Madonna, Celine Dion top worldwide tours in 2008

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Madonna and Celine Dion were the biggest worldwide concert draws in 2008, each selling more than $200 million worth of tickets to their slickly produced shows, trade publication Pollstar said on Tuesday.

Madonna performs during the Los Angeles date of her "Sticky and Sweet" tour at Dodgers stadium in Los Angeles, November 6, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

The pop singers also took the top two spots in North America, which accounts for an estimated 40 percent of the concert business, Pollstar said.

Madonna’s “Sticky & Sweet” world tour, which finished in Brazil last week, tallied $281.6 million from 17 countries. North American fans ponied up $105.3 million.

French-Canadian balladeer Dion, launching her first world tour in more than eight years, earned $236.6 million from 24 countries, with North America contributing $94 million.

This year marks the first time that Pollstar has compiled foreign data. Among the all-time North American tours, Madonna’s ranks at No. 8 and Dion’s at No. 12. The Rolling Stones hold the record with $162 million from their 2005 trek.

Dion, 40, might well be the hardest working woman in show business, having made Pollstar’s list of top 10 acts every year since 2003. That year she began a 700-plus show residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, and grossed more than $385 million by the time it wrapped last December.

Rounding out the top five of Pollstar’s worldwide list were Bon Jovi ($176.3 million), Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band ($165.8 million), and last year’s North American champs the Police ($120.6 million).

Pollstar said fewer people went to concerts in North America this year, and despite the incipient recession those who went were prepared to sharply pay more for their tickets.

“We’ve had a better year than we really should have expected given the economic environment,” said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the Fresno, California-based publication.

Ticket sales for the top 100 acts in North America rose 4.3 percent to $2.38 billion. The number of tickets sold fell three percent to 35.59 million, and the average ticket price rose nearly eight percent to a record $66.90.

Timing played a part. Acts that hit the road earlier in the year escaped the deepening economic abyss in the fall. Top-tier artists are also fairly recession-proof. Bongiovanni said tickets have sold briskly for Britney Spears’ comeback tour, which begins next March, and he predicted sales would be strong for as-yet-unannounced treks by U2 and Springsteen.

Ticket sales data do not include revenue from merchandise, such as T-shirts, which can make up a sizable chunk of tour earnings.

Reporting by Dean Goodman, editing by Jackie Frank