Rolling Stones, U2 Had Top Tours Of 2005 — But Ticket Sales Continue To Drop

The industry grossed more money than ever before, but ticket prices are up and sales are down.

U2 sold more tickets, but the Rolling Stones made a "bigger bang" in 2005 on the road. The wizened British rockers, all of whom are in their 60s or late 50s, sold 1.2 million tickets and raked in $162 million during their 42 North American shows last year, breaking the record (set by themselves, in 1994) along the way, according to industry trade magazine Pollstar.

"This was the year that U2 smashed the Stones' old [earnings] record from 1994, but then the Stones themselves dwarfed it," said Pollstar Editor in Chief Gary Bongiovanni. "High ticket prices were a key component, but the Stones were also one of the few acts to play stadiums."

Coming in just behind the Stones were U2, who rang up $138.9 million for 78 North American shows — for which they sold approximately 1.4 million tickets, compared with 1.2 million for the Stones.

Accounting for the Stones' ability to play fewer shows and gross more was their higher average ticket price ($134), which was solidly above U2's average price of $97.

Other stars on the list of the year's 100 top grossers — including Paul McCartney, Mötley Crüe, Bruce Springsteen, the Eagles and Elton John — helped move a total of more than 36.1 million tickets and set a North American box office record of $3.1 billion in sales, even though ticket sales have declined for three consecutive years. In 2004, sales topped 37.6 million, down from 38.7 million the year before.

But even with fewer tickets sold, the box office saw a more than 10 percent increase in gross receipts over 2004's total of $2.8 billion, thanks to a rare perfect storm of several major acts hitting the road at once, not to mention the continually creeping average ticket price for the top 100 tours, which rose to a record $57 last year, a nearly $5 increase over 2004.

Either way, the declining sales and increased average ticket price were bad news for the industry — and consumers. "We've been seeing that trend for a number of years now and it's not good," said Bongiovanni. "It's great to shout about how much we grossed this year, but when you're doing it with less people, that doesn't bode well for the industry."

Bongiovanni said another reason the trend will probably not continue in 2006 is that, with the exception of a handful of Rolling Stones dates, there appear to be less big-dollar megatours slated for the road this year.

Rounding out the top 5 grossing artists were Celine Dion ($81.3 million), the Eagles ($78.6 million) and ex-Beatle McCartney ($77.3 million). The rest of the top 10 consisted of Elton John ($65.8 million), Kenny Chesney ($61.8 million), the Dave Matthews Band ($57 million), Neil Diamond ($47.3 million) and Jimmy Buffett ($41 million). Mötley Crüe ($39.9 million) slipped in at #11, followed by Green Day, who grossed $34.8 million on sales of 912,843 tickets with one of the lowest average ticket prices in the top 20, $38.07.

Gwen Stefani's first solo tour also made a splash at #16 ($24.2 million), followed by Coldplay ($24.1 million), with the Anger Management tour rounding out the top 20 with $21.6 million.

Before 2005, the biggest tour of all time was the Stones' 1994 swing, which brought in $121.2 million in gross receipts.