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As ticket prices rise, concert grosses slip

The slowing economy has struck a sour note along the pop concert trail.

The $508-million earned by the top 50 concert tours during the first six months of 2001 is down more than 12 percent from the same period a year ago, according to the concert industry trade publication Pollstar.

And because of an increase in ticket prices, the concert downturn is steeper when measured by how many tickets were sold. The 10.9-million tickets bought to see the top 50 acts is nearly 16 percent lower than the 12.9-million bought during the same time last year.

The concert business used to be relatively insulated from economic downturns, but the price of tickets has changed that, said Gary Bongiovanni, Pollstar editor in chief.

"I don't know if it's right to call them luxury items, but it's not a frivolous expense to go to a concert nowadays," he said.

Irish rockers U2, who grossed $69-million on a well-reviewed tour, is the year's top money-earner so far.

But Rod Stewart's tour, for instance, has played to half-empty arenas much of the year.

The average price of a concert ticket for one of the top tours was $46.69, Pollstar said. That's more than double the $21.40 average during the last recession in 1991.

The double-bill tour of Elton John and Billy Joel charged an average of $100.95 per seat, second only to opera star Luciano Pavarotti's $119.76. The rock band 3 Doors Down had the cheapest seats, at $21.82.

The downturn doesn't affect the biggest acts _ U2 and Madonna, for example _ but more midlevel acts can be expected to feel it, Bongiovanni said.

Teen bands 'N Sync and Backstreet Boys both finished among the top five. But their ticket prices are both more than $50 apiece, and they're not selling nearly as fast as they used to, he said.

"Acts like that may need to cut back on their touring," he said, "which may be difficult because you don't know how long their career is going to last. It's a really tough decision if you're the manager for these acts."

For the Backstreet Boys, the decision was made for them: The band canceled the remainder of its U.S. and Canadian tour this week when member A.J. MacLean entered rehab for depression and alcohol use.

A better picture of the industry's health will come in the next few months. Traditionally, most concert dates come in the summer months.

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