Gary Bongiovanni, president of a Fresno-based company that monitors U.S. concert activity, knows when a band is doing well on the road. His phone rings after every show.
"Everyone wants to spread good news," said Bongiovanni, president of Pollstar, a firm that publishes a weekly newsletter listing concert itineraries and grosses. "When a show sells out, we get calls from the hall manager, the promoter or even the artist's manager.
"The problem is when the show doesn't do well. That's when we sometimes have trouble getting information on ticket sales. Some bands even go as far as putting riders in contracts saying promoters can't release (box-office grosses) without permission."
The band that caused the phone to ring most dramatically in 1987: U2.
In what is widely regarded as the most comprehensive survey of the pop concert business, Pollstar reported in its Jan. 11 issue that the Irish rock group generated $35.1 million in concert grosses in the U.S. and Canada during the past 12 months.
That figure--based on box-office receipts at 79 shows in 50 cities--represented a commanding lead over Bon Jovi, which chalked up $28.4 million in 130 dates in 104 cities. U2 was able to generate more money than Bon Jovi with far fewer shows because it played several 50,000-plus capacity stadiums, where Bon Jovi concentrated on 15,000-seat arenas.
Bongiovanni, 38, estimated that concerts in stadiums and arenas (facilities with more than 5,000 capacity) accounted for more than $620 million in box-office receipts.
Though he said Pollstar did not make an industry-wide estimate until this year because of the "massive" amount of work involved, he said the company did estimate the revenue generated by the 40 leading tours of 1986: $438 million. That figure jumped to more than $503 million last year, primarily because of an increase in stadium concerts, he said.
Pollstar's estimate of the other top-grossing tours for 1987 included Pink Floyd with $27.7 million (for 60 dates); the Grateful Dead, $26.8 million (84); David Bowie, $22.2 million (45); Motley Crue, $21.1 million (100); Whitney Houston, $20.1 million (89); Huey Lewis & the News, $19.2 million (101); Boston, $18.1 million (69), and Alabama, $17.6 million (127).
They were followed by Genesis, $16.2 million (30); Heart, $15.7 million (88); Madonna, $14.9 million (22); Billy Joel, $14.1 million (57); Kenny Rogers, $13.6 million (99); Luther Vandross, $12.8 million (65); Tina Turner, $11.3 million (78); Bryan Adams, $11.1 million (84); Def Leppard, $10.1 million (59), and Fleetwood Mac, $9.8 million (48).
Bongiovanni said the biggest one-day gross was the $1.6 million achieved by a marathon Boston/Aerosmith/Whitesnake/Poison concert at Dallas' 80,000-seat Cotton Bowl. The heftiest two-day receipts were registered by U2 for its Nov. 17-18 stop at the 71,000-seat Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum: $2.6 million. The top three-day run was the $2.8 million collected at Pink Floyd's Sept. 21-23 engagement at the 50,000-seat CNE Stadium in Toronto.
In putting together the year-end report, Pollstar staff members started with the concert information that had been reported to their Fresno offices by promoters and hall managers. They then pieced together estimates of remaining tour dates.
"The concert business has not been very big, traditionally, on reporting grosses," Bongiovanni said. "In fact, the United States may be the only country in the world where box-office information, for concerts anyway, is (regularly) reported at all. One reason we have been able to get figures is that our company has been very aggressive."
On the year-end roundup, he explained, "We start with the figures we have recorded in our data base, and on the best-selling acts, like U2 or Pink Floyd, the data base is already close to 100% complete because those acts want us to know what they're doing.
"In the case of acts where we don't have information on how they did in a particular city, we call the hall manager or the promoter and try to fill in the gaps. Even if they don't give us exact figures, we get close enough to make a reasonable estimate. When you're dealing in increments of 100,000, it doesn't matter that much if it was 8,500 tickets at one building or 8,700."
And how accurate is the list?
The newsletter chief believes he has a fail-safe way of testing the accuracy of his year-end reports.
"The managers of many of the acts on the list take Pollstar and there hasn't been one who has called to complain about it," Bongiovanni said. "If we had grossly underestimated an act, you can bet we would have heard about it."
In a separate section, more than 5,000 Pollstar readers voted in a poll to determine major-venue tour of the year (U2), small-hall tour of the year (Bruce Hornsby), most creative package (Paul Simon's "Graceland" tour), comeback tour of the year (Pink Floyd) and most creative stage set (Pink Floyd).
Finally, the readers named the act they thought was most likely in 1988 to move from small halls to major arena headline status. The choice: R.E.M. (the pick of 33% of the voters), followed by Hornsby (18%) and Europe (10%).
THE CONCERT BREAKDOWN--U2 may have grossed $35.1 million on its 1987 tour of North America, but don't think the four members of the group went home with $8.7 million each. Here's how Steve Rennie, executive vice president of L.A.'s leading promoter Avalon Attractions, breaks down the tour money for a typical band.
The generally accepted average take for a superstar attraction is 50% to 60% of the gross. Using the 60% figure for a band grossing $20 million, the band would walk away with about $12 million. Of that, anywhere from 20 to 25% goes to management and agency fees. Using the 25% figure, that would leave the band with approximately $9 million.
Then there are expenses (crew, staging, hotels, transportation, insurance), which are almost impossible to accurately estimate without seeing the band's books. If these costs amounted to another 50%, the band would have $4.5 million left or $1.1 million each. That figure is, Rennie stressed, just a guess and is subject to wide fluctuation depending on the circumstances and contractual arrangements of the band.
LIVE ACTION: Two dates, Feb. 19 and 20, have been added to Linda Ronstadt's Universal Amphitheatre engagement. Tickets go on sale Sunday. . . . A second date has been added to Sting's stand at the Forum for March 21. Tickets on sale Monday. . . . Squeeze will return to Southern California for one show Feb. 19 at UC Irvine's Bren Events Center. Also on the bill is 10,000 Maniacs. Tickets go on sale Monday. . . . John Hiatt will be at McCabe's for solo shows March 25-27.
TOPS IN POP
The nation's leading pop concert acts in 1987. Their gross incomes are followed by the number of concerts they played.
U2: $35.1 million (79)
BON JOVI: $28.4 million (130)
PINK FLOYD: $27.7 million (60)
GRATEFUL DEAD: $26.8 million (84)
DAVID BOWIE: $22.2 million (45)
Source: Pollstar newsletter.