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Arena Tours: The Art and Science Behind Sold Out Shows

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Jennifer Lopez at The Mother Premiere at the Village Theater on May 10, 2023 in Westwood, CA. Via Shutterstock

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what’s really going on with arena tours?

This week’s episode is about arena tours and the art and science behind sold-out shows. There’s been a lot of talk recently about J. Lo and others who have struggled to sell tickets, so we decided to dig in and break down the current landscape. I’m joined by my guy, CAA agent Akin Aliu.

You can listen here or read below for some highlights.

There have been several articles and viral tweets about well-known artists who have struggled to sell their arena concert tours in recent months. The Black Keys, Charli XCX, Porter Robinson, and the list goes on.

There’s a lot of finger-pointing and a lot of schadenfreude, but are we cherry-picking the bad news?

Artists like Asake and Burna Boy have sold out arena-level venues. 50 Cent’s The Final Lap Tour has sold well too, especially outside of North America. Artists in other genres, like Pearl Jam, have sold out these same venues without an issue.

But that said, we knew there would be pent-up demand post-pandemic, but how long will that last before things level off?

Fans have more things than ever that compete for their attention. Having agoodtour isn’t enough. It needs to be a can’t-miss event that people are willing to leave their houses and spend their time and money on. People need to feel the urgency when they first hear that tickets are on sale.

Also, the cost of the tour has risen! That puts pressure on artists to get higher guarantees from promoters for their shows. At a certain level, an arena is the smallest venue size that can fulfill that guarantee.

Every few weeks, I walk by the Chase Center in San Francisco to see an upcoming concert and say to myselfReally? That artist is in arenas now? Yeah, good luck with that.Sometimes I was pleasantly proven wrong, but other times I was not.

But Chase, like other arenas and stadiums, are either owned or operated by one of the major events promoters. Those promoters get a cut of ancillary revenue from the concert, which shifts the incentives decision-making for certain tours.

It can lead a promoter to push for a show in a larger venue because the revenue they get from ancillary sources may offset the money lost from the guarantee.

The larger tour also gasses up the ego of an artist who wants to be at an arena level and wants to bet on themselves, even if they’re not there yet.

You should listen to the full episode here or read below for more highlights.

the art and science of predicting demand

When Akin and I talked about estimating demand, I remembered my time working at Delta Air Lines. That industry has revenue management down to a science. If you want to fly from Los Angeles to Tokyo on August 19, there are endless data points to determine the exact price, size of the plane, the lifetime value of a customer who purchases that flight, and how many no-shows to expect on the flight.

Touring is different. There are far fewer data points, yet more intangibles. It’s both art and science.

In 2019, Nicki Minaj and Future couldn’t sell their joint arena tour, NICKIHNDRXXX, in North America, so they shelved it. But in 2024, Nicki Minaj’s arena tour added extra shows and will be one of the highest-selling hip-hop tours yet.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Lopez, who had a successful arena tour in 2019, had to cancel her arena tour in 2024. Which historical data points could have predicted either outcome? In live music, data needs to be matched with an understanding of the culture and context.

your followers (and listeners) aren’t your fans

We’ve talked often about how social media followers don’t translate to album sales. That dynamic is even more true for selling concert tickets. Neither followers, streams, or soft tickets sold at a nightclub or festival may have a direct correlation to hard ticket sales at an artist’s own concert.

The music industry is building its superfan products for an artist’s most passionate fans. Those products are built to maximize recorded music and publishing revenue, but some of those tools may be even more effective at identifying concertgoers. Right now, superfans may leave money on the table on DSPs, but the live business and vinyl sales capture a lot of that market.

The tools may improve, but mastering the touring business will continue to be both an art and a science.

Listen to the rest of the episode for more on:

– Planning touts for newer artists with big songs, like Tommy Richman
– why do some agents take bigger risks for their artists than others
– how to package a unique concert to sell to fans

Chartmetric stats of the week – Charli XCX

The British singer’s tour may not have taken off as expected, but her fanbase still shows up to stream her music. Her Spotify popularity index is at  82, which is the highest it has been for her since the stat has been tracked.

Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

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