July 29, 2011
By Ray Waddell (@billboardtour), Nashville
Portishead The Claw from U2′s all-time record-setting 360 Tour (Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImang.com)
Tomorrow night in Moncton, N.B., U2 will perform the 110th and final show of its monster 360 tour, wrapping up not only epic technological and musical achievements, but also going into the history books as the biggest tour ever.
When the final numbers are tallied, U2 360 will record a gross of $736,137,344 and total attendance of 7,268,430, Billboard.com/biz has learned, both the highest tour tallies ever reported to Billboard. U2 broke the Rolling Stones’ previous gross record of $558 million on April 10 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, as first reported on Billboard.biz on April 8.
The success of 360 is a testament not only to the enduring global appeal of the band, but also its ground-breaking-and risky-360-degree production, which increased the capacities of stadiums by as much as 25%. Details of the tour were first revealed on Billboard.com in March of 2009, when the tour, in support of the band’s 2008 album “No Line On The Horizon,” was still operating under the working title of “Kiss The Future.” By the time it was officially announced on March 9 of that year, the tour carried the “360″ title, which longtime band manager Paul McGuinness says is a reference not only to the unique production of the tour, but also a sly nod to U2′s long-term multi-rights deal with promoter Live Nation, “a little private joke to amuse myself at one point.” This was the band’s first tour under that deal, steered by long-time U2 tour producer Arthur Fogel, chairman of Live Nation Global Touring and his Toronto-based team.
The tour began June 30, 2009, in Barcelona, Spain, and swept across Europe before landing on North American shores on Sept. 12 in Chicago. This was the first time the band had played stadiums on the continent since the PopMart tour in 1997/’98.
As popular as U2 is worldwide, launching a never-before-attempted 360 configuration that would put 7 million tickets in the marketplace in a treacherous global economy was ambitious, to say the least. “I remember when everything was first laid out, the production was conceived, and we came to the realization of what it did to the capacities,” Fogel told Billboard.com/biz backstage at the tour’s 100th stop in Nashville earlier this month. “We were in a meeting in New York, we saw the design, and talked about all the different angles. There was a moment of sitting there and everyone thinking, ‘do you think we’ll sell the tickets?’ My gut was ‘absolutely yes,’ and I remember leaving the meeting and thinking, ‘oh shit.’”
Beyond the huge financial commitment the band and producers had made in launching the massive tour (not to mention a daily nut of $750,000 on the road, according to McGuinness), the aesthetic success of the production and the staging known as “the claw,” which literally surrounds the band with fans, depends on full houses. “There’s nowhere to hide,” Fogel says. “It was definitely scary.”
But sell those tickets they did, all over the world, and Fogel says what he learned form 360 was “probably more so than any other tour, to trust my instincts.”
The launch and execution of 360 were meticulously planned for more than a year, but those best-laid plans were blown up when news came last spring that the tour’s second North American leg would have to be scrapped due to an injury and resulting back surgery for U2 front man Bono. Producers were already on the ground at what was to be the tour’s first stop on that round in Salt Lake City when the news came.
Rejiggering the tour midstream was “challenging,” says Fogel. But the team moved quickly from the initial shock to rebuilding the North American leg for a year later, and did that so expertly that they not only were able to put most fans in the exact seat they would have been had the tour gone off as planned, but also found seven more shows, including the band’s first Nashville stop in 30 years.
“It was difficult at the time, but the most amazing thing through it all was the refund rate across all the shows was only about 9%, which is ridiculous,” says Fogel. “And we resold all those tickets.”
The final North American dates are considered by those involved to be among the band’s best on the tour, and mark a triumphant return to stadiums on this continent after the last stadium run in PopMart, which struggled to sell tickets in some markets. U2 played stadiums internationally but arenas in North America on the Vertigo tour in 2005-2007 the Elevation tour of 2001.
“After PopMart, the strategy was definitely to build back up North America, under-play, create that buzz and that demand, and I think we did a great job with that,” says Fogel, who has now produced four of the top five highest-grossing tours of all time. “To go outdoors in America this time, particularly with this production, is a story in itself. This thing, apart from, obviously, the band, great musicians, great music, great songs, was about creating that buzz in the world about this production. That was the hook.”
Now that U2 360 is set to close, Fogel says the magnitude of the accomplishment, which he calls a “career highlight,” is “finally starting to sink in.”