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The biggest live music stories of 2023

As we prepare to wave goodbye to 2023, IQ offers a snapshot of the biggest live music business stories from the past 12 months. From Taylor Swift’s record-shattering Eras Tour to mergers and acquisitions, catch up on some of the year’s most newsworthy moments below…


Taylor Swift’s Eras becomes first $1 billion tour

Taylor Swift’s planet-conquering Eras Tour officially became the first tour in history to surpass $1 billion in revenue. The American superstar came out on top in an unprecedented year for the concert industry, with business up double-digit percentages in virtually every metric, according to Pollstar’s 2023 Year-End charts.

Total grosses for the Top 100 Worldwide Tours were up 46% to a $9.17bn (2022’s total was $6.28bn) and attendance was up 18.38% in total tickets sold to 70.1 million (2022’s total was 59.2 million). Swift took in an estimated ticket gross of $1.04 billion, with 4.35 million tickets sold from 60 shows, with Pollstar projecting that Eras Tour ticket sales will again hit $1 billion in the next box office year, taking its overall total to more than $2 billion.

The run dominated the conversation right from the start of the year, with Live Nation CFO Joe Berchtold defending Ticketmaster’s practices in a US Senate antitrust panel in January, spurred by the fallout from 2022’s Eras presale.

The list of 2023’s Top 10 Worldwide Tours was completed by Beyoncé (No. 2), Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (No. 3), Coldplay (No. 4), Harry Styles (No. 5), Morgan Wallen (No. 6), Ed Sheeran (No. 7), P!nk (No. 8), The Weeknd (No. 9), and Drake (No. 10).


U2 launch Las Vegas Sphere to rave reviews

U2 ushered in “a new era in live entertainment” with the premiere of their 40-night U2:UV Achtung Baby Live At Sphere residency.

The Irish legends opened Sphere Entertainment’s $2.3 billion Sphere in Las Vegas to rave reviews in late September. The futuristic venue features a 160,000 sq. foot LED display inside the main venue, which wraps up, over and around the audience for a fully immersive experience in cutting-edge 16K x 16K resolution.

American rock band Phish are the next major act to be confirmed and will deliver a four-show run from 18-21 April,

However, plans for a London replica hit the buffers when London Mayor Sadiq Khan rejected the proposals on the basis they “would result in an unacceptable negative impact on local residents”. Levelling-up secretary Michael Gove has since ordered a six-week pause as he considers whether to call in the application for the development.

In the meantime, Sphere Entertainment/Madison Square Garden boss James Dolan is reported to be in “serious talks” to build a second Sphere – this time in Abu Dhabi.


Legends announces acquisition of ASM Global

Legends confirmed its long-rumoured acquisition of venue management giant ASM Global in November, creating a premium global live events company.

Founded in 2008, premium experiences specialist Legends – which is backed by global investment firm Sixth Street – provides venue planning and project management, premium sales, sponsorship, hospitality and merchandise services.

ASM, which was formed in 2019 following a merger between arena operators AEG Facilities and Onex’s SMG, operates buildings including ICC Sydney Convention Center, Avicii Arena in Stockholm and OVO Arena Wembley.

The reported $2.4 billion deal is designed to enhance Legends’ services portfolio, positioning it to “meet the expanding needs” of sports organisations, venues and attractions around the globe, while “supporting its vision to deliver exceptional live experiences for fans in the digital age”.


Supernova attack ‘the biggest ever disaster at a music festival’

At least 364 people were killed and dozens of others abducted at Israel’s Supernova Sukkot festival 7 October in what is believed to have been the deadliest-ever assault on a music event.

Staged under the Universo Paralello brand, the Brazil-hailing festival was being held in Israel for the first time. Acts included Artifex, Aladin, Astral Projection, Flare, Jackalon, Jumpstreet, Kido, Libra, Man With no Name, Noface, Protonica, Rocky Tilbor, Shove, Spectra Sonics, Swarup and Wegha.

The psy-trance gathering was being attended by around 4,000 people in the desert near Kibbutz Re’im, not far from the Gaza Strip, when Hamas stormed the event on motorcycles, trucks and paragliders as part of a surprise offensive.

More than 1,400 people were killed in a series of coordinated attacks, leading Israel to formally declare war on the organisation the following day.


French tycoon secures majority stake in CAA

Artémis, an investment firm led by billionaire French businessman Francois-Henri Pinault, acquired TPG’s majority stake in Creative Artists Agency (CAA) in September. Financial details were not disclosed but Bloomberg previously reported the deal would value CAA at US$7 billion.

Private equity company TPG upped its 35% stake in CAA to 53% for a reported $225 million in 2014.

Pinault is chairman and CEO of Paris-headquartered luxury goods company Kering, owner of brands such as Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Gucci, Alexander McQueen and Yves Saint Laurent. He has been president of Groupe Artémis – the Pinault family’s investment company – since 2003.

CAA’s Bryan Lourd, Kevin Huvane and Richard Lovett remained as co-chairs in the wake of the agreement.


The 1975 cause uproar in Malaysia

The Malaysian concert business united in its condemnation of The 1975 after the band’s controversial Good Vibes Festival headline set resulted in the event’s cancellation by officials. The British band’s opening night performance was cut short just 30 minutes in after frontman Matty Healy launched into an expletive-laden tirade against Malaysia’s strict anti-LGBT rules and kissed bassist Ross MacDonald on stage.

Organiser Future Sound Asia described the festival’s cancellation as a “catastrophic financial blow” and demanded £2 million in compensation from The 1975. The promoter claims it was reassured by The 1975’s management team that Healy and the band “would adhere to local performance guidelines” prior to the group’s set.

Healy addressed the controversy in a 10-minute, pre-written speech at the band’s October concert in Dallas, Texas, alleging that “the Malaysian authorities… briefly imprisoned us” and criticised the backlash against theband.

In the wake of the fiasco, promoters in Malaysia were ordered to install a “kill switch” to end performances by international artists that breach government regulations, but authorities stopped short of issuing a blanket ban on overseas acts.


American agencies merge to form Independent Artist Group

US talent agencies APA and Artist Group International (AGI) merged in June to form Independent Artist Group (IAG). New York’s AGI was founded in 1986 by Dennis Arfa and is owned by the Yucaipa Companies, the private-equity group controlled by billionaire investor Ron Burkle, which also made a strategic investment in LA-headquartered APA (Agency for the Performing Arts) in 2021.

The merger announcement saw Arfa appointed chair of IAG’s music division, with AGI president Marsha Vlasic named vice-chair and APA president Jim Osborne becoming CEO. The new full-service agency promised to intensify competition in the international live music agency landscape, which had been largely consolidated by just four companies – CAA, Wasserman, UTA and WME.

The deal brought AGI’s roster, which included the likes of Billy Joel, Rod Stewart, Smashing Pumpkins, Linkin Park, Metallica, Noel Gallagher, Motley Crue, The Strokes and Iggy Pop, and APA clients such as 50 Cent, 2 Chainz, Fetty Wap, Deep Purple, Mary J Blige and Lauryn Hill, under one roof.

“We wanted to be able to offer our artists a full suite of services beyond our touring expertise in TV, film, lit and branding in order to help facilitate their interests in other artistic outlets and further enhance the value of their brands and intellectual property,” Independent Artist Group (IAG) EVP, head of global music, Jarred Arfa told IQ.


Primary Talent returns to independence

Primary Talent International returned to being an independent music talent agency following a management buyout. Primary was sold to ICM Partners in 2020, which was subsequently acquired by CAA. The deal to re-establish Primary’s independent status was led by managing partner and CEO Matt Bates along with former ICM founding partner and COO Rick Levy.

The UK-based booking agency, whose roster includes almost 460 clients including The 1975, The Cure, Lana Del Rey, Noel Gallagher, Jack Harlow, alt-J, Dropkick Murphys and Patti Smith, has continued to operate from London while maintaining a presence in Los Angeles and New York.

“The pandemic changed the landscape of the music touring business, and we felt it was beneficial to return to our roots as the UK’s largest independent music talent agency,” said Bates.

Former Primary MD Peter Elliott recently announced his retirement and will depart at the end of the month after 28 years with the company.


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