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Concert biz in '04: old-timers rocked
A year marked by higher ticket prices, fans in revolt, a wounded Britney, and a reigning Prince.
December 31, 2004: 3:23 PM EST
By Krysten Crawford, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The king of concerts in 2004 turned out to be a prince.

Prince -- born Prince Rogers Nelson, but also answering at various life stages to The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, or TAFKAP, and The Symbol -- took in $87.4 million on a 96-show tour through North America. That made the 46 year-old singer-songwriter the year's top-grossing concert crooner, according to Pollstar, a weekly trade publication that tracks the concert business.

All in all, it was a ho-hum 2004 for the concert industry. The year was marked by a surge in ticket prices early on, a fan backlash, and deep summer discounting by concert promoters like Clear Channel Communications. It also was a year in which Lollapalooza, the two-day roving rockfest, pulled the plug and some of the biggest solo acts -- among them Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Jessica Simpson -- cancelled some or all of their tours.

In the end, the biggest draws turned out to be Baby Boomers, not their Echo Boomer offspring.

"Ten or 20 years ago, the acts that sold a lot of records were also the big concert ticket sellers," said Gary Bongiovanni, Pollstar's editor-in-chief. "You don't see that correlation today."

Billboard magazine reports that the top 5 album-sellers of 2004 were, in order, R&B singer Usher, the rapper OutKast, pop singer Josh Groban, R&B soloist Alicia Keys and jazz artist Norah Jones.

But in the concert business, the veterans ruled the road.

The old guard owns the stage

According to Pollstar, Prince's "Musicology" tour was followed by Celine Dion, whose 154 Las Vegas shows sold $80.4 million in tickets, and Madonna, with $79.5 million in ticket sales.

Calculated by average gross per city -- arguably a more accurate measure of an artist's appeal -- the Material Girl-turned-Material Mom ranked No. 1, with an average $5.7 million. Madonna, 46, was followed by Elton John, with a mean $3.9 million per city stop, and Jimmy Buffett, with an average $1.3 million.

Elton John is 57 years old. Buffett is 58.

Overall, the domestic concert business hauled in $1.96 billion worth of ticket sales from the top 100 shows, due largely to higher ticket prices. That's a year-over-year increase of less than one percent, said Bongiovanni.

At the same time, however, attendance levels continued to decline. Total tickets sold fell in 2004 by nearly three percent, to 37.6 million.

Bongiovanni attributed the fall-off in attendance to efforts by concert promoters to push through one of their biggest price hikes in recent memory. In the first half of 2004, the average price for a top 50 concert shot up about $7, to about $59 apiece. By way of comparison, average prices rose just $1 in 2003.

Overall, however, prices have more than doubled in the last decade.

Celine Dion
Elton John
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Bongiovanni said the price increase touched off a fan revolt and ticket sales plummeted starting in April. To halt the falloff, Clear Channel (down $0.14 to $33.69, Research) and other promoters lowered ticket prices throughout the summer. The widespread discounting helped to bring the average price for a top 100 concert ticket down for the year, to about $52 apiece. That represents a year-over-year increase of 3.5 percent.

Still, the top headliners cost fans a pretty penny. The most expensive ticket? Elton John, with an average price of $158. Madonna ranked second, at $144, and Celine Dion came in third, with an average ticket costing $136.

The cheapest of the top 25 tours of 2004 was Kid Rock. The rapper-turned-country-crooner charged on average just under $33 per ticket.

Bongiovanni predicted that concert promoters have learned their lesson and are unlikely to attempt another big price hike anytime soon.

"I think there's a pretty widespread understanding now that we've pushed the upper limits of the ticket price and the public has pushed back," said Bongiovanni.

There's also widespread understanding of what sells: old-timers. U2, which kicks off a world tour in March, is expected to be the top headliner of the year. Fans are in a frenzy too over rumors that the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and a reunited Pink Floyd will take to the road.  Top of page

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