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The Return of Touring Brought New Problems With It — But Not For Everyone

todayDecember 12, 2022 1

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Elton John’s Farewell stadium run was one of the biggest touring stories of the year, selling 2.07 million tickets and grossing $334.4 million, according to Billboard Boxscore. But even he felt the pain of being on the road in 2022. The singer, 75, postponed two shows early on when he caught COVID-19. John and his entourage of security and hairdressers had to travel in one bubble while his longtime band was in a separate one. And gas prices were astronomical.

“It’s emotionally and spiritually healthy for people to get back out and see shows again,” says David Furnish, John’s husband and manager, calling from the family’s Los Angeles home ahead of the tour’s Nov. 20 finale at the city’s Dodger Stadium. “We just eat the extra cost. You just have to acknowledge that’s the world we’re living in now and press on.”

In 2022, the biggest stars once again performed to packed venues. Bad Bunny’s aptly named World’s Hottest Tour finished in stadiums, selling 1.8 million tickets and earning $375.5 million, the highest-grossing Latin tour ever. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lady Gaga, Garth Brooks, Mötley Crüe/Def Leppard and The Weeknd played stadiums. Harry Styles sold out 15 straight nights at Madison Square Garden. Live Nation reported huge revenue all year, including $6.2 billion in the third quarter. “2022 has been an incredible year of returning to live events,” CEO Michael Rapino said in a November letter to investors.


Yet high costs, supply chain issues and canceled concerts due to COVID-19 and mental health concerns posited a bleak side to this triumphant touring return after a lost 2020 and wobbly 2021. When canceling a tour in September, Santigold posted about the challenges of being on the road: “We were met with the height of inflation — gas, tour buses, hotels and flight costs skyrocketed.” In November, Lorde, who had sold out shows in New York, Los Angeles, London and elsewhere, wrote a newsletter to fans detailing “truly mind-boggling” freight costs, crew shortages, overbooked trucks and other factors that created an “almost unprecedented level of difficulty.”

“The hardest thing for touring this year, which may be a one-time occurrence, is you’ve got three summers of touring in one,” says Lorde’s manager Jonathan Daniel. “The amount of choices for people is insane. You can’t cry for artists who are wildly successful — they just have to spend more for freight — but for the middle class, it’s really hard.”

yim-touring-billboard-2022-bb16-illustration-by-andrei-cojocaru-pro-1260The biggest stars largely skated over the problems. In touring with the “largest production he has ever taken on the road,” as Furnish calls it, John’s team created an elaborate COVID-19 protocol to protect the singer, his band and the crew, providing regular testing and updated vaccines and boosters. “It’s important we deliver the same quality show and entertainment for everybody,” Furnish says. “It didn’t even occur to us to reconfigure it in any way to try to make it cheaper.”

Country star Luke Combs, who sold out multiple stadiums in 2022, was determined to tour the same way as he had before the pandemic — including ticket prices. He employed his regular band and crew throughout 2020, then capped ticket prices at $100, employing Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan service to cut down on resales. (Some upcoming tickets, however, cost as much as $2,800 on secondary-market sites.) “You take the hit,” says Chris Kappy, Combs’ manager. “We locked everything in at pre-pandemic pricing and post-pandemic expenses.”

According to Fielding Logan, the Q Prime manager who represents Eric Church and other top country acts, bus prices are 30% to 80% higher than they were before the pandemic. But like Combs, Church maintained low ticket prices, putting many seats on sale for $40. “Eric eats the additional expenses and has the lower profit margin,” Logan says. Not every artist has the means to absorb the additional costs, though: Another of Logan’s clients, singer-songwriter Paul Cauthen, was hoping to graduate from a van to a tour bus, but high costs have complicated those plans. “Could this inflation temporarily put a bus out of his reach? Yes, it could,” he says.

Some agents and managers have predicted 2023 will bring back a more manageable, pre-pandemic-style touring roster now that artists are neither rushing to make up for lost revenue nor rescheduling canceled shows from the past two or three years. But in July, demand was so high for Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band’s 2023 tour that resale seats on Ticketmaster cost over $5,000. And when Taylor Swift’s stadium tour went on sale in November, fans flooded the ticket-selling site to the point that it shut down. Meanwhile, Ed Sheeran and George Strait are among other stars playing stadiums next year. “2024 is probably where it really goes back — because everybody will have toured,” says Daniel, who also manages Green Day, Sia and Fall Out Boy. “Just having not everybody out at once is going to help.” 

This story originally appeared in the Dec. 10, 2022, issue of Billboard.

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