Jennifer Lopez and Black Keys Tour Cancellations Raise Questions for Industry

For the concert business, 2023 was a champagne-popping year. The worst of the pandemic comfortably in the rearview, shows big and small were selling out, with mega-tours by Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Drake and Bruce Springsteen pushing the industry to record ticket sales.

This year, as with much of the economy, success on the road seems more fragile. A string of high-profile cancellations, and slow sales for some major events, have raised questions about an overcrowded market and whether ticket prices have simply gotten too expensive.

Most conspicuously, Jennifer Lopez and the Black Keys have canceled entire arena tours. In the case of the Black Keys — a standby of rock radio and a popular touring draw for nearly two decades — the fallout has been severe enough that the band has parted ways with its two managers, the industry giant Irving Azoff and Steve Moir. Through a representative, Azoff and Moir said they had “amicably parted” with the band.

At Coachella, usually so buzzy that it sells out well before any performers are announced, tickets for the second of the California festival’s two weekends were still available by the time it opened in April.

Those issues have stoked headlines about a concert business that may be in trouble. But the reality, many insiders say, is more complex, with no simple explanation for problems on a range of tours, and a business that may be leveling out after a couple of extraordinary years when fans rushed to shows after Covid-19 shutdowns.

“I think it’s normalized back to the pre-Covid era,” said Rich Schaefer, the president of global touring at AEG, the company behind tours by Swift and the Rolling Stones. “Hot acts are going to sell tickets. Middle acts are going to sell, but take longer. And acts that don’t have a lot of heat on them are going to struggle.”

In a statement, Live Nation said that so far this year, sales are up from the same point in 2023, with over 100 million tickets sold. “Every year,” the company said, “some events naturally fall off for various reasons, and in 2024 across all venue types we’ve seen a 4 percent cancellation rate — which is flat to last year.”

In addition to Swift’s Eras Tour, which continues to be a phenomenon in Europe, hot events this year include tours by Olivia Rodrigo, Coldplay, Morgan Wallen and Zach Bryan. Other festivals, like Lollapalooza in Chicago, have had notably strong sales.

Still, prominent cancellations of high-priced shows is another possible P.R. headache for Live Nation, the owner of Ticketmaster, which last month was sued by the Justice Department over accusations that it operates an illegal monopoly that stifles competition and results in high prices and fees. Live Nation has denied those allegations.

The key worry throughout the business is that ticket prices, which have been rising steadily for years, may now be so high that they are deterring fans from all but their once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list shows. Tickets, even for many major tours, no longer vanish instantly.

When Billie Eilish put her latest arena tour on sale in April, for example, upper-deck seats at some venues were going for over $200, and took weeks to sell.

A joint tour by the rapper Future and the producer Metro Boomin, who shared a pair of No. 1 albums and a chart-topping hit single earlier this year, has also lagged. Even with tickets as low as $44.50, the opening-night concert in Kansas City, Mo., in July, still has thousands of seats for sale at all levels. To the chagrin of underperforming acts, the strength or weakness of sales is now evident in real time on Ticketmaster, which displays blue dots for every unsold seat (and pink dots for ones being offered for resale).

Last year, the average ticket price for one of the top 100 tours around the world was $131, up 23 percent from the year before, according to Pollstar, a trade publication that tracks concert tickets.

Steve Martin of Paladin Artists, a booking agent for classic rock acts like David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, said that below the level of pop superstars like Swift, artists have become acutely aware of the economic pressures facing their fans.

“The meat of the business is made up of things like classic rock packages,” Martin said. “Those people are much more price sensitive. Working-class people are concerned about groceries and the price of gas.”

No single explanation can cover the range of problems in the live market this year. Some tours, like the Black Keys’, may simply be a matter of the band overestimating demand.

In 2021, the Black Keys left their longtime manager for a new partnership with Azoff and Moir, who also work with John Mayer and the Grateful Dead spinoff Dead & Co., and the band later praised Azoff’s “focus on touring and selling our tickets.” But even after a new album — the band’s 12th — was released in April, concert sales lagged, leading to the cancellations and a housecleaning behind the scenes.

In a social media post after the tour was abandoned, the group said it would “make some changes” to its touring plan to offer a more “intimate experience.” A representative for the band’s label did not respond to a request for comment on the management changes.

Nostalgia alone may not be enough to easily pack venues across the country. Lopez, though still a movie star and a tabloid feature, has not had a hit song in a decade. Tickets to see the ongoing arena tour from Justin Timberlake have been available on both the primary and secondary markets, with prices on StubHub sometimes falling well below face value.

Fans outside of high-demand markets like New York and Los Angeles do not always need to rush the digital queue the moment tickets go on sale. Some genres, like hip-hop, tend to move tickets more slowly than others, but can still sell out before showtime. The latest leg of Nicki Minaj’s tour, for example, is a sea of blue dots.

Many factors go into the price of the ticket, from the costs of gas and crew salaries — which have risen since the pandemic — to bigger-picture economics amortized over the course of an entire tour. Global promoters like Live Nation and AEG often offer artists a guaranteed payment covering all their shows; a bigger guarantee means that prices must be higher to recoup that investment.

Dan Wall, Live Nation’s executive vice president of corporate and regulatory affairs, said that while promoters may suggest pricing based on a deal guarantee, “it’s the artist’s team that ultimately decides ticket prices.”

Armchair analysis of ticket sales has become yet another element of modern fandom to be memed and weaponized, upping the stakes. As industry watchers on social media race to demonstrate the dominance of their favorites, screen grabs of available seats for upcoming concerts have gone viral, leading to media coverage.

“I feel like people online just sort of realized that you can look at seat maps and see how shows are doing,” said Sam Hunt, an executive at the touring agency Wasserman Music. “So I think part of it is that maybe not a ton has changed in the touring business — not every swing is a home run — but people are paying more attention to it and having a typically internet-y response.”

Still, the perception among some music fans is that large-scale concerts are more of a luxury than they once were.

Cliff Russell, 39, said in an interview that his two teenage daughters were interested in seeing blockbuster tours this year from acts like Rodrigo, Drake, Eilish and Swift.

But after the family, living outside Toronto, spent big for tickets to see Swift’s Eras Tour in November — with costs totaling near $3,000 for four tickets, “not counting transportation, parking, souvenirs” — spending another $300 per ticket for upper-deck seats to see another pop star just wasn’t in the cards.

“What was once a holy grail ticket price is now the average,” Russell said. “You’ve got to be really picky and choosy.”

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