Music Industry

Published on January 19th, 2017 | by Alan Cross

27

U2 Did Not Sell Out a North American Tour Immediately. When Was the Last Time That Happened? (Now with Various UPDATES)

If I’m anyone in the U2 organization, I’d be worried about the state of North America. Something is wrong.

Tickets for the band’s first stadium tour since 360 went on sale across the continent yesterday and it wasn’t an instant sellout. Yes, most shows (including Toronto and Vancouver went clean; Chicago, LA and New Jersey have announced second shows), but tickets remain for Houston, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Miami, Tampa, DC and Cleveland. Compare that the Europe where ever single gig sold out on the first day.

We longtime U2 fans have been discussing this. When was the last time U2 failed to sell out a North American tour on day one? It’s been…decades. And why is demand down?

  • Ticket prices? Not necessarily. Prices are as low as $35 in some places. A top ticket in Cleveland is $280, which, compared to what other top acts are charging, is peanuts.
  • Lack of a new album? Yes, Songs of Experience has been delayed so the band can write and record songs relating to the Trump presidency, but new material hasn’t been much of a draw for fans since How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Instead, the band is celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree, their biggest-selling album 30+ million) of all time. Fans should be going crazy for a front-to-back performance of that record.
  • U2 fatigue? Possibly, but why has this manifested so strongly in America and nowhere else?
  • Or was this a marketing failure, a lack of hype?
  • Or is America so Trump-obsessed that everyone’s attention is elsewhere?

The lack of sellouts impacts cities where where all the tickets are gone. As Larry points out, “Is it better to have one sold out show and a second that’s not? Maybe it’s best just to have one show with insatiable demand than two shows where the hype is diluted. Do they risk adding a second show in, say, Toronto, only to find out that no one wants to go?”

This situation bears close attention.

UPDATE: As of Thursday morning, Pittsburgh, Houston and Tampa are the only cities not registering a sellout.

UPDATE: Once source suggested to me that there will be no more shows added to North America at this time. Maybe on another leg of the tour, but not right now. If true, that means demand for tickets on the secondary market will push prices up.

UPDATE: Official words is that U2 sold 1.1 million tickets in 24 hours. That’s plenty, but I somehow remember other tours selling more. Can anyone confirm or deny with hard numbers?

PS: Self-proclaimed U2 Ninja Mark sent me this:

I, like you, have a rich history with U2. Been to over 60 shows. Tagged along on one of their tours in a VERY unofficial capacity on POP.

I saw Vertigo 11 times on 4 continents. I was at Massey hall Dec07 1984 (their last theatre show in Toronto,) and I was there in Hawaii when they played with Pearl Jam Dec07 2006. Hate to say I have noticed a trend. But…

Along the way at some point on U2360 somebody clued in that a confused album of mostly boring B-sides didn’t belong on the main marquee and should be traded in for “anniversary” versions of songs from Achtung Baby and one extra offering from The Unforgettable fire. Do you think songs of innocence was offered for free because the band was skeptical that anybody would actually buy it?  It’s no secret the band is very skittish, even timid on the eve of a release. Maybe they went for the sure millions in the bank offered by Apple. It would save them the humility of the album not doing well through sluggish sales.

I imagine they had business obligations to stage a tour this year that was likely to coincide with a set of (presently) unfinished music (songs of experience.).

Cut to today:

There is one reason only why I got tickets for U2 in Toronto. My daughter who is now only 5 wants to see a BIG show. I often tell her about the u2 shows her mother and I went to many continents to see. I want her to see one BIG U2 show in her lifetime. I don’t see anymore in the future.

Mark

 

 




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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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27 Responses to U2 Did Not Sell Out a North American Tour Immediately. When Was the Last Time That Happened? (Now with Various UPDATES)

  1. Jack Slappy says:

    When you force people to buy a fan club subscription to access a presale, you can’t act surprised when sales are slow. Rat bastards.

    • Dennis says:

      Even with the cost of the fan club I still got cheaper tickets than other shows I bought tix for. They made sure the fans got first shot and not the scalpers. Also limited to 4 tix.

    • AJ says:

      But the problem wasn’t the presale. As of 9pm last night you could pick up general admission floor tickets for many of these shows in North America. No presale needed.

  2. MLM says:

    Sound familiar? “The band had some difficulty filling stadiums in the southern and Midwestern US, yet there were multiple night sellouts in Chicago, New York and Boston” – wikipedia on the PopMart tour, 1997. Another time they announced a tour before the album was done…

    There has been very little promotion of this tour to date.

  3. Jack says:

    I don’t really get why this should be considered a bad performance. Most gigs sold out on the first day and only single tickets left here and there for a few shows. How is that bad for a tour that got very little promotion? U2 is not a big draw in the States anymore. European audience has just been much more enthusiastic about the band’s shows since the late 90s. You could clearly see that during the Popmart tour, which did very well in EU but was struggling quite a lot in some states to even come close to a sell out.

    • Alan Cross says:

      I’m not saying it’s a bad performance, but it is odd for a U2 tour NOT to sell out on the first day. That speaks to…something. I’m just not sure what.

      • Jacek says:

        I still think the tickets are selling very fast and the response is fantastic. U2 does tour every 4-5 years and not to forget they played in North America merely a year ago, which means the market would have saturated to a certain extent. It’s not like the band is reuniting after 20 years of absence and everyone wants to see them, sth. that is currently happening with GnR.

        I still think Europe and North America are two different markets. In Europe the response has always been much stronger both in terms of record and concert ticket sales. US is the hardest market to crack even for a veteran act like U2. Canadian audience is more like European and I think places like Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver have always been U2 hot spots.

        One remark: the tickets are selling fast and no doubt all shows will see the lads play full stadiums in the summer. However, it also has to be said that the coverage is fairly sparse and things might look more sluggish if the band decided to throw in a dozen more shows across the country.

      • Chris says:

        Are you able to actually provide any evidence for your claim that U2 has always sold out an entire tour stadium tour on its first day?

  4. moviejcd says:

    I was not able to get tickets to the Toronto show, and neither were three other friends I spoke with yesterday. So they left my money on the table. Perhaps there will be a second Toronto show, or perhaps the three guys with the bots that bought all the tickets will have too many and will lower their prices closer to the show date.

  5. Giuseppie says:

    Their arena tour in 2015 wasn’t an instant sellout in either North America or Europe; and, their 360° tour didn’t sellout every North American date immediately, either. I checked, and Dallas, Tampa, D.C., Cleveland, and at least one other city that you mentioned have soldout as of today. Only Dallas, Miami, and Pittsburgh remain. As the shows aren’t until May or June, I don’t see how those three will remain un-soldout by showtime (the same goes for the second shows added in LA, Chicago, and NYC).

  6. Danthejet says:

    You make it sound like U2 will play to 1/2 empty stadiums

  7. Nicholas Buckmaster says:

    U2 has never sold out an entire tour in North America on the first day. Never.

    And comparing small population centers like Pittsburgh and Tampa and Houston to Berlin and Rome and London is a bit daft, don’t you think?

    Of course those big European cities will sell out, just as the big North American cities did, like Los Angeles and Chicago and New Jersey and Toronto.

    But yeah, I guess it’s because everyone in North America is so obsessed with Trump that they forgot to buy tickets to a concert lol.

    • Jacek says:

      Houston is not a small population centre. The city itself has well over 2 million people and the region is also not exactly deserted;

      • Nicholas Buckmaster says:

        The point is, considering the number of first-day shows in North America (17) versus Western Europe (8), one might conclude that the European shows would indeed sell out quicker, but not because everyone in North America is Trump-obsessed or tired of U2.

        Because fewer shows. Far fewer tickets available.

        U2 sold 1.1 million tickets in a day.

        I don’t think this situation bears close attention at all.
        U2 is doing just fine.

  8. Jamie says:

    The US market has changed. U2 is still an iconic rock band here (I for one will be in the Red Zone at Cleveland and can’t wait!) but rock has taken a back seat to country and hip-hop. This is not the case in Europe, hence they sold faster there. Every major rock tour this year has the same result (Guns n Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, Coldplay, etc).

    • Jack says:

      The US market has been odd for years now and as far as U2 is concerned I think the European audience has always been much more faithful. You could see that based on record, singles, ticket sales. Don’t think they have to worry much about tour sell out in the EU, the US is a harder one. Also I don’t think they’ve managed to appeal to the younger generations that much in the US whereas in Europe they’ve consistently been getting new following until recently. Could see loads of very young people during the shows in 2009 over here in EU.

  9. Barry says:

    It doesn’t really surprise me too much. U2 never seemed to have the love and devotion that other bands had (at least around here). Lots of people like them, but not many LOVE them they way they like other bands.

    I’ve noted a lot fewer U2 songs on the radio (classic rock or otherwise) compared to 5 or 10 years ago.

    Younger people don’t seem to listen to much U2 either compared to other older bands. You’re more likely to see some 21 year old singing along to Journey or Nirvana than U2.

    • Jacek says:

      American audience is about the most boring and humorless thing I’ve ever seen. U2 shows in America look incredibly dull and remind me more of a tedious business meeting rather than a rock concert. It is no secret that U2 lost America a long time ago and their popularity in the US has been fading massively after the ZOO TV era. Do you guys even know how to have fun over there?

      European audience is a totally different story. People on the old continent have always been much more supportive and passionate about the band and U2 has been enjoying an enormous level of success in nearly every European country. Look at the consistently strong albums sales, tour sell outs, fan actions in different countries.

      Too bad U2 has always been doing so much for the US audience, totally neglecting fans in Europe on regular basis. No difference this time. 8 Shows in Europe and nearly a double of that in the US. God it must be a torment to play for such a disinterested, bored bunch.

      • Giuseppie says:

        Hahahaha, tell us how you reeeaaaalllly feel about Americans.

        • Jack says:

          Nothing really against Americans mate; know some and they are all fantastic people. It is just my reflection that you look extremely bored at live gigs 🙂

          • Giuseppie says:

            I saw their Heinz Field show in Pittsburgh back in 2011, and the crowd around me was ferocious! Seriously! And, we were so nosebleed that there were only 3 or 4 rows left behind us, too! Minus a mid-set, acoustic Stay and an encore opening One that night, my ENTIRE are was on their feet for the ENTIRE show, singing and dancing the night away.

            Then again, I did see them in Chicago at the start of that same tour, also in the nosebleed, and I don’t remember the crowd being quite so lively.

            FWIW, I have also seen them on the stands (but nowhere near nosebleed) in Toronto, NYC, and Belfast, as well as the floor in Atlanta, Belfast, and Dublin. The crowds at each of my 8 shows was quite different, though always enjoyable. I expect nothing but the same for their Heinz Field (still not sold out) Joshua Tree show this summer! I’ll be on the floor with a good half-dozen+ friends!

  10. Chris says:

    I could care less what happens in the US. All I know is that the Ticketmaster website agreed me out of tickets and when I went back they were all gone.
    This will be the first Toronto site I don’t get to see since 97.

  11. Mark says:

    Self-proclaimed U2 Ninja? That’s not very nice, Alan. Ticket Ninja is a handle you handed to me when the topic du billet pertained to The Hip earlier this year. Don’t count on me inviting you to came with me to see Kate Bush again in 33 years from now.

  12. Alec E. says:

    I think this is absolutely a lack of advertisement and hype. I didn’t even realize that U2 had a new album since “songs of innocence” (2014). U2 needs to put more effort in advertisements and people need to realize that U2 is still a popular band and is still releasing new music.

  13. Doug W says:

    I saw my first U2 show (Unforgettable Fire) in March 1985 at Maple Leaf Gardens. In 1987, I was second in line to pick up a wrist band down at Cheapies Records and Tapes at King and John in Hamilton for their Joshua Tree tour at the CNE. I heard the announcement on CFNY really early that morning and caught the HSR at dawn. 16’th row floors were 40 bucks each back in 87 and the concert was a few weeks later. Seriously.

    I’ve been a huge fan of the band since 1983’s WAR album which absolutely blew my 18 year old self away. I own every one of their albums. (The best being any one of a number. The weakest being either the last one “Songs of Innocence” or “Pop” I think the progression of their albums mirrors my life experience oddly enough. From the adolescent “Boy” to the angry “War” to the introspective “Unforgettable Fire” , etc.

    And I’ve also seen U2 every single time they’ve been to Toronto since that show in 85. Sometimes back to back shows even. Without a doubt, March 1992’s Achtung Baby at Maple Leaf Gardens was THEE best U2 show I’ve ever seen. In fact, I’d say it was the greatest singular concert I’ve ever seen. They were so good, I could have cried. I can remember I never sat down for the entire show. No-one did. It was 35 degrees inside the that old arena and everyone sang along to all the songs and continued singing right out onto Carleton Street. I can still see that show in my mind’s eye.

    Seeing a U2 concert, well, I can best categorize it as a religious experience and Bono as some sort of Irish Messiah in expensive Italian sunglasses.

    Until now.

    I tried and tried to get tickets to their next show at Sky Dome (yes, I still call it Sky Dome.) My sister was on line simultaneously from the moment the screen went to buy. There was not a ticket to be had. The little ticket master razor just kept doing its thing and by the time it stopped doing its thing, it simply redirected me to a ticket “reseller” How is that even possible? All in a matter of 10 minutes. I suspect the fix is in. And the fix is named Ticketmaster. Either that, or we could have dropped some outrageous amount of money more than my monthly mortgage payment on some sort of package deal named after any number of precious metals. (I think instead of Gold and Platinum, they should rename it “Arm”, “Leg”, “Penis”. Even I could not justify that kind of a sickening cash grab. It would seem that U2 has now taken a lesson directly from Jimmy Swaggart’s playbook (“well the God I believe in isn’t short of cash MISTER”.) I would wager that Sky Dome was probably 80 percent sold out before tickets even went on sale to the general public. I guess one has no choice but to pay even more money to U2 and join “the fan club” just to be able to buy tickets these days. Truth be told, the old wrist bands they had were probably a lot more fair than today’s completely rigged system.

    So U2 may not be selling out like they used to or as quickly as they used to in the rest of North America, but that’s definitely not the case in Toronto. I read somewhere once that U2 sells 17 percent of its records in North America in CANADA. I.e. they are almost twice as popular in Canada as they are in the USA. Sadly, or perhaps typically though, like most Irish, they are fixated on the USA. Every tour, they only seem to know 2 or maybe 3 cities in Canada and play the vast majority of their shows in the USA, in small cities even (Louisville Ky, Manchester TN, Arlington TX). Even with this last concert series, when they added shows, they added them to American cities and not Canadian cities. It’s enough to make me not believe anymore.

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