U2 Was Top Concert Money Earner

The rock band U2 had the second biggest tour ever during a year in which concert industry business was off but ticket prices continued to rise, an industry trade publication said Thursday.

The top 100 concert tours sold 34.4 million tickets in 2001, down about 7 percent from 37.1 million the year before, according to an analysis by Pollstar magazine.

U2, coming off one of its strongest albums, sold out arenas across the country with a well-received back-to-basics show. They even added dates after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The band's $109.7 million in estimated ticket sales is second only to the Rolling Stones' gross of $121.2 million in 1994, Pollstar said.

"They made the rock 'n' roll anthems that people like," said Bob Grossweiner, a concert industry analyst. "They attract audiences that are young and old."

The hard-working boy bands 'N Sync and Backstreet Boys were second and third on the list of top earners.

But even those hot acts illustrated a weakness in the industry. Only nine of 43 'N Sync dates sold out, Grossweiner said.

Despite fewer tickets sold, the top 100 acts brought in $1.75 billion in 2001, a record-setting take for the third straight year. The rise initially perplexed Pollstar; editor Gary Bongiovanni attributed it to higher ticket prices.

The average concert ticket cost $43.86 in 2001, up more than $3 from last year's $40.74. Prices were even higher — an average of $47.66 — for the 50 biggest acts, Pollstar said. That doesn't include surcharges added to the total bill.

Opera singer Andrea Bocelli had the highest average ticket price, at $161.45. The '80s heavy-metal act Poison had the lowest, at $16.32 per ticket.

In an industry where many acts already perform to empty seats, the concert business could alienate much of its audience if the trend toward higher ticket prices continues, Bongiovanni said.

"The public is clearly willing to pay an average of $100 to see Elton John and Billy Joel together," Bongiovanni said. "The real problem is all the other acts who also think they can command the same lofty prices."

The slowing economy had a greater impact on the business than any after-effects from Sept. 11, Bongiovanni said. The bulk of the year's concert business takes place during the summer.

Although acts like Janet Jackson cancelled European tours, most big acts touring the United States this fall kept their commitments, he said.

If the economy improves, prospects look bright for 2002. Joel and Elton John will stay on the road, and the Rolling Stones may work, too, Pollstar said. Fleetwood Mac, the Who, the Eagles, Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson are other acts either planning tours or rumored to be interested.