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U2 tops highest-grossing concert tour list for 2009

December 31, 2009 |  3:18 pm

The band's 360 Tour was a big hit, with Bruce Springsteen coming in second place for the year


In just 20 beautiful days on the concert trail last year, U2 racked up the highest-grossing North American tour of 2009, pulling in $123 million at the box office in a year in which overall concert business was one of the music industry's remaining bright spots.

The Irish quartet’s bar-raising 360 Tour of sports stadiums, which visited 16 cities, sold more than 1.3 million tickets, translating to a nightly average of just more than 82,000 fans, according to Pollstar, the concert-industry tracking publication.

U2 was the only act to cross the $100-million mark last year, and its nightly average at the box office pummeled the competition, at nearly $7.7 million per show. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, which tallied nearly $95 million from 58 shows, follows U2 at No. 2 in Pollstar's ranking. But the hard-charging New Jersey outfit also drew more than 1 million fans to those shows, one of six tours to cross that threshold last year.

Compare that with 2008, when only one act -- country star Kenny Chesney -- topped 1 million in total ticket sales.

Elton John and Billy Joel’s ever popular joint tour placed the pair at No. 3 last year, with a box office gross of $88 million in 31 performances. Britney Spears’ Circus tour helped the erstwhile teen pop queen rebound from her personal and professional travails, placing her at No. 4 with a total take of almost $83 million.

She came in ahead of veteran Australian rock band AC/DC, which rounds out Pollstar's top 5 with just under $78 million from 47 shows.

"It does appear that overall gross revenue is up," Pollstar editor Gary Bongiovanni said this week, noting that the magazine is still tabulating final figures for the year. "The No. 1 tour came in higher than last year's No. 1 tour, the No. 25 tour was higher and the No. 50 tour was higher."

That's in line with Billboard's recent report showing concert business up worldwide, with total revenue of $4.4 billion, up nearly 12% over 2008, and total attendance of 73 million similarly up nearly 13% from the previous year.


Part of that result came from particularly strong response to many of those tours. In addition to U2 and Springsteen, Chesney, the Jonas Brothers (who finished at No. 7, up from the siblings' No. 13 ranking the previous year) and the Dave Matthews Band, each pulled in more than 1 million ticket buyers during the year. Chesney came in sixth in 2009.

The Dave Matthews Band, which Pollstar recently crowned the top North American concert attraction of the decade, landed at No. 8 in 2009. Because the group finished within the top 10 in just about every year of the decade, it pushed ahead of others who logged more business at the box office in any single year. Just behind the band was Fleetwood Mac.

The other touring attraction that crossed the 1 million ticket sales mark was a relatively new one, "Walking With Dinosaurs -- The Live Experience," an event that put a life-size 42-foot-long animated T. Rex and other creatures long extinct into sports arenas across the country. A relatively affordable average ticket price of $39.77, combined with a field-dwarfing 307 performances, helped attract large numbers of families with young children.

"Walking with dinosaurs" also generally describes the upper ranks of Pollstar's list, which is typically top-heavy with acts that launched their careers in the '80s or earlier. Still, there are enough younger artists charting well to suggest the concert business won't collapse when the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, John, U2 and Springsteen eventually retire.

Post-grunge Canadian rock band Nickelback finished the year at No. 11, behind Metallica, posting $47.4 million in ticket revenue from 66 shows. Other relative youngsters in the top 20 are Miley Cyrus (No. 13, with $45 million), the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (No. 14, $43.7 million), Rascal Flatts (No. 18, $42.2 million) and Coldplay (No. 19, $40.8 million).

McCartney played just 11 shows during the year, but they earned him the No. 20 spot, with a gross of $40.7 million, placing him right behind Chris Martin’s Beatles-inspired band, Coldplay.

The only hip-hop act to make the top 50 is rapper Lil Wayne, who brought in $32.1 million in 58 shows, a feat he's unlikely to repeat in 2010 given the one-year prison sentence he's facing after pleading guilty in October to attempted criminal possession of a weapon.

The distinction of the highest average ticket price in the top 50 went to Cher; admission to her shows at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace was $140.56 on average, not unexpected in the high-priced realm of Las Vegas entertainment.

That was still less than 2008's winner, Madonna, who averaged $153.88 per ticket and also came in No. 1 on the Pollstar rankings, with a total take of $105 million.

-Randy Lewis

Top photo: U2. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times. Middle photo: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times


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