ONE-MAN SHOW: Ed Sheeran drew more than 76,000 to one show at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta in 2023, setting a record for concerts at the 7-year old venue. (Courtesy Venue)
Dave Brown struggles to find the right words to describe the record-shattering concert business across the arena and stadium industry this year.
Brown is chief operating officer and general manager of American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, and he’s worked at the building for 25 years, dating to when it was under construction in 1998. AAC, like many venues at the big-league level, saw a record number of shows take place at the arena in 2023.
“It was our biggest year ever, with 55 concerts, and that’s not counting Madonna moving to (2024) and Aerosmith pending,” Brown said. “The fall was a blowout. We’ve done 30 shows in the past four months, which is a ridiculous run. It’s not just (patrons spending) discretionary income anymore; it’s almost like people see these live events as essential services, a part of life they must experience.”
Going on four years after the pandemic shut down sports and entertainment in March 2020, there is no sign of a slowdown in concert activity across North America. In fact, it’s bigger than ever with content bursting at the seams. The shift to overdrive is tied in part to multiple acts that have taken the next step to play arenas and stadiums.
In addition, escalating ticket prices have not affected a robust piece of the biz entering what should be another banner year in 2024.
For 2023, stadium concert ticket sales were up by 22% over 2022, according to Pollstar/VenuesNow data compiled by charts guru Bob Allen. For arenas, the increase was 29% over last year’s numbers. (See year-end totals in this month’s magazine)
Fresh faces have been key to fueling the spikes in revenue. Some artists, like Zach Bryan, have seemingly come out of nowhere, vaulting in prominence to book NFL facilities in 2024. It’s Bryan’s first tour playing the highest capacity buildings for live music.
“He’s just not coming up quick, but doing a double at our place,” said Doug Roberts, vice president of stadium events and premium sales for AMB Sports and Entertainment, the company that runs Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. “In the past, some acts would be on their fourth stadium run before they had enough demand to do doubles. To have someone doing a double on their first stadium tour is crazy.”
In Dallas, Brown said it’s tough to keep up with all the new artists lining up to play arenas. He finds himself doing a Google search to find more information on new acts that he’s never heard of before they pop up on his “pipeline report.” He’ll call Dave Ireland, American Airlines Center’s vice president of booking, who identifies the style of music and informs him it should be a quick sellout.
All told, AAC’s 55 shows this year generated $88 million in gross ticket sales with 720,588 in attendance, Brown said.
“I’ve had one show in the last 20 that didn’t sell out clean,” he said. “Part of it is Dallas has doubled in size (to 1.3 million population) since the arena opened in 2001.”
Across the industry, those sellout crowds are establishing records in retail sales, gobbling up merchandise like there’s no tomorrow.
For 2023, per caps ran from $42.50 for Taylor Swift to just short of $60 for Travis Scott in some markets. K-pop acts produced average spends of $30 to $60 depending on the group. Suga, a 20-year-old Korean rapper and member of global phenomenon BTS, had the highest merch per cap at Prudential Center, arena officials said.
Those are mind boggling numbers, driven in part by T-shirts, hoodies and posters branded exclusively for individual venues that are part of the tour, items that can only be purchased at the show.
“There’s something in the water,” Brown said. “We keep crushing our per caps. It seems like the next big show that comes in breaks the record.”
In Tampa, Florida, throngs of Swifties swarmed Raymond James Stadium’s merchandise trailers set up a day prior to the first of Taylor Swift’s three concerts at the home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
All told, Taylor’s Tampa run generated $8.5 million in gross merchandise sales from close to 200,000 in total attendance.
“We’re seeing strong merchandise numbers across the board and artists have made the smart move of tying it into the shows,” said Eric Hart, president and CEO of the Tampa Sports Authority, the Bucs’ landlord. “They’ll sell it online, but if people want the really good stuff, they’re going to get it at the event.”
Raymond James Stadium played host to a record eight concerts in 2023, the most in a single year since the facility opened in 1998. Since March 2022, all 11 shows at the building have been sellouts, which Hart says has proven the Tampa-St. Petersburg region can hold its own against much bigger markets.
It’s helped that veteran promoters such as Louis Messina, producer of Taylor Swift and Kenny Chesney stadium tours, among others, trusted TSA officials as they pushed for more concerts at Raymond James after Hart took over in 2009. Over the past 15 years, the authority went out on a limb, taking financial risk to promote Swift and Chesney the first time those artists played the stadium.
Under Hart’s direction, Raymond James has had close to 30 concerts, compared with three shows over the venue’s first decade of operation. For 2024, the six concerts booked to date at the Bucs’ building, including Billy Joel/Sting, will all sell more than 50,000 tickets, Hart said.
“We didn’t really want to be in that business (of self-promoting concerts), but we had to take the risk to show everybody that Tampa wasn’t a dead market,” he said. “Our numbers weigh out and we’re a good destination now for concerts.”
The same is true in Kansas City, Missouri, where the running joke is that Taylor Swift, based on her relationship with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, will extend her residency at Geha Field at Arrowhead Stadium beyond her two performances in 2023.
Arrowhead had six concerts in ‘23, the most in a single year since the building opened in 1972. The stadium grossed more than $55 million from those six events, plus Feld Entertainment’s Monster Jam, with 375,000 tickets sold, said Jeremy Slavens, the Chiefs’ vice president of Arrowhead Events.
Those are impressive stats, considering Kansas City, among the smallest markets in the big leagues, has one of the biggest stadiums in the NFL with 74,416 seats. It’s a dynamic that can be a hurdle to overcome, Slavens said, but the “Show Me State” has shown its might for live music apart from the Chiefs and their rabid fan base.
“We’re glad to be part of this story,” said Slavens, who’s been with the Chiefs for 20 years. “Years ago, that wasn’t the case. It’s the hard work we’ve put in over time, a testament to the relationships we’ve built with promoters across the country to showcase how strong this region is for concerts. It’s something we’ve focused on in building to this moment.”
In Atlanta, it was a momentous year at 7-year-old Mercedes-Benz Stadium, among the NFL’s newer venues. The home of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United FC set a new standard of nine concert nights, including triple plays by Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, which drew a combined 360,000 people, Roberts said.
Ed Sheeran, all by his lonesome, drew 76,000-plus to the stadium, the highwater mark in attendance for MBS concerts, he said.
The building has four nights of concerts confirmed for 2024 with a few more expected on the books, including ATL Live, the multi-act country show produced by AMB Sports. This year’s version with George Strait, Carrie Underwood and Willie Nelson produced a crowd of 50,000-plus.
“At the stadium level, it takes the better part of a week to build a show, and at a busy venue like ours, there aren’t that many weeks available for us to book concerts,” Roberts said. “When you have Beyoncé and Taylor doing three nights apiece, that really sets the year apart.”
In the New York-New Jersey market, it can be tough to stand out in the crowd with a cluster of five arenas in the metropolitan area that can hold 15,000 for concerts.
Prudential Center in Newark, an NHL arena approaching 20 years old, had 58 concerts this year, producing 570,000 tickets sold and a total gross of $81 million, said officials with Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment, which runs the facility. Overall, the arena is tracking 60-plus shows for fiscal year 2023-24, which would be a record since the building opened in 2007, said Sean Saadeh, executive vice president of entertainment for booking special events at the New Jersey Devils’ arena.
Over the past 17 years, New Jersey, with 7.5 million residents, has essentially become its own market, even though it sits 10 miles from New York City. As a result, Prudential Center gets its fair share of suburban shows apart from the Big Apple, Saadeh said.
Folks attend concerts from Westchester County, New York, where many prefer taking the highway to Prudential Center over fighting NYC traffic. In addition, the arena draws patrons from the Jersey Shore and eastern Pennsylvania, a 60-minute to 90-minute drive, Saadeh said.
“We’re one of the most diverse buildings in terms of content,” he said. “We’re doing a ton of Latin and K-pop and have expanded our comedy and country business, despite having an amphitheater down the road in Holmdel. It’s a big part of our strategy to grow our concert business.”
At American Airlines Center, despite the record run, the issue is finding enough open dates to squeeze concert tours between NBA and NHL games. The Mavericks and Stars, the arena’s primary tenants, both have good teams this season and could potentially go deep into the playoffs, which could ultimately mean some concert dates would be moved.
“We’re doing a bunch of contingencies in May and June during the playoff time frame,” Brown said. “As it stands now, I’ve got eight shows with contingency (clauses). They’re scheduled and tickets will go on sale, but with two teams as strong as we have, somebody is going to get bumped somewhere to a later date.”
If it happens to be August 2024, that month is quickly filling up with concerts at American Airlines Center. The arena already has 10 shows confirmed for August, which is typically a slow month for indoor shows with many summer tours playing amphitheaters. In the past, Brown said AAC typically booked two to three concerts in August.
“We know we’re making money, because the phone keeps ringing and we keep trying to make the dates work,” Brown said. “It’s a good time to be an arena booking person. People have got to spend their money somewhere and we’ll be happy to accommodate them.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated.