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The Fizz Goes Out Of The Concert Biz

It seems not even Billy Joel’s sellout tour in February and March under Frontier Touring’s banner is enough to cheer company g.m. Michael Chugg when he crystal balls Aussie concert business.

Joel played to 300,000 in 23 shows, extending from six to 11 in Sydney, pulling $A60 tops on tickets to seven sellouts in Melbourne, then playing Brisbane in what is now the only trodden big concert promotion track here. Nobody heads west any more. It costs too much.

“In the last six months of last year nothing worked,” says Chugg. “Only Cher would have made any money. We all lost a lot on everything. When the Australian economy went into recession the guts fell out of the music business.”

Aussie acts John Farnham, Jimmy Barnes and Midnight Oil did big business, Chugg says, and Kylie Minogue “did well” but The Angels-Cheap Trick double didn’t work, and neither did Steve Earle and Aerosmith; Steve Winwood “was a disaster.

“The Aussie acts are riding fairly well,” says Chugg. “But I don’t know if it will get back to boom. People are fussy about spending their money unless the act is really hot.”

Michael Coppel, self-titled “El Supremo” of Michael Coppel Presents, says “The gloom is not conducive to spending but if the act is right people will go regardless of the economy.”

Competitive market

For Coppel, Eric Clapton pulled 20,000 in Sydney and 13,000 in Melbourne, followed with M.C. Hammer who scored 23,000 in Sydney and 21,000 in Melbourne with ticket tops at $A42. “We have among the highest ticket prices in the world,” he says. “There are too many promoters. Excepting Italy and the U.K. we have the most competitive market in the world. It forces up an act’s guarantee and the risk factor is higher.”

Shane Hewitt, operations manager, Melbourne’s National Tennis Center, says more than 50% of his annual operational profit comes from Ford Australian Open Tennis but Center high of 1990 was “Carmen,” seen by 50,000 over four nights ($A115 tops), and a smash too at Sydney’s Entertainment Center.

“The rest of our profit is mainly from rock concerts,” Hewitt says. “Financially we’ll be on a par with last year. In the current climate, that’s good. What developed this year was an opera spectacle like ‘Carmen.’ It has been taken out of the theater and put into the arena.”

Placido Domingo “killed” 14,000 in one Melbourne concert ($A98 tops), and likewise in Sydney. Hewitt expects to sell Luciano Pavarotti to 15,000 at $A37 to $A153 next month. Jose Carreras is expected in the big arenas here later this year.

Farnham and Joel sellouts at Tennis venue were followed by Frank Sinatra who pulled 10,000 at one concert ($A122 tops) and sold out in Sydney, says Entertainment Center g.m. Madeleine Whitworth. “I wouldn’t talk down the concert business,” she says.

Aussie veteran Kevin Jacobsen returned Julio Iglesias to the big arenas here, pulling total 20,000 Sydney and Melbourne ($A42 tops) and 8,000 in Brisbane. Jacobsen is returning John Denver maybe September and Robert Palmer in August.

“I used to have a show a month,” he says. “Now I’m more choosy. Maybe I’m getting conservative in my old age but artists like Denver and Julio, who are loyal and faithful, always do good business.” Jacobsen also has moved into legit.

In Adelaide, the Entertainment Center opens Aug. 1 with World Squash Titles. It will complete a a chain of arenas from east to west coasts, separated by more miles than London to Moscow. The other “Cinderella” city, Perth, is home to Australia’s first Entertainment Center and the giant Burswood complex.

“Our rock ‘n’ roll concerts are down 50% over the last two years,” says Perth g.m. David Humphreys. “The major acts are not coming west. Last April we had three Phil Collins concerts and two Fleetwood Mac. This April we have two INXS. When Adelaide opens it will minimize the risk of the trek across the country.”

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