Summer Concert Tour Forecast

'N Sync
With superstar acts such as Madonna, U2, 'N Sync and the Dave Matthews Band taking to the stage this summer, the concert industry appears to be on pace for another record-breaking season at the box office.

But with the economy cooling, some worry that the industry may not be recession-proof.

"There is a lot of apprehension," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of Pollstar magazine, which tracks the touring industry.

John Bitzer, editor-director for CDNOW, a music Web site, predicted that fans are "going to be picky about what they see. I don't think they are going to be afraid to go to the big tour they want ... it's a question of quality over quantity."

The concert year got off to a disappointing start, according to Kelly Barbieri, a reporter for the weekly trade Amusement Business.

Ticket receipts for the Top 10 concerts from December to February came in at approximately $70.8 million, down $40 million from the same period a year earlier, she said.

"What is not being taken into account by everybody is that more and more bands are being booked into summer tours," said Barbieri.

The summer season is crucial to the concert industry, providing about two-thirds of its yearly income, according to Bongiovanni.

Strong ticket sales last summer resulted in a record-breaking $1.7 billion in revenues for the year, a 14 percent increase from 1999's own record $1.5 billion, he said.

Some of the most anticipated concert tours this summer are by 'N Sync; the Dave Matthews Band, which is a consistent top draw; Janet Jackson, whose new album, "All for You," has been a top seller; Ozzfest, featuring heavy metal and hard-rock acts such as Black Sabbath, Marilyn Manson and Crazy Town; and MTV's "TRL Tour," headlined by the multi-platinum R&B group Destiny's Child.

Some of the hottest acts booked this summer are drawing strong fan interest because they haven't performed in years. For example, Madonna, who has sold out her first few concert dates, hasn't been on tour since 1992.

"I think this is going to be a great year," said Irv Zuckerman, co-CEO of SFX, which is staging most of this year's blockbuster concerts and music festivals. He said the market began improving in early May.

Zuckerman said hard times shouldn't hurt the industry. Concert tickets are "impulse items, and people want to go out and entertain themselves in times where everything doesn't seem perfect."

'N Sync's tour, which kicked off last week in Tampa, Fla., is being closely watched because, in a rare move, it is playing only in stadiums, which usually seat about 60,000, instead of amphitheaters or arenas, which usually have a capacity of 10,000 to 25,000.

"If I was worried about anything, it might be the 'N Sync tour, because they are playing such huge venues," said Bongiovanni.

"That's very ambitious to go out and tour stadiums."

Sometimes, it can be too ambitious. The George Strait tur, which kicked off in April with acts that included Alan Jackson, Lee Ann Womack and newcomer Brad Paisley, moved to smaller venues in some cities due to weaker sales.

But Bongiovanni said that wasn't unusual.

"The truth of the matter is that there are very few tours that finish their run without any soft spots," he said.

By Nekesa Mumbi Moody
© MMI The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed