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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Fans unfazed by expensive shows

By David Lieberman
USA Today

The rising cost of concert tickets local U2 fans paid between $49.50 and $165 to buy seats for the band's Dec. 9 concert at Aloha Stadium has not kept concertgoers from seeing their favorite acts. Total ticket sales are up 20 percent from last year.

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NEW YORK Looks like concertgoers aren't so intimidated by high ticket prices after all.

With splashy tours from Madonna, the Rolling Stones and Billy Joel as lures, fans paid an average price of $58.11 per seat in the first half of 2006, up 15.6 percent from the first half of 2005, according to concert trade magazine Pollstar.

Total ticket sales rose 20 percent to 17.4 million.

Pollstar pegs total sales at more than $1 billion, up 38.5 percent, while the Billboard Box Score tallied sales at $990 million, up 24.6 percent. Either way, first-half revenue broke records.

"These are very positive numbers driven by some big tours," says Ray Waddell, who tracks the concert business for Billboard.

Other top attractions this year include Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Cirque du Soleil's show Delirium, Celine Dion, Bon Jovi and Kenny Chesney.

Comedy acts also did surprisingly well. The top 100 tours included Larry the Cable Guy, Jerry Seinfeld, Tim Conway and Harvey Korman, and the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, which includes Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Ron White.

The top new rock act was Fall Out Boy.

Executives are relieved by the strong showing. It partly accounts for the 93 percent rise in the stock price for the only publicly traded concert company, industry leader Live Nation, since it was spun off by Clear Channel last December.

The robust market is a bit of a surprise. Last summer, many said that high ticket prices accounted for a drop in the number of tickets sold in the first half of 2005.

But this year, "the really huge acts haven't seen that much price resistance," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar.

Fans paid as much as $350 to see Madonna (not including third-party sales), with the average ticket going for $186. A typical Stones seat cost $170. By contrast, the average ticket last year for U2 the biggest draw at this point in the 2005 season cost $97. U2 is set to perform with Pearl Jam at Aloha Stadium on Dec. 9; tickets sold for between $49.50 and $165.

Bongiovanni adds, though, that "we're pushing the upper limit. We can't keep going the way we are now."

Maybe a little while longer, though. Tickets to see Barbra Streisand this fall go as high as $750 more for VIP packages.

While growth in the second half will level a bit, "I don't expect it to drop below double digits," says Waddell, who cites major attractions still to come, including The Who, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Eric Clapton.

That forecast could change, though, if people cut back as gas prices rise.

Meanwhile, the long-term outlook for the business rests on factors beyond economics.

"We need to create more superstars," Waddell says. "Simple biology tells you that some of these acts won't be around 10 years from now."