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"'Elevation' came from a sound, that abrasive guitar: 'We've really got to do something with that.'" — Adam, 2002

Should U2 Use Michael Cohl For the Next tour?

It has been recently reported that tour promoter Michael Cohl would like to work with U2 again with their next tour. I was quite disturbed in hearing this news because it only means two things -- fans might have to pay higher ticket prices, and the band might be biting off its nose despite its face.

Just to recap: fans may remember Cohl as being a member of TNA (The Next Adventure), the company that so "successfully" promoted the PopMart tour. I use the word "successfully" loosely for a couple of reasons: according to all parties involved, the PopMart tour was the highest grossing tour of 1997; and U2 had one of the highest-ever crowds for a single show (Reggio Emilia).

Based on those successes, one would think that it was a match-made-in-heaven. Here you have a top-selling music act that can sell out a few stadiums working with a company that could streamline the entire concert-production industry. As Greg Kot reported in the Chicago Tribune on June 22, 1997, TNA offered U2, according to Cohl, "consistency, so that instead of having to deal with 50 different promoters and explain what they want to accomplish, they do it once, three to four weeks into the tour you've got it."

TNA reportedly paid U2 $100 million for the right to promote their PopMart tour. Paul McGuinness went on record saying "My loyalty is to the band and I want to see the financial pressure of the tour taken off their backs." In 1992, U2 risked bankruptcy with operating costs of $125,000 a day if a show did not sell out.

The cash-in-hand was exactly what U2 needed to pay for their 100-foot golden arch, giant stuffed olive, and 56-by-170 foot LED wall. What was hoped for, in the beginning, was that U2 would sellout just about all of their concert dates. Before the tour began, the projected numbers were $260 million. By the end of 1997, the tour had only grossed $138.5 million.

Granted, $138.5 million is not a dollar amount one could cough at. Estimated operating expenses for the PopMart tour were between $214,000 and $250,000 (depending on which account you trusted). Multiply that number by the amount of days U2 was "on tour" (339 days including the rehearsals in Las Vegas), you get a total of $84,750,000. That leaves $53,750,000 that ended up in someone's pockets.

From what Bono said in Seattle, fans would think that money did not end up in theirs: "If we're through here the next time, I think it's gonna be something very different because, eh, I don't think we'll ever be able to afford to do this again. You know what I'm saying."

Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar, said, "Not many acts can sell 35,000 tickets in a market, but they're [U2] getting criticized because the capacity may be 60,000. From a PR standpoint, most band managers will tell you that it's better to sell out a show at a smaller venue and turn away business because it builds a better vibe. U2 is likely going to come away from all this as the biggest-grossing act of '97, but whether that will be perceived positively probably not."

A concert promoter admitted to Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune, "Cohl assumed that the whole tour would be a sellout, but he was dealing with a band that is out of touch with reality. Say you're an American kid geared on guitar rock and U2 is your favorite band, only U2 comes out a couple of years ago with a track that has (opera star Luciano) Pavarotti on it, and then puts out a dance track as the first single from the new album. Then they put a stadium show on sale for 50 bucks."

$50 was a high ticket price in 1997, especially knowing that they only charged a top price of $30 for their Outside Broadcast tour in 1992. Cohl's track record has shown that ticket prices for acts like the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSN&Y) have risen drastically over the years. The highest ticket price for the Rolling Stones' No Security Tour was a whopping $300. Cohl supposedly offered CSN&Y more than $500,000 per show for their next tour.

Also, U2 had the promotional support of MTV and VH1 for the PopMart tour. Once ticket sales started slumping, their support had dried up. MTV hardly ever played a U2 video during their 3rd leg in North America. Patrick MacDonald wrote in the Seattle Times on December 11, 1997, "For the first time ever, U2 has had to advertise its tour heavily, including print, radio and TV ads." Even with their own heavy promotion, the Seattle Kingdome still was not sold out.

What is also a disturbing trend is that TNA was bought by the corporate-giant SFX Entertainment. SFX now owns and/or operates 110 concert venues in the United States, including 16 amphitheaters within the top 10 markets and 31 in the top 50. In the Boston, Massachusetts area alone, they own/operate a major venue in each realm: the Avalon Ballroom, the Orpheum Theater, the Tweeter Center (formally known as Great Woods), and Tanglewood (where the Boston Symphony Orchestra plays during the summertime).

Does this mean that if U2 choose Michael Cohl to promote their next tour that the only places they could play are SFX owned/operated venues? Does this mean that concert ticket prices will rise astronomically? Does this mean that Bono will have to, once again, talk about how they won't be able to afford another tour?

On a personal note, I wish that they went back to their tried-and-true method of touring. Lack of audiences was not a problem for them in 1987, 1989, 1992 or 1993. Why, after so much success and building such a strong fan-base, in 1997 did they have problems even getting 25,000 people at any show in Florida?

Only time will tell how this saga plays out.

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