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"There’s not any one thing you can point to. I’m mystified. Hopefully, this is just a blip on the radar, and it will sort itself out."
——Peter Grosslight, William Morris
MADONNA, PRINCE SIZZLE, BUT
MOST SUMMER TOURS FIZZLE
High Ticket Prices, Lack of Compelling Headliners, Sales Too Far in Advance, Deteriorating Venues Cited as Reasons
With the exception of sold-out tours by Madonna and Prince, along with a handful of others, this summer’s touring season is turning out to be a disappointment, according to a survey of promoters around the country.

William Morris’ Peter Grosslight said, "It seems like over the last three weeks or so, ticket sales have just dropped dead across the board—affecting all genres and all ticket prices. It’s strange. There’s not any one thing you can point to. I’m mystified. Hopefully, this is just a blip on the radar, and it will sort itself out."

A variety of reasons was given for the downturn by promoters, including exorbitantly priced tickets and rising costs, a plethora of alternative entertainment choices, sheds not keeping up with the times in terms of modernizing their facilities and papering the house with free seats. Clear Channel’s domination of the concert promotion business and raising artist guarantees is also negatively affecting the marketplace, according to observers.

"It’s not just the ticket price," adds Grosslight. "Add in $20 for parking, concessions, etc., and you have a pretty expensive evening. People are being very particular in choosing which concert to attend."

After Madonna and Prince, the next most successful tours are Sting/Annie Lennox, Dave Matthews Band and Van Halen, the latter doing better in major markets. Double-headliner shows, such as No Doubt/Blink-182, are doing well, though Blink-182 on its own is lagging. Country artists like Alan Jackson/Martina McBride, Shania Twain and Kenny Chesney also look unaffected by the downturn.

Andy Hewitt books the Hollywood Bowl, a venue many say is the finest in the country. He insists he’s having his biggest year ever, with healthy advance sales for Simon & Garfunkel, Rush, Eric Clapton and Sting/Lennox, among others: "You can’t take New York, L.A. and Las Vegas ticket prices and spread them across the country. And you need fresh acts that don’t go out year after year."

Among those tours doing less well to bombing are Fleetwood Mac, Jessica Simpson, Norah Jones, Gloria Estefan and the American Idol tour.

Ticket sales for veterans Aerosmith and Clapton, as well as the Linkin Park/Korn/Snoop Dogg jaunt are disappointing in a few markets. The second leg of the Simon & Garfunkel tour, now hitting second-tier cities after having played New York, L.A., Chicago and other major markets, is having a difficult time selling what, in some venues, is a $500 top ticket.

As for the multi-group shows, Warped, with its average low $25 ticket, is doing better than either Ozzfest or the two-day Lollapalooza.

Grosslight insists the firm’s not disappointed with Lollapalooza, headlined by Morrissey, because of "lowered expectations" for the two-day event.

"There isn’t such a thing as a slam-dunk today, if you make mistakes like putting an act in the wrong venue," concludes Grosslight.

One prominent agent called it the perfect storm of several factors working at once.

"There is no magic cure," he says. "It’s everything from gas prices, a bad economy, deteriorating venue facilities, rising concession prices to tickets which are too expensive going on sale too far in advance and competition from casinos, radio shows and fairs to book talent. Kids today have many other entertainment options and interests. Stir that whole pot together, and it’s no surprise we’re in the situation we’re in now."

Among the suggestions for improvement is to stop shoving all the touring into the summer season, but to spread it all year round.

"How many $300 concert tickets can the average fan attend over three months?"

That question will be answered soon enough for beleaguered agents and promoters.

"What can fix it are must-see events," says one prominent promoter. "Madonna’s an event. Coachella’s an event. But those are few and far between."

Concluded Hewitt: "There are still lots of bright spots. There always are. You just don’t want to give people the same old shit all the time. Know what I mean?"

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