Music

After a Hot 2023, Touring Business Eyes More Growth

The concert business has had a record year in 2023 — tours by Taylor Swift and Beyoncé were pop culture moments, festivals roared back to life and consumers’ splurging on tickets seemed to defy gravity. There’s likely more good news on the horizon, too. By all forecasts, next year is shaping up for continued success, even as consumers still feel pinched by inflation.

Among the big names to announce stadium tours next year are The Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters, Green Day and a pairing of Journey and Def Leppard. Chris Stapleton, Zach Bryan and Luke Combs will hit both stadiums and arenas. Drake, Bad Bunny, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Hootie & the Blowfish, New Kids on the Block, Alanis Morissette and The Trilogy Tour featuring Enrique Iglesias, Ricky Martin and Pitbull will play arenas and amphitheaters. Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour continues in 2024, too, with 85 shows announced for Asia, Australia and North America.

Advanced ticket sales suggest consumers remain eager to see their favorite artists perform live. Through mid-October, Live Nation’s event-related deferred revenue — from ticket sales to events that had not yet occurred — was up 39% year over year, according to the company’s third-quarter earnings release.

AEG Presents, the second-largest promoter, is “feeling really positive” about 2024 tours across all venue sizes and genres, says Rich Schaefer, president of global touring. “I think people are discovering new artists and want to see big shows — and they’re willing to pay for it.” They’re buying well in advance, too: AEG put tickets on sale for 83 Zach Bryan shows in 2024 — some won’t happen until December — and has “largely sold everything out,” says Schaeffer. “That artist especially has a crazy connection with his fans. They’ve seen videos of what his shows are like, and I think everybody wants to experience it.”

Those big tours — and thousands of others — are counting on consumers to continue to open their wallets despite continued high prices for staples and living expenses, rising debt delinquencies and Americans’ credit card debt reaching a record level in the third quarter. The holidays are presenting mixed signals: Black Friday spending was up 2.5% compared to 2022, but numerous surveys have found consumers plan to spend less on gifts this year.

Consumers may feel beleaguered, but they continue to spend to see their favorite artists perform live. “I have weekly booking calls with the over 40 presidents around the world and we talk booking clubs up to stadiums and festivals, and we have not seen anything taper off in any sense,” said Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino during the company’s Nov. 2 earnings call. The company is “not seeing any pullback in any way” in consumer demand regardless of the region or venue size, he added.

A big question, though, is whether consumers will be in a spending mood throughout 2024. A new Goldman Sachs economic outlook report says the U.S. economy today is better than was expected a year ago, inflation will continue to subside and the likelihood of a recession in 2024 is “limited.” The latest data from the University of Michigan is encouraging: U.S. consumer sentiment soared in December and people’s expectations for year-ahead inflation dropped to 3.1% from 4.5% last month.

Whatever uncertainties exist — including falling savings rates and weakening credit conditions — have not materialized in ticket sales thus far. “We certainly see the headlines [about macroeconomic conditions], but it’s not flowing through to numbers that we can see,” Lawrence Fey, CFO of secondary ticket marketplace Vivid Seats, said during a Nov. 7 earnings call.

One could simply look at who’s touring in 2024 to get a sense of where ticket buyers are thinking. “You got The Stones going on the road in parts in North America,” says Doug Arthur of Huber Research Partners. “They’re always a pretty big draw. The Stones are pretty savvy historically about touring when they think the economics support it.”

Consumers’ willingness to spend increasing amounts on live music isn’t a new trend — although some of 2023’s record-setting box office numbers appear to be the result of music fans may be clamoring for live events in after suffering through pandemic-era restrictions. The concert industry has benefited from a lasting shift among consumers from goods to experiences over the last 10 to 15 years, says Brandon Ross, an analyst with LightShed Partners.

This year’s boffo box office numbers weren’t outliers, and Ross expects to see “outsized performance on a global basis” in 2024. “There has been a year-and-a-half long concern for a broader pullback in consumer spending,” says Ross. “I don’t think will not impact growth, but I think there’s substantial tailwind supporting this industry.”

Those tailwinds probably won’t be strong enough for next year’s touring business to duplicate 2023’s stellar growth rate — but no one seems to be expecting that. “I don’t think you’re talking about another up 30% type of year, and I don’t think [Live Nation is] talking about that either,” says Arthur. “But can the concert revenues be up high single digits between volume, fans per show, price per ticket and spending per fan? Yeah, I think that’s not unreasonable at all.”

Artists and promoters will continue to encounter high costs in 2024 — labor, catering, buses and staging are stretched thin with a high number of big tours on the road. That’ll continue to push ticket prices up. Even so, AEG hasn’t seen resistance to higher prices, says Schaefer. “There’s very few instances where we think that pricing is responsible for tickets not selling.”

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