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British invasion: UK artists’ tours dominate 2015

With an abundance of British acts in the worldwide top 10, it was a year to remember for promoters of 1D, Ed Sheeran and The Rolling Stones

By Jon Chapple on 13 Jan 2016

Ed Sheeran, Hovefestivalen 2012, Tom Øverlie

Ed Sheeran at Hovefestivalen 2012


image © Tom Øverlie

British performers led the charge in a healthy 2015 for the international concert business.

Of last year’s highest-grossing worldwide concert tours, just four American artists – Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney, Foo Fighters and Taylor Swift – place in the top 10 (at ninth, eight, fifth and first, respectively), with the remaining six spots taken up by bands hailing at least partially from the United Kingdom, reveals Pollstar’s annual year-end report.

One Direction are Swift’s closest rivals, with Scottish-Australian hard rockers AC/DC at number three, British-Irish four-piece U2 fourth, the ‘classic’ Anglo-American lineup of Fleetwood Mac sixth, Ed Sheeran seventh and The Rolling Stones number 10.

Although Swift’s 83-date 1989 tour comfortably out-grossed second-placed One Direction, at US$250.4 million compared to $210.2m, the British boy band (on what will likely be their last big tour for the foreseeable future) were actually seen by more fans: 2,364,390 versus Swift’s 2,273,328.

This British invasion of Pollstar’s Top 100 Worldwide Tours chart stands in stark contrast to 2013 and 2014, when just two and three UK acts, respectively, made the top 10. (In 2013 it was Depeche Mode at number nine and One Direction at number 10; in 2014 it was One Direction in the top spot – what a difference a year makes – the Stones third and Paul McCartney ninth.)

As a whole, the top 100 tours in 2015 generated a total gross of over $4.71 billion – an increase of 11 per cent on a relatively lacklustre 2014, but less than 2013’s record $5bn. Total ticket sales were also up 16 per cent to 59.78m (again less than the 63.34m sold in 2013) although the average ticket price declined by four per cent to $78.77.

Of last year’s highest-grossing worldwide concert tours, just four American artists – Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney, Foo Fighters and Taylor Swift – place in the top 10

UK acts were also dominant on the international box-office chart. Paul McCartney’s three shows at the Tokyo Dome on 23, 24 and 25 April took the top spot with a gross of $21.7m from 149,117 tickets (that’s an average of over $145 each), with strong showings from One Direction at the Saitama Supera Arena in Japan, Take That at The O2 and Manchester Arena, U2 at The O2, Ed Sheeran at Croke Park in Dublin and comedian Peter Kay at the Manchester Arena.

The only acts not from the British Isles in the 10 highest grossing were Taylor Swift at the Tokyo Dome at number nine and Dutch vocal group The Toppers at number two, with a gross of $19,832,287 from 310,604 tickets from their five shows at the Amsterdam Arena in May.

Europe’s arenas – especially British ones – also performed as strongly as ever, with evergreens The O2 (London) and the Manchester Arena joined by the SSE Hydro in Glasgow as the three top arenas for ticket sales, shifting 1,819,487, 1,130,794 and 1,021,038, respectively, in 2015. They were joined in the top 20 by venues throughout mainland Europe, including the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam in fifth (821,475) ­– just one place behind New York’s Madison Square Garden Arena – the Laxness Arena in Cologne in seventh (733,433), 3Arena in Dublin in 15th (591,423) and the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin in 20th (520,008).

Outside Europe, Taylor Swift’s 1989 tour was the largest ever to hit North America, easily breaking the previous record of $162m set by The Rolling Stones in 2005. It was promoted by AEG Live, also behind the Kenny Chesney and Rolling Stones tours, which sold over 15m tickets worldwide last year.

Sixteen smaller promoters reported over 1m tickets sold.

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