For the touring industry, these are now officially the best of times.
"The concert business is basically on fire," says veteran agent Dennis Arfa, president of Artists Group International (AGI).
Anecdotal information from virtually every stakeholder in the live music business including buyers, sellers, venues, vendors, ticketers and other ancillary providers confirms the touring industry has been having a banner year since last spring.
Now Billboard's own metric, the Boxscore chart, validates these boom times from a numbers standpoint, with the most positive and promising trends of this century.
The dark days for the industry that marked the close of this millennium's first decade are not only firmly in the rear view, but now appear to be an anomaly, as 2013 Boxscore reports soared to a record level of $4.8 billion in gross ticket sales worldwide. That's up nearly 30% from last year and up 9% over the biggest Boxscore year ever 2009 the year before the touring bubble burst after a decade of growth.
TOP 25 TOURS OF 2013
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In 2009, warning signs were plentiful as grosses outpaced attendance and a handful of mega-tours belied an industry with a distorted value proposition and disenfranchised fans.
But, four years later, all signs point toward continued growth as the industry remains focused on providing value and customer service, international markets continue to open, new artists are developing solid foundations and selling tickets across several genres, and new-media marketing tools come to bear in quantifiable ways.
Unlike Nielsen SoundScan figures, Boxscore numbers depend on the consistency and accuracy of reports from promoters, venues, agents and managers, and represent just a fraction of the overall value of the live business. In fact, with all the non-reporting tours, concerts, events, soft-ticket shows, casinos, private concerts and international plays, the touring industry is surely at its highest level ever, with fans worldwide ponying up a conservative Billboard estimate of more than $15 billion annually for the in-the-moment experience that only live performance can offer.
It is a rare situation for the news to be so positive in every aspect, with double-digit increases in many different metrics. By contrast, in 2012, North American Boxscore grosses were up a modest 1.7% and attendance was down 6%.
The North American numbers hold up on a per-show basis, with the average gross in North America up 17.4% and average attendance up 17.8%, the first time the latter has outpaced the former perhaps ever in the modern era, and a reflection of more conservative pricing overall.
More important, the pricing doesn't skew downward due to deep discounting or fire sales, as the industry at large has moved away from price slashing and focused more on "right pricing" out of the gate.
What's true in North America for the overall business is also true for Live Nation, the world's largest promoter. In North America, Live Nation concert ticket sales are up 15% year-on-year to more than 20 million, with prices remaining relatively flat for the past several years, according to Live Nation North American Concerts co-president Bob Roux.
"We're obviously ecstatic about the results this year," Roux says. In the end, the tailspin of 2010 led to a large-scale cessation in Boxscore reporting that still hasn't resumed previous levels.
For example, midway through 2010, as the downturn started hammering summer tours, Live Nation, the world's largest promoter, stopped reporting all shows as a matter of course, although it still does frequently report certain top-end tours upon request and all shows from its Global Touring division. But, in perhaps yet another positive indicator of the business' health, Live Nation reported 54% more shows this year than last.
WHAT'S DRIVING THE NUMBER?
Touring is, as ever, a cyclical business, and mega-tours by U2, the Rolling Stones or Madonna tend to skew the numbers upward due to higher ticket prices, larger venues and global footprints. Many in the business would agree that this is the year the industry at large significantly moved the needle in using data analytics to sell more tickets and tackle one of touring's great obstacles: lack of awareness.
As far as fielding compelling tours and pricing them correctly, 2013 was a year where the stake-holders got it right.
"I hate comparing years, but as an overall theme  was one of the most intelligently booked, promoted and embraced concert years in my recent memory," Creative Artists Agency managing partner/head of music Rob Light says. People really went at it with a very intelligent, fan-friendly point of view for the most part."
NEXT PAGE: THE PROMOTERS & THE TOURING BOOM TIMES CONTINUE