Image from this performance 

This post is a part of a series digging into the stories revealed by the data of The Top 100 Tours of 2017.
Find the list here and an overview of the other stories here.

A Closer Look

#9 Rolling Stones, 14 performances |  #8 Ed Sheeran, 111 performances

Q: How Do Some Tours Rank so High with Such Few Shows?

Making the Top 100 Tours list in any given year is amazing. Our intuition would have us believe that the more shows an act puts on, the higher they rank on the list. That is true to some extent, but some acts seem to rank unexpectedly high for how few shows they perform.

Gross (determines rank) = Tickets Sold x Ticket Price

To understand how they do it, let's understand how the end of year rank is established. It's pretty simple actually, it's based on how much money the tour makes in a year. Annual revenue for the tour (known as 'gross') comes down to two numbers: how many tickets are sold and how much people paid per ticket.

Obviously more shows mean more available tickets. However this is where the size of the venue starts to play a part. The average/median venue size (maximum potential for sold tickets per show) across the whole list is about 15,000 capacity. So one show can have 15,000 people attend, i.e. sell 15,000 tickets.

Arenas vs Stadiums

15,000 capacity venues are exactly the 'normal size' of a venue when we think of a "typical" A-list show. This size range covers the likes of London's O2 Arena, Barclays Center in New York, Staples Center in Los Angeles => rule of thumb, if it ends with 'arena' or 'center' it probably falls into the arena category, and tends to be in the 10,000-25,000 capacity range.

However, there is a venue size above this 'arena' level and that is stadiums. The lines are blurred though, since the difference is based on what sports are played at the venues and not their exact capacity. Stadiums tend to be significantly bigger though; Stadiums count their capacity numbers in the tens of thousands, from 30,000-40,000 up to over a 100,000 at a time.

Armed with this understanding of different types of venues starts unravelling the question asked how some acts can perform much fewer number of shows, while still ranking so high => they must be on a stadium tour.

To get a better sense of the difference, let's look at some numbers.
It would take 2x 20,000 capacity arena shows to sell as many tickets as 1x 40,000 stadium show. But venues vary in size quite a lot, so an arena act could be performing in 12,000-15,000 capacity venues; and stadium acts inn 60,000-80,000 capacity ones. That would change the ratio from 2:1 to 5:1 or even 6:1 – meaning for every six arena shows one artist performs; another can sell as many tickets with one show.

It's worth noting at this point it's often a choice to play arenas over stadiums for reasons listed in this post or because if the show has a more intimate nature an arena tour might be more fitting.

Let's Look at an Example

Ed Sheeran and The Rolling Stones provide the most jarring comparison on the list. They place side by side in the Top 10: Sheeran with 111 performances in 2017 to The Stones' 14.

The venue size plays a huge part here. Sheeran was on an arena tour (with average 14,000 attending per performance) while The Stones' play the biggest stadiums available and averaged on 54 thousand guests per show.

The only two acts with an higher average attendance was Phish (made $28 million from 25 shows) and U2 who topped the list. U2 both perfomed to a huge crowd each time, but also performed 50 shows attracting 2.7 million guests total in 2017.

Ticket Price Matters As Well

On top of that, The Rolling Stones are able to charge a premium ticket price cos you know, it's The Rolling Stones. This year it was almost $160 per ticket*. So even though the shows are not many; the number of attendees is high, each person paying top dollar to be there.

High Ticket Price x High Volume of Ticket Sales => High Gross, ergo High Rank

Ed Sheeran meanwhile averages on just under 15 thousand attendees per show, with the average attendant paying $80 to be there. While Sheeran is by no means suffering or in need of our sympathy; the math dictates that smaller venues and lower ticket prices means that more shows are required to catch up to the Stones' high end of year gross.

Here's the full Ed Sheeran vs The Rolling Stones 2017 Tours math:

The Rolling Stones make 8x more per show than Sheeran does. It's therefore no wonder it took Sheeran 8x as many shows to reach the annual gross of The Rolling Stones. Which is exactly what he did.

It all comes down to two numbers exactly: number of tickets sold and ticket price.
In the day-to-day running of things, we focus more on the number of tickets sold per show than the total for the whole year. The more granular version of the formula is then: [number of shows] x [number of tickets sold per show] x [ticket price].

To Conclude

So The Rolling Stones' [numbers of tickets sold per show] and [ticket price] are both so high that combined they compensate for their low [number of shows]. Ed Sheeran's numbers are much closer to the average for acts of this stature, ticket price and tickets sold are high, but to rank as highly as he did in 2017 also meant he toured a lot.

* for simplification we're not discussing the ticket resale markets here. These prices are as reported by Pollstar.

Performing 'Beast of Burden' Together

Image from Rolling Stone