Attendance at concerts in North America fell nearly 12% in the first half of the year, and the top 100 tours generated $731 million, a drop of 17.2% from last year, according to trade magazine Pollstar.
That's why the industry is watching the Rolling Stones to see if the band can buoy a business that's in what Pollstar Editor Gary Bongiovanni calls "correction mode" as concert-goers rebel over escalating ticket prices and explore other entertainment options.
Even though the average ticket price fell in the first half of the year for the first time in a decade, crowds haven't responded, and some tours have had disappointing results in the vital summer season. Eminem and 50 Cent's much-hyped "Anger Management" tour had spotty attendance, as did some other big-name rap and hip hop shows. Ozzfest had several canceled dates, and the once-vibrant Lollapalooza played a single city.
"Everybody's struggled this year," conceded Paul Sewell, senior VP-sponsorship at House of Blues Entertainment, which along with the country's biggest concert promoter, Clear Channel Music Group, decided to make lower priced tickets a priority.
Well-known and popular acts such as Paul McCartney, U2, Jimmy Buffett, James Taylor, the Eagles and the Stones can make a dent in the deficit because they appeal to a rarefied fan base: boomers willing to pony up as much as $450 for tickets. "The boomers are happy to spend on the bands they grew up with," said Steve Yanovsky, principal in the lifestyle-marketing firm Brand Alchemy.
The Stones' sticky fingers will likely touch a $100 million gross during the tour's seven-month stint, Mr. Bongiovanni predicted, noting that the band has been the top earner each year it's gone on the road.
Every Stones tour since 1981, moreover, has had a marketer sponsor. Co-marketing and sponsorships with A-list bands, now a staple of the music business, are more vital in a down year, Mr. Sewell said. "Artists realize that they need sponsors, and they're often willing to do a lot more for them than in years past," he said. "Advertisers want to get their money's worth."
This year's tour sponsor, Ameriquest, launched a multi-pronged ad campaign featuring footage of the band's classic songs "Start Me Up" and "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." The marketer also is using the band's trademark icons on its direct mail and online campaigns, offering chances to win tickets to the concerts. A partnership with Yahoo hypes added tour dates and the band's upcoming new CD, "A Bigger Bang," on the Web portal's front page, linking surfers directly to Ameriquest for contests.
MAKING A SPLASH
"As advertisers start to divert money from traditional platforms to the Internet and events, music sponsorships are definitely a way to make a splash," said Jay Coleman, CEO of EMCI, the company that has bartered Stones tour sponsorships for two decades. "It has to be designed and leveraged in unique ways."
Mr. Coleman declined to specify how much Ameriquest paid for the Stones sponsorship, but industry executives estimate it at $3 million to $4 million, a number that could double with media buys and marketing support.
The Stones also linked with ABC's "Monday Night Football" for the coming season, with concert footage airing in pre-games and throughout the broadcast coverage. A promotion with Sirius Satellite Radio is creating an all-Stones channel for the next month.
There's the perception, or perhaps reality, that this is the last Stones tour, virtually ensuring sellout crowds. The band opened the tour in Boston, playing to more than 70,000 people over two nights, including some fans who paid $500 to watch from the stage. Added dates are selling out quickly.
"People will pay exorbitant prices, but only for a handful of artists," Mr. Sewell said. "Those are the enigmas."