"You can't fill a large stadium physically. You have to fill it with music."
U2 Lists: Top 7 #U2ieTour Insights
January 20, 2016
[Ed. note: This is the 66th in a "U2 Lists" series, where @U2 staffers pick a topic and share their personal rankings on something U2-related.]
U2 fans had quite the journey over a 12-month span during the Innocence + Experience tour’s cycle. From the tour announcement and ticket presales to the final performance in Paris, nearly 1.3 million people became involved in the production in some way: From ticket buyers and volunteers doing signups for ONE and Amnesty International to secondary market ticket resellers and the many businesses involved in the tour. So much has been written about the size and scope of the Innocence + Experience tour, the technology used and the messages U2 conveyed during the 76 shows in 2015. However, as the saying goes, “The devil is in the details.” Now that we’re over a month past the last tour date, the time feels right to look back at that journey through the lens of experience. Here are seven insights into the Innocence + Experience tour that focus on some finer details of these past 12 months.
1. “Uncertainty can be a guiding light”
When the tour announcement was first made in December 2014, not a lot was known about the production. Band members had spoken of two separate shows, and venues were being booked in two-night sets. Ticket buyers were not sure precisely what they were buying into when those tickets first went on sale. For the casual fan, it didn’t matter too much as they were going to see U2 in concert. For the more enthusiastic fan, the stressful question was whether you needed two tickets to both shows because you weren’t sure which night was going to be which (“Innocence” or “Experience”?). No one knew. The band hadn’t thought it completely through by the time tickets went on sale, so it became a case of “you get what you get and you don’t get upset,” as my daughter’s preschool teacher would say.
The secrecy surrounding the production carried on for five months until the band revealed a promo video on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on May 9 – one week before opening night in Vancouver. Until then, all people had to go on was a stage design on Ticketmaster.
This was the first tour I can think of where so little was known about the production. The hype machine kicked in only days prior to the tour’s opener. On this tour, consumers truly did not know what they were buying into until it was too late. The creative team behind the production also realized after tickets went on sale that most people would only be going to one show, which made a two-night experience a moot point for most of those in attendance.
Willie Williams said, “In truth, I really hate the fact that everything in performance is now so public, but that's the way life is. Frankly, if you want to open the presents early and spoil the surprise on Christmas morning, then don't complain to me about it afterwards.” In the end, people were buying tickets to see a U2 show and that’s what they got. Only a small percentage of U2’s core audience was inconvenienced with the sudden change of production direction. In the end, the tour was the fourth largest grossing tour of 2015. All that uncertainty in the months leading up to opening night turned into a guiding light.
2. “North And South Of The River”
Production content was not the only challenge the Innocence + Experience tour faced. Production logistics also proved to be inconvenient for some ticket buyers. When North American tickets first went on sale, Ticketmaster provided a stage layout showing no I-stage or e-stage, but rather one long rectangle that took up the entirety of the floor. Only San Jose showed the stage design with the three different stage features. However, all the designs showed the (RED)Zone was located in a different place. The U2.com help FAQ posted through summer 2015 indicated “Location of Red Zone Subject To Change.”
Some people intentionally chose seats based on the stage layout presented at the time of the sale. The screen was never part of the design shown to ticket buyers at the time of the initial on sale, nor was its impact understood to consumers until after opening night. The generic rectangular stage design was updated on Ticketmaster to the more permanent stage layout for North American venues only weeks before that city’s concerts. It was at that point when some ticket holders were aware their views were now classified as “obstructed.”
The summer 2015 U2.com tour FAQ also tackled this issue for ticketholders:
Q - Although the U2ie stage stretches right across the floor of the venue, where do the band perform from?
Many tried contacting Ticketmaster and Live Nation about this sudden change of ticket location and were unsuccessful in their quest to keep the seat they thought they had purchased. Frustrated, some took to social media and to local media for recourse. For some fans, their local news reporters got Live Nation to upgrade their tickets. While it seems like a small detail that impacted only a few concertgoers, it could have been easily avoided had detailed information been presented at the time of the December 2014 on sale. It also showed to U2’s core audience that elements of the production were still coming together at the last moment.
3. “Did you get it, did you need it, did you really, what you wanted … Where did it all go wrong?”
Out of all U2’s previous tours, this was one ripe for the resale market. Live Nation’s Art Fogel told Pollstar:
Listen, it’s a complicated scenario. You try to find the balance. You know what’s going on out there – or, we, as an industry – and tickets absolutely can end up on the secondary market. People buy tickets and they resell them. Or brokers get their hands on them, and the bots are always in play, especially for hot shows when they go on sale. In some respect it’s like the Wild West. I think you can look at conducting an auction on a certain section of seats but the problem is, as an industry, there is the sensitivity from the artist and the promoters, etc., that you have to try and maintain some pricing reality for people who can’t, or do not want, to pay that kind of top dollar for a ticket.
It’s like airplane tickets: there are all kinds of price levels and realities when you buy one and I don’t think concerts or sporting events are any different. It’s a bit of a tough challenge but, for instance, on this U2 tour the GA tickets on the floor are $65. We have done whatever we can do to make sure those $65 tickets are not re-sellable because reselling them goes completely against trying to keep the pricing reasonable for the people who are closest on the floor who can’t afford a $200-$400 ticket. It’s a complicated equation.
Fogel was correct in calling it “complicated.” Fans weren’t just dealing with the standard resellers like StubHub and ticket touts on street corners. For the Innocence + Experience tour, Ticketmaster itself was in the secondary ticket market, thus complicating things immensely for consumers. Because Ticketmaster (technically, Live Nation as it owns Ticketmaster) can control the face-value ticket inventory, it can control how its TM+ reselling inventory is also stocked. As U2 fans know, face-value ticket drops happen at various points leading up to the concert. By holding back inventory in this way, consumers are not able to make an informed buying decision because a show is showing “no tickets available” at face value when there really are. Meanwhile, Ticketmaster continues to offer its TM+ tickets at a higher value, making more money off of consumers with its tacked-on fees. This is the corporate side of U2 that many core fans despise as they feel taken advantage of. This is why many North American fans changed their approach to buying tickets to the first leg of the Innocence + Experience tour, opting to wait until the last minute to take advantage of the ticket drops. Fortunately for the many who did this, tickets were available as this tour did not sell out until the night of the concert for most cities, which by that point even many of the resellers were dropping the price as they couldn’t command the thousands they were originally looking at.
Forbes reported in June 2015, “With 26 shows remaining over the next two months, the average price for U2 tickets on TiqIQ is $257.86.”
@U2 monitored the TM+ inventory for U2’s North American tour dates and found Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles had an average of 511 seats available (per show) in the resale market on the day before the show. Chicago was the easiest to get resale tickets to with an average of 670 seats per show and an average price of $202 per ticket. For Loge (or 100s) seats, which typically sold for $270 face value, the average price in the resale market was $380 -- a markup of 40 percent. Los Angeles’ loge resale tickets were the highest priced at an average of $405 per seat.
The final night in a city (Night 5 for Los Angeles and Chicago, night 4 for Boston) was the most expensive to gets seats for, with an average of $448 per seat, and the hardest too, with an average of 426 seats (vs. an average of 530 seats for nights 1-4).
For the European leg of the tour, tickets were as high as 3,300 pounds (approx. $4,700) for London shows and 3,700 euros (approx. $4,000) for Dublin. According to Music Times, one of the cheapest resale tickets was for Belfast at about 263 euros ($286).
Certainly the nature of the Innocence + Experience tour contributed to the resale market as the band chose a residency approach, playing only a handful of cities in North America and a limited number of nights in Europe.
4. “In the time when new media was the big idea”
Switching gears, social media became a focus for U2 this tour. With Meerkat, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and even the occasional Periscope, the band had its strongest social media presence in 2015. Fans kept up with it all, even going one better by adding Mixlr to the list. The live concert streams over the tour became an event unto itself with thousands adding to the robust mix of social media outlets. It’s been said the Innocence + Experience tour was the most connected tour U2 has done. Because of this connectivity, while the band was still onstage, many discussed online the merits of Bono’s humanitarian message, the importance of the world leader he just name-checked in “Beautiful Day,” or other show details. It became more than just a rock ‘n’ roll show, the concert became a source for active conversation about complex world issues for people to engage in.
U2 tackled some challenging topics from race relations in the United States to the refugee humanitarian crisis in Europe during the Innocence + Experience tour. In turn, the fan base took to social media to better educate itself on these topics in an effort to understand why U2 was placing a priority on them from the stage. Through the streams, U2’s commentary wasn’t confined to those in the arena. Instead, the band found a global voice that embraced the message in real time.
5. “This is where you can reach me now”
It was hard to understand why the Innocence + Experience Tour would be “powered by Salesforce.” It doesn’t seem very rock ‘n’ roll to be talking in terms of hard core data collection. However, as Steve Lawrence pointed out in a recent OTR column, Big Data is very rock ’n’ roll.
U2’s core audience is ripe to be better understood. The core audience spans a wide demographic, which has always been key to U2’s success. While it is still uncertain what U2/Live Nation will do with the data collected through the tour, one thing is for certain: They are interested in who we are, our spending habits and how we engage. For the deeply personal narrative of the Innocence + Experience tour, it’s ironic that it was also the most deeply personal tour for the audience too in the amount of information we provided through sign-ups (Amnesty International, One Campaign), app downloads (Ride), social media follows and likes, fan club connectivity and more.
Could the data collected better enhance fan engagement? Will it show that more people purchased Edun concert T-shirts over the American Apparel merchandise, and perhaps by digging deeper find out that those who purchased the Edun gear also signed up for the One Campaign or supported Amnesty International? Could it be used to show trends in band-led initiatives? Who knows, but one thing is for sure: Live Nation (thanks to Salesforce) knows more about me than it did a year ago.
6. “I’ve seen you in the clothes you made”
It was great fun seeing all the fan-made swag over the course of the Innocence + Experience tour. From keychains to 3-logo T-Shirts and more, fans turned to making the items they wished they could buy at the concert venue. It certainly wasn’t for lack of choice as there was much to choose from at the venue; however, the creativity from fans outweighed the simple tour logo with the tour dates on the back. Conversations typically reserved for celebrity red carpet events were in full force at the concerts: “Who are you wearing? Where can I order that?” were typical questions asked. One that stood out had U2’s song lyric “Don’t Let The Bastards Grind You Down” from “Acrobat” on a shirt with the colors of the French national flag worn by a fan in Paris and seen during the HBO concert broadcast. Other styles were handmade shirts with parents wearing “Experience” and their child wearing “Innocence,” or “This is my 100th U2 show” or things of that nature. People took great pride in their concert attire with one person even dressing up as a Meerkat trying to convince the band to choose him for the Meerkat stream. (He wasn’t selected.)
7. “How can you stand next to the truth and not see it”
Bono’s onstage transformation into MacPhisto during the “Raised By Wolves” and “Until The End Of The World” couplet at the end of act one during the Innocence + Experience tour was an important nuance in the storytelling of the show. What many may not have picked up on was the choice of reading material that Bono kicked and tossed during those songs. The rotation of books changed nightly, but the core reading material included Bulgakov’s The Master and the Margarita, Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Ginsberg’s Howl, Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and Joyce’s Ulysses. The themes of the books link directly to the song content, the transformation into character, the narrative of the act, and more at a much deeper level than the casual fan would realize. In this case, the devil truly was in the details as this added feature of the production brought audiences on a far deeper journey than they would realize.
By the same token, the debris that was dropped on the audience each night was also significant. As many have written, the combination of ripped pages from Carroll’s Through The Looking Glass, Dante’s Divine Comedy and Peterson’s The Message translation of the Bible at the majority of the shows carried on this theme. The imagery of book pages being blown down on people was used to signify the debris from the 1974 car bomb blasts outside a bookstore. It could have also been used to signify MacPhisto’s party, which we were all invited to.
It has been said that the Innocence + Experience tour had more layers than an onion, and the more you peeled back, the more significance and linkage you could make to the band members’ career, their upbringing, and its audience. One example is the newscaster whose voice was used in the segue between “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Raised By Wolves.” The newscaster featured is Caroline Erskine, wife of Barry Devlin. Devlin has known U2 since the band’s earliest days, working on demos and video projects with them.
There is still so much to peel back and analyze with the Innocence + Experience tour, and this list only scratches the surface. At least with the tour’s extended break, it gives us an opportunity to better appreciate the journey it’s taken so far.