The billion-dollar tour

If Elton John doesn't notch the world's first $1 billion concert tour, Taylor Swift very well might
The billion-dollar tour
Illustration: Vicky Leta / Shutterstock

Hi Quartz members!

This is the summer of blockbuster music tours. And sometime soon—perhaps even this year—an A-grade artist will record the first concert tour to generate $1 billion in ticket sales.

In all likelihood, that artist is already on the road now. It may be Elton John, who is winding up a staggering five-year tour that has already grossed nearly $900 million. It may be Beyoncé. It may be Taylor Swift. Whoever it is, they will be capitalizing on a voracious post-pandemic appetite for live concerts all over the world. Music performances of all kinds, from Celtic bands to live orchestras playing Hans Zimmer soundtracks, are booking record crowds this year.

The projections from concert earnings have multiplied. At the most optimistic end of these estimates, Beyoncé stands to generate $2.4 billion in ticket sales by the time her Renaissance tour ends in September, and Swift may end up with as much as $1.9 billion from her Eras tour. Even moderate calculations push Swift over the $1 billion mark. Last December, Billboard reckoned that her US concerts alone would clear close to $600 million. She also has more than 50 international shows, which may earn less per ticket than her US concerts but will, in some cities, feature larger crowds.

The easiest explanation for these bumper paydays can be found in the timing of the concerts. They are the first huge tours to get under way after the covid-19 pandemic—and just as “revenge travel” saw tourists hellbent on taking many vacations, “revenge concertgoing” is packing arenas and stadiums with music fans. In Philadelphia, thousands of Swift fans who missed out on tickets stood in the car park outside the stadium, listening and singing along.

But the modern music tour is also structured to squeeze more and more revenue out of the ardent audience member. Tickets for 47 out of Swift’s 52 US concerts will be sold through Ticketmaster, making for the kind of market dominance in which prices can be inflated. (The experience of trying to buy Swift tickets has already prompted calls for government regulation of Ticketmaster and its parent firm LiveNation.) There are complex corporate alliances: Capital One, the lead sponsor of Swift’s US tour, also recruits her for its commercials and held pre-sales of tickets for its cardmembers.

Merchandise grows more expensive as well; an Eras hoodie costs $75. Swift keeps as much as 70% of the $2 million to $3 million or so in merchandise she sells each concert night, according to executives quoted by the Wall Street Journal, and she also sells tour merch through her website.

And then there’s streaming. Picture the scene: a 17-year-old growing increasingly excited in the days leading up to a Beyoncé concert, cuing up her songs over and over again on Spotify, then attending the concert, and then spending the days afterwards in a haze of adrenaline, revisiting the songs she sang that night. A concertgoer of an earlier era will have done the same thing, but the artist never earned more money with every time her vinyl or CD was replayed. Spotify, though, will funnel revenues to Beyoncé each time a song is streamed, giving her not just a four-hour evening to make money but a window on either side of the concert.


$887 million: The revenues from Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, which is currently the highest-grossing tour of all time. John isn’t done yet: the tour, which began in 2018, will end in Stockholm on July 8.

$776 million: The revenues from Ed Sheeran’s Divide (2017-19), the previous record-holder for highest-grossing tour

$11,000: The price of some resale tickets for Beyoncé’s concert in Toronto in July

$28,350: The price of some resale tickets for Taylor Swift’s concert in Tampa, Florida, in April

30,000: The average number of pieces of merchandise that Swift is likely to sell at each concert venue, according to David Herlihy, a music industry scholar. Each item of merchandise will cost, on average, $80, and Swift and the promoter will make 70-80% of each sale, Herlihy told Forbes.

117: The number of shows worldwide in Swift’s Eras tour. That number may yet rise, as Swift has continued to add dates to her tour even while on the road.


So large and influential are the modern tours of A-list musicians that they can even make a splash on a national economy. After Beyoncé performed in Stockholm in May, tickets sales as well as hotel and restaurant revenues added 0.2-0.3 percentage points to Swedish inflation that month, a Danske Bank economist calculated. As Quartz’s Ananya Bhattacharya explained:

Beyoncé performed in Stockholm twice on May 10 and May 11 and the BeyHive—the collective name for the singer’s fans, and also the name of a tier of tickets on the tour—flocked to both shows. Fans came from all over the world, taking advantage of the weak Swedish currency and cheaper ticket prices compared to other countries. Some Americans perturbed by booking site Ticketmaster’s exorbitant prices found it more viable to fly abroad and catch the show...

Statistics Sweden didn’t explicitly name Beyoncé but the federal agency said yesterday (June 14) that while food and energy prices continued to decline, prices increased for “a broad set of goods and services,” including hotel and restaurant visits.

Visit Stockholm, the official tourism promotion agency that’s fully owned by the City of Stockholm, was more direct, chalking up high levels of tourism and almost full hotel occupancy to the “Beyoncé effect.” In an email to The Washington Post last month, it said visitors from the US, Germany, and Britain accounted for the largest number of bookings in the city.


So many people are flocking to Taylor Swift’s concerts that public transit systems are seeing a sharp rise in ridership. Between June 4-10, for instance, the Chicago Transit Authority witnessed 5.63 million rides, the highest since the start of the covid pandemic. In part, that was due to Swift’s three nights at Soldier Field; at Roosevelt station and on the No. 146 bus, 43,000 additional tickets were sold.

Over Memorial Day, NJ Transit took 80,000 people to Swift’s three concerts at the MetLife Stadium in New York. And Atlanta’s transit authority—which has been struggling to boost its ridership—moved nearly 140,000 Swifties over three nights, as their icon performed at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in April. A TikTok video from Atlanta showed a train pulling up to take on a tidal wave of young, female concertgoers. (“That’s the best that subway car EVER smelled,” one wag wrote.) Boston had to lay on additional trains in mid-May to meet the demand from concertgoers heading to her Gillette Stadium gig. The race, via subway and bus and suburban rail, is definitely to the Swift.

Thanks for reading! And don’t hesitate to reach out with comments, questions, or topics you want to know more about.

Have a harmonious weekend,

—Samanth Subramanian, global news editor