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NASHVILLE (Billboard) - The concert business is facing what could be its worst summer since the mid-1990s as a slew of A-list acts ranging from the Jonas Brothers to Kings Of Leon battle slumping ticket sales.
Artists such as Christina Aguilera, the Eagles, U2 (due to Bono's back surgery), Rihanna, John Mayer, Limp Bizkit, and the Go-Go's have canceled either shows or entire tours. The female-skewing Lilith Fair has also suffered soft sales.
Rumblings of a tough year for touring began a couple of months ago, with predictions ranging from "mediocre" to "bloodbath." Two main culprits may be at fault: ticket prices and traffic. At the center of the storm is Live Nation, which controls the majority of summer touring, particularly at the amphitheater level.
Live Nation's detractors say the company pays artists unreasonably high guarantees in order to gain market share and keep its amphitheaters programed and tap into ancillary revenues like concessions, sponsorships and parking. The cost is passed on to the consumer.
Since an estimated 70% of touring traffic occurs during the warm months, it becomes tougher for acts to get the kind of promotional attention necessary, whether from the promoter's own efforts or from media coverage.
Also coming into play is the fact that many if not most Live Nation amphitheater tours are negotiated and booked out of the company's West Coast offices, without a lot of local input. An act that's worth $250,000 in Boston may be worth only $50,000 in Cleveland, which should be reflected in local ticket prices.
Another factor cited by insiders is ill-advised touring by artists who either don't have a new album or single out, or have made the rounds too many years in a row. Without a compelling reason to go see an act, whether it's absence from the marketplace or a hot album or single, fans may be deciding to sit this one out.
Finally, there seems to be a level of skepticism from consumers toward the concert industry, much of it relating to numerous ticket add-on fees or high ticket and concession prices in general.
There are live music successes. The Coachella, Stagecoach, Jazzfest and Bonnaroo festivals all did quite well. Tours by acts like Lady GaGa, James Taylor/Carole King, and Roger Waters are performing solidly under Live Nation, as is its entire country roster of tours. Rival promoter AEG's Justin Bieber, Black Eyed Peas, Taylor Swift and Bon Jovi, are also doing sellout business.