Rock Ain’t Rollin’ : Prices Up, Attendance Down Nationwide


When it comes to choosing between David Lee Roth on a concert stage or Arnold Schwarzenegger on the movie screen, the public is opting for the Terminator.

And it’s easy to see why.

“It costs nearly $100 for two people to park, purchase tickets, T-shirts and refreshments at a concert these days,” said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar, a national concert trade journal based in Fresno. “For that kind of money, a couple can afford to go see ‘The Terminator’ three or four times. Arnold is wiping us out.”

The result, say Bongiovanni and other industry insiders, is the worst summer concert season in more than a decade.


Promoters estimate that attendance at pop, rock and country concerts across the nation is down 25% to 37% compared to 1990. Last week, poor ticket sales forced the cancellation of Southern California performances by the bill of David Lee Roth and Cinderella, plus a Sisters of Mercy and Public Enemy pairing that failed to draw in several other cities as well.

With several concert promotion companies across the nation reportedly on the verge of collapse, few in the industry are voicing optimism about the future.

“The concert business is in big trouble,” said Moss Jacobs, general manager of Avalon Attractions, the Encino-based company in charge of promoting Roth’s Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre date and 270 other shows this year throughout Southern California. “Of course the recession is hurting us. But one of the biggest problems is that the concert industry has not offered the public much of anything new for years.”

Except higher prices, that is.

The average price of a concert ticket--excluding parking, facility and service fees--has risen 15% in the last year to about $23, officials estimate.

Promoters blame the escalating ticket prices on increased artist fees. But artists’ agents accuse promoters of bidding up the price of talent to lure acts into amphitheaters to which the promoters have financial ties.

“The industry is choking on greed,” said Carl Freed, executive director of the New York-based North American Concert Promoters Assn., which represents most of the nation’s major promoters. “From the band to the concessionaire, everybody seems to be out for themselves.”


Industry observers also cite the current absence of top-name concert draws such as Madonna as a point of concern. Still, most are at a loss to explain why such pop stars as Whitney Houston and Stevie Nicks have been unable to attract more than marginal crowds at numerous stops on their national tours.

Blockbuster headliners do not always guarantee promoters a profit either. For example, insiders say that many promoters did not turn a profit on recent Guns N’ Roses shows due to hefty fees guaranteed the group.

Even bargain-priced package tours such as “Operation Rock ‘n’ Roll” (featuring Judas Priest and Alice Cooper) and “Clash of the Titans” (Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer) have not fared well.

One exception is the Lollapalooza festival--a package tour featuring food and cultural information booths plus performances by Jane’s Addiction and six other alternative rock groups. Lollapalooza played to capacity crowds during three shows last month at Irvine Meadows.

Brad Gelfond, a senior agent at Los Angeles-based Triad Artists who helped organize the sold-out, 26-city tour, believes the concert industry is suffering from a much deeper problem than greed or recession.

“The real issue here has to do with passion,” Gelfond said. “Fans have quit buying tickets because performers are not offering them a concert experience that moves them.

“The success of the Lollapalooza tour is proof that concertgoers expect more from an artist than just a mildly entertaining gig. The event needs to tap into some kind of deeper sociological connection for the fan. Otherwise, concertgoers might just as well stay home and listen to a CD.”

Pop Beat: Ten weeks after Billboard magazine introduced its new system for charting pop albums, three of the six major U.S. record distributors have signed on with SoundScan, the research firm that provides the computerized sales data on which the chart is based.

Following the lead of Sony Music Distribution, which subscribed to the high-tech management information system on July 2, Bertelsmann Music Group and PolyGram Group Distribution signed similar contracts on Thursday.

SoundScan--which charges each participating firm an estimated $800,000 a year--claims to provide precise sales information gathered by a computerized network that is activated every time an album goes through a bar-code scanner at in a retail outlet.

Initially, all six distributors criticized the price of the system and the limited scope of SoundScan’s statistical sample, complaining that it did not adequately reflect the national retail sales picture. But some now say they are pleased with the changes made by SoundScan to address their concerns.

SoundScan officials have acknowledged that the firm’s continued participation in the Billboard charts is dependent on eventually getting all six major distributors to subscribe.

Representatives from the nation’s three remaining distributors--CEMA (which distributes Capitol and EMI Records), MCA (MCA, Geffen, Motown) and WEA (Warner Bros., Elektra, Atlantic)--said that their companies continue to explore in-house alternative information systems while negotiating with SoundScan.

‘90 Top-Grossing Summer Tours

Artist Average Gross Average Tickets Tour Cities Paul McCartney $2,368,171 76,592 8 Madonna 1,333,767 46,107 12 Grateful Dead 1,118,704 51,884 13 Billy Joel 942,602 37,598 9 New Kids on the Block 870,716 38,146 10 TOTALS $6,633,960 250,327 52

‘91 Top-Grossing Summer Tours

Artist Average Gross Average Tickets Tour Cities Grateful Dead $1,185,716 50,422 13 Guns N’ Roses 606,891 25,032 19 Jimmy Buffett 340,739 16,822 13 AC/DC 276,232 13,386 24 Don Henley 253,296 10,991 10 TOTALS $2,662,874 116,653 79

Note: Average gross reported by promoters in early August for the previous 12-13 weeks.

Source: Pollstar trade journal