year, the industry's pain could turn into the fans' gain. "Hopefully, there will be some more reasonable ticket prices [in 2011]," says Pollstar's editor in chief, Gary Bongiovanni. "I would expect that we'll see lower-priced seats on the low end."

That could mean cheaper nosebleed and lawn seats for many concert tours, but probably not for big-name acts such as Justin Bieber, Michael Buble or Lady Gaga - each of which enjoyed a very lucrative 2010 and are expected to continue filling venues at ballooning ticket prices.

But Biebers and Gagas notwithstanding, the concert biz still took a bruising last year. Ignoring that pesky economic recession, artists often refused to drop prices, opting instead to cancel underselling shows, or even entire tours. Rihanna, Maxwell, Christina Aguilera and the Jonas Brothers were among the numerous acts that nixed dates across the country over the summer.

Locally, the most dramatic example of the concert industry's woes was seen in May, when the Eagles, the Dixie Chicks and Keith Urban bagged a June 15 concert at Washington's Nationals Park. Promoter Live Nation cited scheduling conflicts, but lackluster sales due to steeply priced tickets may have been partly to blame. Seats were going for up to $240.

In 2011, promoters will likely have to be more choosy about whom they invite to the stage. And artists might have to reconsider what they'd like to charge.

"I think everyone is going to be more conservative in their booking," says Bongiovanni. "And I think the artists themselves have gotten the message that this isn't the time to push the envelope and try to make as much money as possible. It's better to be more conservative in your goals."

And while Bongiovanni expects ticket prices to fall across the country in 2011, that might not be the case in the Washington area.

"Gauging how bad [2010] was depended on who you asked," says Glenn Peoples, senior editorial analyst at Billboard Magazine. "In a big city like D.C. or New York, there is an incredible supply of live events - and there's also an incredible demand. What happens in a major market is not representative of what's happening in the rest of the country."

Many Washington area promoters second that.

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