Music Industry

Published on December 19th, 2018 | by Alan Cross

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And the biggest-grossing concert artist of 2018 is…

…Ed Sheeran. The man may look like a real-life Muppet, but damn, he’s got a lot of fans. 

And not only was he the biggest concert draw of the year, no one has made more money playing live in a single calendar year in at least thirty years.

His Divide tour began on February 19. By the time it wrapped up in Atlanta on November 17, it had wound through Europe, Asia, Asia-Pacific, and North America. Here’s the tour by the numbers:

  • Total number of shows: 94
  • Total cities played: 53
  • Tickets sold: 4,860,482
  • Average per night gross: $4.6 million
  • Total box office gross in 2018: $432 million

That’s an all-time record for a calendar year. Yes, there have been higher-grossing tours, but they’ll all stretched over more than one year. U2’s 360 Tour may have grossed $735 million, but it lasted 25 months. Same thing with the number two roadtrip, the Rolling Stones Bigger Bang tour. It made $558 million between August 2005 and August 2007. 

And the story isn’t over yet. With more dates scheduled for 2019, the entire breadth of the Divide Tour (2017-2019) will gross somewhere near $660 million, pushing the Stones’ Bigger Bang into third spot.

(Sidebar: These figures don’t seem to account for the Guns N’ Roses reunion tour. Since it began in 2016, it has grossed $562 million. By my reckoning, that puts the Gunners’ tour into second place right now.)

Here’s how other artists stacked up globally in 2018 (gross/artist/tickets sold)

  1. $432.4 — Ed Sheeran — 4,860,482
  2. 345.1 — Taylor Swift — 2,888,892
  3. 254.1 — Jay-Z / Beyoncé — 2,169,050
  4. 169.2 — Pink — 1,285,411
  5. 167.6 — Bruno Mars — 1,290,438
  6. 166.0 — Eagles — 964,245
  7. 151.0 — Justin Timberlake — 1,193,365
  8. 131.3 — Roger Waters — 1,448,771
  9. 126.2 — U2 — 927,034*
  10. 116.6 — The Rolling Stones — 750,914

A quick bit of math shows that the combination of Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift was responsible for selling 777.5 million worth of tickets, which equals about 14% of the total amount brought in by the top 100 tours of the year.

Now here are the top 10 North American tours for 2018:

  1. $277.3 — Taylor Swift — 1,268,706
  2. 166.4 — Jay-Z / Beyoncé — 1,298,038
  3. 166.0 — Eagles — 964,245
  4. 114.4 — Kenny Chesney — 1,297,731
  5. 110.0 — Justin Timberlake — 791,780
  6. 105.0 — Ed Sheeran — 1,136,497
  7. 97.8 — Journey / Def Leppard — 1,000,272
  8. 95.3 — Pink — 688,558
  9. 88.3 — Springsteen On Broadway — 173,461
  10. 79.0 — Drake — 678,410

A couple of other facts:

  • A record $10.4 billion worth of concert tickets were sold globally in 2018, a new record.
  • Live Nation sold 49.6 million seconds. Second place AEG sold 11.6 million.

The stadiums that sold the most tickets:

  • Foro Sol                                              Mexico City, Mexico          887,802
  • MetLife Stadium                               East Rutherford, NJ          521,215
  • Gillette Stadium                                Foxboro, MA                      454,383

The amphitheatres that sold the most tickets:

  • Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center      Noblesville, IN           588,023
  • BB&T Pavilion                                             Camden, NJ              505,287
  • The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion   The Woodlands, TX   467,620

Top theatres:

  • Auditorio Nacional                           Mexico City, Mexico          1,325,493
  • Radio City Music Hall                      New York, NY                     1,004,255
  • Fox Theatre                                        Atlanta, GA                         704,828

(Via Rolling Stone and MBW)




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About the Author

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.


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